About Joe Bellini
Joe Bellini was one of the first people to see the potential of distributed systems management architectures. During his time at i2 Technologies, he filed patents for extended supply chain planning processes that became the foundation for future developments for this class of software. Bellini is CEO of Excelon, a vendor of software for the extensible enterprise.
About Howard Smith
As chief technology officer with Computer Sciences Corp in Europe, Smith's current activities are focused on defining the next wave of B2B technologies. Smith also co-chairs the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI.org), where he has contributed to the development and adoption of the Business Process Modelling Language (BPML).
Certainly, Bellini is talking from experience: Prior to joining Excelon, he headed up the automotive business units of both supply chain management software leader i2 Technologies and applications giant Oracle. His evidence, moreover is convincing: "Only 70% of the vehicles originally scheduled for a specific week are actually built in that week," he says. When a factory is closed down for a week because of reconciliation problems between forecast and demand, the notice period for closure is less than four weeks in 50% of cases."
Part of the reason for these inefficiencies, he believes, is a widespread reliance on electronic data interchange (EDI) systems within the automotive industry. Although useful for performing certain tasks, says Bellini, EDI has its limits: "The trouble with EDI is that its data structures are pretty rigid, so it can only do certain things based on how the collaboration is defined. I have seen automotive clients who wanted to collaborate in a more sophisticated manner, to do a lot more than the EDI sets they used would allow them to communicate. So what do these companies do? They use EDI transfers in some cases, but supplement them with phone calls, faxes, emails – just about everything you can imagine. Then they try to collect all the information from these different mediums, and average them out. It's a pretty blunt instrument, and you get a lot of fluctuations in your results."
This clumsy approach, says Bellini, will never enable automotive manufacturers to achieve the goal of what he calls "the fourteen-day car" – that is, a built-to-order car that fulfils the exact specifications outlined by the buyer. "Right now in the US, 80% of cars are bought off the lot. That's a one-day turnaround for the customer, but they might not get exactly the car they wanted. The remaining 20% of cars are ordered directly from the manufacturer. The customer gets exactly the car they want, but it takes eight weeks to arrive." By calculating the weighted average of these turnaround times, says Bellini, all cars could be built to order in 14 days.
This would also eliminate vast inventory problems at dealerships, he adds. "All the automotive companies would love to be in this position," says Bellini.
Bellini believes that only by building service-based architectures can automotive companies really achieve the supply chain optimisation necessary to make the 14-day car a reality. Service-based architectures, he explains, capture and automate business processes that typically cross multiple enterprise systems – whether those processes are internal, or cross company boundaries to encompass third-party suppliers, for example. In particular, they enable inter-dependent networks of employees or even companies to shift away from performing an entire process (for example, building a car) as a strictly ordered series of tasks, enabling them to perform many tasks in parallel.
The service-based architecture solves two key problems, according to Bellini: First, the need to automate business processes that span systems and companies. And second, the need to move and manage the data and content that power those business processes. It is for this reason that Bellini refers to the service-based architecture, and in particular, Excelon's Extensible Information Server (XIS), as "the next killer application". Excelon's XIS is a scalable object database optimised for business processes expressed in XML (extensible mark-up language) – the emerging lingua franca for capturing application logic. Excelon may be betting its future on XML, says Bellini, but its largest, most influential customers are also doing so, he insists: "Most CIOs tell me their companies are being swamped with XML data right now."
Data standards and service-based architectures: the two topics are primary concerns of independent industry group, the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI.org), of which Excelon is a member. BPMI.org's mission is to promote and develop the use of business process management (BPM) through the establishment of standards for process design, deployment, execution, maintenance, and optimisation, explains Howard Smith, chief technology officer in Europe for IT services company Computer Sciences Corp (CSC) and co-chair of BPMI.org.
"If a strong foundation for the representation of processes can be achieved, it will be possible to enable business process management using a single, reliable methodology and toolset. These systems will be available from a number of vendors who will compete on features, scalability and reliability. Such a platform will enable the construction of entirely new applications that will interact with end-to-end processes, radically simplifying enterprise integration and inter-enterprise collaboration," he says.
Smith sees huge potential for business process management. Quoting IT market analyst group, IDC, he says: "For Fortune 2000 companies, the quest to implement the best business process management solution is becoming highly desirable – akin to acquiring the Holy Grail in any given industry. BPM promises to streamline internal and external business processes, eliminate redundancies and increase automation."
Much of BPMI.org's efforts to date have focused on the development of BPML, a meta-language that offers a generic execution model for business processes that can be translated into specific languages for different vertical markets; for example, such languages include CPFR for collaborative planning, forecasting and replenishment processes; FpML for securities trading processes; and TMF for telecommunication services provisioning processes.
"BPML makes modelling complex business process easier than any other approach. It bridges the gap between modelling and execution, and brings together business analysts and software engineers," says Smith. "BPML is here today," he claims.
Smith concedes that while the BPM market shows massive potential, it is still relatively immature. But Bellini claims this is changing rapidly, thanks to the work of standards bodies like BPMI.org, and through the collaboration of major companies on developing XML frameworks for their specific market sectors.
A groundswell of support is amassing around BPM, says Bellini. "The bowling pins are lined up. Large companies are increasingly comfortable with standards like XML – and if the market leader in a vertical adopts it, you can be sure that the next ten companies in that market will follow suit in order to maintain market share. So we just need to work out what it takes to bowl those pins down," he says.