Oracle BPM 18.104.22.168 (patch set 6) became commercial on April 1st and I've seen several blog posts and presentations that list its new features. I’ve been waiting impatiently for it to become available for the last few weeks - finding myself checking the download site daily. My impatience stemmed from the hands-on Oracle BPM workshops that I’ve been doing with Oracle over the last few months. While I’ve enjoyed doing these and I’m pleased that AVIO’s Oracle BPM training has been in demand, I’ve often felt that I could be telling a much more compelling story from the business’s perspective.
Sandy Kemsley's blog post last week titled Empowering Business Roles For Dynamic BPM clearly makes the case for more active involvement by the business on BPM projects. Until now, Oracle BPM's web based development tool called Oracle Business Process Composer has been a tool exclusively used by business analysts to model and document business processes. Almost anything beyond this has been left to developers to do using Oracle BPM Studio using JDeveloper. In this, I’ll focus on the two new business focused features in Composer that I believe will dramatically alter the way the business is involved in Oracle BPM 11g projects. While developers will continue to be involved with the integration to outside systems and databases, the business now has the potential to not only model and maintain the processes, but they can now also create and test the user interface forms that the end users interact with at runtime.
Web Forms Design Tool - User Interface Form Creation by the Business
The user interface forms displayed to end users at runtime often takes more time and effort to design, develop and test on a BPM project than the process modeling and system integration does. The business needs to be involved early in their design and throughout their testing. Historically, someone on the business side has created wireframe diagram screenshots of end user interfaces that are then handed over to IT for development. At that point, a developer builds the user interface from scratch using the picture as the specification. I've often felt that the level of effort the business puts into the creation of these wire diagram prototypes would have been better spent designing and developing the actual forms that will be used. Using the new Web Forms Designer tool, instead of just building wireframe diagram prototypes - business analysts can now build and test forms capable of being put into production. The new tool is built with the business in mind - it is easy to learn and use, web based and involves a simple drag and drop interface to create the forms needed by the process.
Business analysts create their web forms either with or without having the process's data structure payload already defined. If they start without the data structure defined, business analysts begin with an empty form. In this case the format of the data structure is automatically created behind the scenes as they drag the fields and tables onto the forms. Alternatively, if the business starts with a defined data structure for the process, business analysts instead simply indicate which attributes from the existing data schema need to be added to the form. As they do this, these data elements are automatically bound to the fields and tables on the form.
The elements on forms can be placed inside of collapsible sections and tabs and repeating items can be placed in a list. At runtime - as end users change values in fields, other form fields can dynamically be validated, enabled, disabled, made visible or invisible. The forms can integrate with databases as well.
Process Player Tool - User Interface and Process Testing by the Business
Composer’s new Process Player feature was a very pleasant surprise when I first looked at the 22.214.171.124 preview last summer. Without having to use Oracle BPM Studio JDeveloper to deploy the project, a business analyst using Process Player in Composer can interactively test each activity in the process while still having the process model displayed. Using the Process Player, as a test instance travels through the process the business analyst is able to sequentially test the activities in the process. As shown below, each user interface created in the Web Form Design tool is brought up, displayed and executed when the test work item instance reaches an Interactive activity in the process.
While IT will continue to be needed on Oracle BPM projects, with the release of Oracle BPM 126.96.36.199 this week - the business now has the potential to play a much more important role.