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BPMN, BPEL, BPML and XPDL, an attempt to make some order in the business modeling jungle

BPMN, BPEL, BPML and XPDL … have you ever been confused by all of those acronyms?  The good news is that you’re not the only one, and guess what; I have even better news for you! After reading this post you’ll know for sure what those acronyms stand for.   My friends always tell me that I’m the worst combination of pessimist and cynic so to support their thesis I’ll start from the worst part. Actually there are around fifteen known XML-based specifications for business process modeling (BPDM, BPEL4WS, BPML, BPMN, BPSS, EPML, OWL-S, PNML, UML Activity Diagram, WS-CDL, WSCI, WSCL, WSFL, XLANG, XPD, XPDL). I’m not going to cover them all in this post, but if you have a strong desire to understand them all you can start with this paper: “A Comparison of XML Interchange Formats for Business Process Modeling” ( ). So let’s start dealing with four of those   acronyms. I’ll start with BPML because it’s the most confusing one. This acronym has two different meanings in the SAP world and therefore it’s responsible for most of the acronym symptom victims. In the business modeling world BPML stand for Business Process Modeling Language. This is an XML based standard and was proposed by the BPMI (Business Process Management Initiative). BPMI merged with the Object Management Group (OMG) in June 2005, forming the Business Modeling and Integration Domain Task Force. Prior to its merger, the BPMI developed Business Process Modeling Notation (And we’ll deal with BPMN shortly) and Business Process Modeling Language, standards. The Business Process Modeling Language scene has  an  unhappy ending, the BPMI has dropped support for this proposed standard in favor of BPEL4WS.  BPML Documentation: So one meaning of BPML concerns process modeling while the other meaning is more SAP (or even ERP) oriented: Business Process Master List. The Business Process Master List is a key tool for use in ERP implementation projects to capture the scope of the project, drive the planning and managing of configuration and testing. It’s an excel worksheet containing Business Processes configured in SAP R/3.  The Business Process Master List is used throughout the implementation phases to support key project activities, such as: Implementation Team Training, Business Workshops, Business Variants Documentation, Configuration Management, GAP Analysis, Integration and Day in the Life Tests, Security and Roles & Responsibilities.  So, although you’ll see BPML mentioned in business process context it shouldn’t be used. Yes the specification exists and you can download it but due to the fact that the standard’s father starts to support BPEL, it’s an orphan standard.   Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) was developed by  the  Business Process Management Initiative, and is now being maintained by the Object Management Group since their merger in 2005. The primary goal of BPMN is to provide a notation that is readily understandable by all business users, from the business analysts who create the initial drafts of the processes, to the technical developers responsible for implementing the technology that will perform those processes, and finally, to the business people who will manage and monitor those processes. Thus, BPMN creates a standardized bridge for the gap between the business process design and process implementation. Currently, there are scores of process modeling tools and methodologies.  BPMN sample: image BPMN documentation: BPEL (BPEL4WS) Business Process Execution Language is a business process language that grew out of WSFL and XLANG. SAP (as well as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle) is an active partner in this standard committee. The goal of BPEL is to provide a definition of web service orchestration, the underlying sequence of interactions, the flow of data from point to point. BPEL is an “execution language”. It is a programming language that has variables and operations. The operations can send and receive SOAP messages, and there is strong support for XML and XML transformation. It has constructs that make it easy to call multiple web services at the same time, and synchronize the results. It does not have any concepts to support the graphics of the diagram; activities do not have a position and size, and there is no representation at all of an “arrow”.  BPEL sample: image BPEL documentation: The XML Process Definition Language (XPDL) is a format standardized by the Workflow Management Coalition (Mainly Microsoft and IBM) to interchange Business Process definitions between different workflow products like modeling tools and workflow engines. XPDL defines a XML schema for specifying the declarative part of workflow. This language is a low level language and it can be used to model higher level business language. The goal of XPDL is to store and exchange the process diagram. XPDL is a process design format. It is a file format that represents the “drawing” of the process definition. It has X & Y coordinates and node size. It has a concept of lines, and points along the line that give it a particular path. The nodes and lines have attributes which can specify executable information such as roles, activity descriptions, timers, web service calls, etc. XPDL 2.0 contains extensions in order to be able to represent all aspects of BPMN (BP Modeling Notation). The goal is to be able to save and exchange the process diagram.   XPDL sample: XPDL documentation:

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      This Blog was very useful which gives a clear understanding of the above.
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      Thank you!
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      Hi Natan,

      I'm investigating the different models for a while now. The main question I have: how do these different models relate to each other.

      When I'm constructing an Enterprise Architecture it seems I will need different models for different parts of my EA.

      For instance I can choose between EPC and BPMN to model business-processes. Parts of these processes I want orchestrate. To do this I have to model in more detail: BPEL, which fortunately can be generated out of EPC (partly) and BPMN completely).

      Now I want to support some business processes by using guided procedures, collaboration tasks and SAP Workflow.

      To model these it seems a logical step to use UML-use case models. And somewhere in my processes I want to use XPDL to exchange workflow-info between SAP Business workflow and a collaboration task. Besides that, UML/XPDL  models should be based on information from my BPMN/EPC models. I'm afraid it is not possible to generate information so I have to model objects again (proces-step in EPC -> activity in UML-use case).

      Do you share my opinion or do you have different ideas?

      Thanks in advance,


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      Hi Theo,

      How do these different models relate to each other?
      IMHO, BPMN - to model the business. XPDL - to be able to exchange business modeling across modeling tools. BPEL - to define how BPMN will execute in reality (by applications and technologies). I learned, from my experienced, that is it impossible to translate automatically from BPMN to BPEL. You can use tools to generate a BPEL, but you always will end up with modifying the BPEL.

      So, do we share the same opinion?

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      Hi Nathan,

      Yes, we agree when about the relationship between the different models.

      Automatic generation of BPEL from BPMN seems to be no option.

      That brings mee to some conclusions:
      1. Before you start modeling from an EA-pespective decide what models you are going to use.
      2. Make sure these diferent models can be connected in some way (functionally and technically)
      3. Decide to what extent models will be used to avoid modeling the same object twice or more.

      Basically I describe somes guidlines regarding a  so-called 'Design architecture'.

      1. Does or will SAP deliver 'Design architecture'with SAAF?

      Greetings Theo

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      Former Member
      Hi Theo,

      Totally agree with your three points!

      Yes we do have "design architecture" emmbeded in our EA Framework.