Process Application Platforms 2017: Oracle

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This report assesses the capabilities of Oracle’s Process Application Platform, and also examines the partners and intellectual property that Oracle can offer customers exploring associated technology implementations. This assessment report forms part of a series of reports from MWD Advisors which assesses business process application technology offerings – technology-related capabilities which support organisations wanting to design, develop, deploy, monitor and optimise partially- or wholly-automated business processes.
We strongly encourage you to read this report in conjunction with our accompanying Assessment Framework report.

Summary

Oracle’s process application technology heritage may be principally in automating application integration flows, but in recent years the breadth of applicability of its process application platform has increased significantly. Now, the Oracle Process Cloud Service (PCS), available as part of Oracle Integration Cloud Enterprise Edition going forward, is where Oracle is focusing most of its attention. This uses the same underlying technology as the on-premise Oracle BPM Suite, but is packaged and delivered in a way that significantly simplifies the experience of designing, building and deploying applications. Recent months have seen further investment in support for exploratory work (with the introduction of explicit case management modelling capabilities), DMN-compliant decision management, design simplicity and quick-start capabilities, together with ‘best-next-action’ recommendations – primarily for PCS.

Support for different types of work

Automated work: Automated work is Oracle’s heritage in the process application space, and the ease of combining with the Oracle SOA Suite (on-premise) or the Oracle Integration Cloud Service makes for a strong foundation. Sophisticated error handling rounds out the picture.

Transactional work: Separation of process management from model-based task management makes for a sophisticated platform for transactional work. The ability to drive data definition from form definition, and vice versa, is a nice touch; ‘Business Process Guides’ are another bonus, for Oracle BPM Suite customers at least.

Exploratory work: Oracle’s design-time and runtime features for Case Management applications create a very capable foundation for these kinds of work scenario. Oracle has some impressive capabilities here; and in 2017, Oracle has moved to deliver the same degree of packaged, ready-to-use support in this area across both BPM Suite and PCS.

Rapid prototyping / quick-start

The Oracle Process Cloud Service (PCS) includes a rapid prototyping/quick start capability called QuickStart Apps, which enables developer teams to build and manage libraries of ‘master’ applications that can be very quickly customised to suit particular process needs.

Change management

Oracle provides an environment for process automation projects that goes a long way to helping you minimize the costs associated with designing, deploying and changing processes. Although the tools available with Oracle BPM Suite and PCS are different, both platforms provide very solid capabilities.

User experience options

The user experience options offered by Oracle differ a little depending on whether you choose to use Oracle BPM Suite or PCS. Both platform alternatives provide the web-based Workspace user experience as the default, as well as supporting the native mobile app Oracle Process Mobile. However where PCS supports embedding of process application functionality through a set of jQuery components as well as a REST API, with Oracle BPM Suite only the REST API is available. There’s also more sophistication in the use of email for action with PCS than there is with Oracle BPM Suite today.

Deployment options

As mentioned briefly above, Oracle offers two variants of its Process Application Platform: Oracle Process Cloud Service and Oracle BPM Suite. Process Cloud Service is built on the same underlying technology foundation as BPM Suite, but currently goes significantly further in terms of simplified tooling and packaging.

Inside Oracle’s platform

Oracle’s BPM technology offering spans the Oracle Process Cloud Service (PCS) and the Oracle BPM Suite product bundle. Today, PCS is the principal focus for Oracle’s technical development efforts.

Key tools and capabilities

If you choose to work with the current version of Oracle BPM Suite (12c) you’ll receive:

  • Business Process Composer. A web-based process design environment aimed at helping non-technical stakeholders (for example business analysts) participate in process improvement and collaboration with IT directly without having to use developer tools. As well as mapping processes, Business Process Composer can also ‘play back’ incomplete process application designs in the browser interactively; perform process simulations; and be used to design task definitions and forms, business objects, simple integration specifications and business rules. Business Process Composer also includes some business architecture capability for customers wanting to model the ‘bigger picture’ that provides the context for BPM projects and programs.
  • Studio. An integrated Oracle JDeveloper-based process design and development toolset which offers process, organisation, and information model and user interface design and simulation functionality along with Oracle Business Rules Whereas Composer is optimized for the needs of non-technical specialists, Studio is optimized for developers needing to specify advanced integration functionality and other functionality particularly required for automated work scenarios.
  • Enterprise Manager. Oracle BPM Suite 12c, just like all other Oracle technologies, uses Oracle Enterprise Manager (EM) as its technical administration and monitoring tool. From within EM, administrators can monitor and manage the BPM runtime engine and its components, together with deployed projects.
  • Process Analytics. An analytics environment for exploring standard historical process metrics as well as process specific business indicators (modelled as part of process definition). It also enables process participants to create their own dashboards on top of these cubes. Process Analytics is integrated with Oracle Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) for real-time event based dashboarding.

By purchasing Oracle BPM Suite, customers will also gain access to the following:

  • Oracle Business Activity Monitoring (BAM). This provides a graphical environment for administrators and analysts to use to explore real-time process and case performance, and has been significantly enhanced in its new 12c version. It’s designed to work across Oracle’s broader middleware and applications portfolio and is not limited to use with Oracle BPM Suite. A new design tool, BAM Composer, significantly eases the process of designing BAM
  • Oracle Business Rules. A business rules definition tool, repository and runtime execution engine. With Oracle Business rules in place alongside Oracle BPM, customers can design a clear separation between business rules and business processes, and drive independent change cycles for each. As of Oracle BPM Suite 11g, the design environment for Oracle Business Rules is now an integrated part of both Composer and Studio.
  • Oracle SOA Suite. Oracle’s Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) product is found here. This provides JDeveloper-based tooling to enable you to expose, manage and co-ordinate communications between existing systems, databases and applications exposed as services. SOA assets (existing SOA services, bus instances, and so on) are easily discoverable and usable within Oracle BPM tools; and Oracle BPM processes can easily be published to Oracle SOA Suite with automatically-generated service interfaces.
  • Oracle WebCenter. A limited-use license of Oracle WebCenter is provided as part of the Oracle BPM Suite. As well as providing the Process workspace that by default will host your process applications’ user interfaces, it includes Web content management (via the 2011 FatWire acquisition), document management, digital asset management and records and retention management (via the 2006 Stellent acquisition in 2006) and these capabilities can be easily exposed through your process application user interfaces to enable documents managed within Oracle WebCenter to be associated with process instances and cases.

If you choose Oracle Process Cloud Service, the toolset you use will be significantly simplified. There are just two separate environments:

  • Composer. This provides a superset of the functionality found in Business Process Composer above, and is used by designers to specify and build process models, rules, forms and dashboards for cloud-based process applications.
  • Workspace. Like Process Spaces (above), this technology provides the hosting environment for process participants to select and complete tasks, and for administrators to administer, monitor and fix running process instances. A Workspace mobile app delivers PCS applications’ responsive web user interfaces to mobile devices, and adds offline working capabilities.

User experience options

As mentioned above, the default user experience for your process applications, whether you’re using Oracle BPM Suite or PCS, will be the responsive HTML and Javascript-based Workspace interface (though the details of how your applications look will be slightly different).

For mobile process application use, Oracle delivers a generic mobile client for your Oracle BPM Suite or PCS applications called Oracle Process Mobile; it’s available on iOS and Android phones and tablets. This provides task list and form user interfaces, integrates with devices’ native capabilities (cameras, geolocation etc) and also – crucially – provides an ‘offline mode’ that enables process participants to launch and complete tasks even when there’s no mobile connectivity.

As well as Workspace and Oracle Process Mobile, you have a few other options:

  • Whether you’re using Oracle BPM Suite or PCS, then you have the ability to use a comprehensive REST API to build custom web experiences and apps and ‘hook into’ your process applications to present task forms, initiate actions, and so on.
  • If you’re using PCS, you can use a new ‘embeddable apps’ capability that makes PCS application widgets available as jQuery components for you to embed in your own custom web experiences.
  • If you’re using PCS, you can configure task notifications to send out ‘actionable emails’ that enable task workers to initiate actions within your process application (such as approving a request, for example) directly from email, without having to login to the application.

Deployment options

Rather than offering the on-premise Oracle BPM Suite as a cloud-based service, Oracle’s principal cloud push for process application platforms is a separate (but related) offering. Leveraging much of the Oracle BPM Suite technology under the covers, nevertheless Oracle Process Cloud Service (PCS) is significantly streamlined and simplified in how developers, administrators and process workers interact with it and the applications you create with it. PCS is delivered via the Oracle Cloud Platform, which today is available in 22 regions across North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.

Oracle now cites ‘hundreds’ of PCS customers. The majority of customers using an Oracle Process Application Platform currently use the on-premise Oracle BPM Suite, but PCS deployments are growing much faster.

Using the products: core capabilities

Rapid prototyping / quick-start

The concept of QuickStart Apps, new to PCS in 2016, enables teams to rapidly build and deploy common kinds of process applications. Put simply, QuickStart ‘Masters’ are packaged process application templates – but they’re not just frameworks; they’re full featured applications (including processes, tasks, forms, data models, rules) that are ready-to-deploy and run, but that can also be quickly customised to create unique QuickStart Apps. Developers can build QuickStart Masters from scratch, or create new QuickStart Masters from existing process applications. When creating Masters, developers use graphical wizards to enable an appropriate set of customisation points; then those wanting to use and customise Masters have the ability to customise them accordingly, again using graphical wizards rather than code.

Mapping, modeling and application design

If you use Oracle BPM Suite and you need to carry out significant custom design work then you will likely use two different tools for different aspects of mapping, implementation modelling and design. The web-based Business Process Composer is designed for non-specialists to use within collaborative process analysis and design; whereas Studio is based on Oracle’s more general-purpose JDeveloper development toolset, and provides more options for developers to specify process application implementation details. If you use PCS then you’ll use Composer, which is a hosted (and streamlined) version of Business Process Composer.

Business Process Composer also includes significant support for ‘upstream’ Business Architecture work. You can document abstract enterprise process maps and hierarchies of value chains, and link those to process definitions that are implemented in Oracle BPM Suite. There’s also the ability to create ‘strategy maps’ that link corporate goals to lower-level objectives, strategies and value chains. You can define KPIs for value chain steps or individual processes, and also define ‘rollup KPIs’ that aggregate KPIs from lower levels in a hierarchy. Note, though, that these capabilities aren’t available as part of PCS.

Two types of analysis reports are enabled from the models you can create in Business Process Composer: ‘impact analysis’ reports (that enable analysts and architects to quickly understand the broader impacts of making changes to a process, a strategy, a goal etc); and ‘process criticality’ reports (that show KPIs in the context of high-level process architecture and strategy maps, using data gathered from Oracle BPM Suite, external Oracle applications such as Oracle HCM or ERP, or manually-entered KPI data). If you’re using Oracle BPM Suite then KPIs that you define either in business architecture models or in more detailed process models can be used to drive Oracle BAM dashboards and Process Analytics dashboards (see Monitoring and optimisation below). However if you’re using PCS, you’ll define ‘business measures’ as part of your process application’s data model and use these to shape the business analytics available with your application in operation. Business measures can be identified from any element in your application’s data model; for example they might identify customer order value, customer location, and so on.

Processes

In both Composer and Studio you can model all the usual business process element types – swimlanes, activities, gateways, timers, events, exceptions, and so on. The tools support BPMN 2.0 and allow designers and developers to see only as much of the very extensive BPMN 2.0 symbol set as they want. Composer/ Business Process Composer in particular makes the abstract design of processes very straightforward, with a context-sensitive palette that helps guide analysts to create models that comply with the BPMN standard; it’s also possible, should you want to, to interchange BPMN models between Composer and Business Process Composer/Studio.

The design-time repository serves as the system of truth and facilitates collaboration across business and IT tools. The BPM Studio (in Oracle BPM Suite) provides integrated check-in, check-out, branching, merging and other versioning capabilities.

Rules

If you’re using Oracle BPM Suite then you can take advantage of Oracle Business Rules (OBR) to define business decision logic. With this capability, it’s straightforward to define business rules in a way that clearly separates policy decisions from flow logic. Although OBR is also a standalone product, process information models are seamlessly made available within the business rule dictionary. Designers can specify rulesets directly from within Studio, either using decision tables or the traditional if-then-else format.

If you’re using PCS then you have more choice here. PCS has recently been updated to include a DMN-compliant decision modeller. With this, you can define decision models comprising multiple decisions, with implementations including DMN-compliant decision tables – and reference them from process models using new Decision flow elements. Additionally, you can also use the aforementioned OBR components (ensuring compatibility with the Oracle BPM Suite).

Integration

If you’re using Oracle BPM Suite then when it comes to integrating process flows with external systems, applications and databases you will use the BPMN service task and adapters that come with the Oracle BPM Suite, or alternatively use the Oracle Service Bus (OSB) as an intermediary (in more complicated situations). OSB integration is principally provided by an automated importer for OSB services, which allows you to browse OSB instances and the services managed by those instances, then select services you want to use as External Components in a Business Catalog. OSB’s support for a variety of communication protocols and message formats means that it can be responsible for technology-level integration of existing assets as homogeneous services; however semantic integration (making sure that message datatypes match those expected by BPM processes) is something you will have to deal with using specialized transformation tools in OSB. These tools allow you to specify XSLT transformations on XML messages, or call out to specialized transformation services for more complex requirements.

If you’re using PCS then you have two options. You can create REST and SOAP-based Web Services connectors (the latter by importing WSDL definitions), or you can leverage the Oracle Integration Cloud Service (ICS). A detailed discussion of ICS is out of scope of this report, but in brief it provides a compact graphical toolset that makes it straightforward to connect SaaS and on-premise applications at both the interface level (connecting APIs to APIs) and the semantic level (message transformation). The service also ships with pre-configured connectors to all Oracle’s SaaS applications. You can easily browse existing ICS integrations from within PCS Composer, and then map information exchanged with that integration to a process application data object.

In addition, through a new alliance announced in 2017, you can now take advantage of UiPath’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology to deliver you integration with legacy systems – where either the required interfacing infrastructure is not available or too hard to work with; or where the cost or complexity of integrating via ICS or OSB would be too high. (Read more about UiPath’s offering.)

Work assignment and distribution

Tasks are defined in both PCS and Oracle BPM Suite through the BPMN concept of Human Tasks; a standard approach used by many vendors of BPM and SOA technologies and the same approach used by the Oracle SOA Suite. Human Tasks are defined completely independently of the processes with which they interact. It’s Human Tasks that define the roles and individuals who can perform tasks and any delegation or escalation actions that will be allowed; you configure these policies through a graphical wizard.

User interfaces

In 2016, Oracle released an updated forms technology layer that provides more power and flexibility. New web-based forms you define for your applications are still standards-based (leveraging HTML, CSS and Javascript) and responsive, and are still created using easy-to-use graphical tools; however the new technology provides for you to package and save your own form elements and regions as reusable components, and also enables forms to be specified with multiple ‘presentations’ – so that different views of a form can be displayed to users with different roles in your application (for example, request submitters and approvers). You can choose to design a web form by dragging and dropping structures from a palette onto a design canvas, and then optionally creating a Business Object definition that mirrors the logical structure of the form; or, you can select an existing Business Object definition and immediately create a first-cut form that presents data from that object to a process participant.

Within Oracle BPM Suite, Business Process Composer and Studio provide a tool for building ‘Business Process Guides’, which provide guided documentation that acts as a ‘helper’ for process participants at runtime as they work with tasks – highlighting what information needs to be gathered for a task, the current state of progress through the process, and so on. Note, though, that Business Process Guides aren’t currently supported in PCS.

Operation and execution

Oracle’s core BPM runtime platform utilises the Service Component Architecture (SCA) standard to provide a pluggable set of specialised runtime engines that are designed to execute BPMN processes, BPEL processes, human tasks, and business rules. The BPMN and BPEL execution engines share a common ‘process core’ that provides one deployment and administration environment.

When it comes to testing and debugging of process applications before deploying a new or changed process, Oracle’s general-purpose development tools heritage brings some useful capabilities – particularly if you’re using Oracle BPM Suite. There’s a full process tracing (debugging) facility in Studio that works down to the level of individual activities and functions; there’s also a unit test automation capability (based on the open-source JUnit testing project). Quite separately to this, and working at a much more abstract level, the Process Player functionality delivered by Composer/Business Process Composer is very useful as a component of User Acceptance Testing as well as earlier-stage iterative design work – and this is available for customers of both Oracle BPM Suite and PCS.

With Oracle BPM Suite, multiple options are supported for deploying processes and moving them from development to test to production. The two most likely are Ant-based scripting, and use of Oracle Enterprise Manager. Enterprise Manager provides sophisticated deployment capabilities, especially in a clustered environment. With PCS, deployment to both test servers and production servers is accomplished through a simple graphical administration interface.

With Oracle BPM suite, the runtime platform is integrated with its event processing engine, Oracle Event Processing (OEP), via the Oracle Event Delivery Network (EDN). Processes can act as both event sources (publishing events when certain thresholds are passed or states reached) and sinks (consuming events to kick off or progress process instances). Using this capability, you can build and deploy event-driven networks of processes that cater for highly dynamic business situations which require fast, sophisticated responses. Event-based integration also extends to Oracle Real Time Decisions (RTD), enabling RTD’s predictive analytics capabilities to generate action recommendations that can be surfaced within human tasks. You can model event-based synchronisation between process instances (and between instances of different processes) through the use of notification wait activities. These activities can wait for multiple separate events. Events can be sent and received by processes and pass via (and are processed in) the OEP engine.

In PCS, you also have the ability to use event-based synchronisation between processes and process instances, using event correlation features.

Oracle BPM Suite promotes a single principal technology through which process participants and stakeholders can interact with process applications: Oracle WebCenter Portal. For those choosing Oracle BPM Suite, Oracle WebCenter can also be configured to provide a long-term electronic document and content store for business processes executed by the BPM runtime. It doesn’t take much work to configure process flows to respond to state changes in Oracle WebCenter via events, nor is it complicated to configure process models so that running applications can store, retrieve and edit documents managed by Oracle WebCenter.

For those choosing PCS, integration with what is now called the Oracle Content and Experience Cloud (CEC, formerly Documents Cloud) is seamless, with each business process instance in a PCS instance being allocated its own unique document folder where documents can be easily stored, searched and retrieved. There’s also the ability to have events (document or folder activity) instantiate relevant business processes. Here, the user interface is the Workspace, within which users, administrators and developers can start applications, work on process tasks and engage in online conversations relating to tasks – the latter of these provided by integration with Conversations, a feature of CEC.

For Oracle BPM Suite customers using WebCenter, as well as being able to take advantage of the document and content stores therein you also have the ability to use WebCenter’s collaborative workspace technology as part of the user experience that process participants have. In the design environment you can specify that a task should be collaborative, without programming; if you do this, the Instance Space provided for each instance of a process, delivered by Oracle WebCenter, will feature a collaborative workspace that’s automatically provisioned in support of collaborative work on that task by a team. If you choose PCS, these collaborative features are available in the context of your process applications’ tasks by default.

Monitoring and improvement

Within both Oracle BPM Suite and PCS, Workspace provides the default work management portal that process participants use to locate and perform tasks. It’s also the tool process owners and participants will use to monitor work as it unfolds; those with sufficient permissions can create their own dashboards from within Workspace. You can view performance bottlenecks superimposed on process models themselves; this visualization distinguishes between queue-related performance issues and time-related performance issues.

Under the covers with Oracle BPM Suite, process monitoring data can be fed from the runtime environment to either or both of two separate databases: a monitoring database (responsible for holding information for tracking events emitted by individual instances, according to configuration you set against individual activities, activity groups and processes at design time) and a Process Analytics cube (responsible for holding information used in analyzing historical activity, again based on the publication of events you configure in process models at design time). Process Analytics dashboards come with pre-built dashboard components for analyzing the historical performance of tasks, processes and cases; and these components now allow those with appropriate permissions to take actions right from within a dashboard. Designers can customize the pre-defined metrics or the pre-selected visualizations of those metrics.

If you’re using Oracle BPM Suite, Oracle BAM’s scope isn’t solely limited to monitoring events emitted from the BPM Suite runtime; it can also subscribe to events from other platform elements and applications (such as Oracle Event Processing, for example), and present performance dashboards showing the bigger picture of end-to-end business process performance if you configure it to do so.

In Oracle BAM, a graphical BAM Composer tool provides a non-technical way for analysts to specify BAM dashboards – defining KPIs (or importing them from Business Process Composer); specifying actions and alerts for KPI values that cross ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ thresholds; and selecting visualizations. There’s the ability to set up predictive monitoring that will highlight jeopardy conditions with simple traffic-light indicators; and what’s more, there’s also the capability to visually assemble continuous queries, using pre-defined continuous query templates as the foundation, so that new time-based types of metrics (such as rolling averages or aggregates) can be included in dashboards.

The Process Analytics tool within the Oracle BPM Suite can help you to explore historical work performance in the context of individual activities, activity groups or process participants – so giving either a process perspective or an organisational perspective.

With PCS you get a number of out-of-the-box reports for standard process metrics (‘system indicators’ like workload, cycle time, and so on); in addition you can create your own custom measures (‘business indicators’) in order to capture contextual information (such as the value of customer orders flowing through a process over time). When reporting on system indicators (like cycle time) you can build aggregate views across multiple deployed process applications. If you prefer, you can also integrate PCS with Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service (BICS) by configuring PCS to archive its analytics data to BICS on a periodic basis. Once analytics data is available within BICS, analysts can use it to create charts and reports that link PCS data with other acquired application data. Lastly, PCS also implements an analytics export REST API so you can use a third-party analytics tool if needed.

Change management

With the introduction of the Process Asset Manager (PAM) as part of the foundation of Oracle BPM Suite, as well as the foundation of PCS, Oracle has significantly improved the ease of use of very solid change management facilities that have been available for some time. Oracle provides an environment for process automation projects that goes a long way to helping you minimize the costs associated with designing, deploying and changing processes.

In the context of Oracle BPM Suite you use PAM to store projects and manage their deployment to runtime servers and their exchange with Eclipse-based Studio development users; With PAM, regardless of whether you’re using Composer or Studio you can now create and store multiple ‘snapshots’ of entire projects, which is a very easy way to perform configuration management atop artefact-level versioning. There’s also the ability to create inheritance hierarchies for entire BPM projects – meaning it’s straightforward for a central design authority to create a ‘base project’ containing important reusable design artifacts, and have individual project efforts all inherit from that base project, as long as all projects are stored in the same repository.

Further, you can specify that only certain users or roles can deploy new processes or changed processes. You can also define publishing control workflows, which ensure that process publication always follows the same rules and includes the same reviews.

Finally, within both Oracle BPM Suite and PCS, the splitting of process provisioning into two tasks – publication and deployment – means that it’s comparatively straightforward to stage rollout of new processes, and deploy them consistently in multiple locations in highly distributed organisations (or even across organisations). Oracle provides a number of tools that makes it easy to transfer assets from one deployment environment to another. Lastly, there’s support for versioning of deployed process models with the ability to ‘hot-deploy’ revised process versions, so that any currently executing instances of the previous process version continue to run while new instances start with the new process version. Furthermore, you can take process applications you create in PCS and deploy them into the Oracle BPM Suite runtime environment.

Using the products: support for different kinds of work

Facilities to support automated work

It’s straightforward to define process applications that are completely automated using the Oracle BPM Suite – where processes have no end-user interaction steps. If you want to create automated process applications with PCS then you’ll likely want to enlist Oracle Integration Cloud Service (ICS), too.

In the Oracle BPM Suite there’s a flexible approach to error handling that’s very useful in automated scenarios. At the Project level in Studio, you can specify that you want the runtime to automatically handle errors; in this case, steps and roles to do this are automatically added to each process. Or you can specify that you want exceptions to be propagated to parent processes; or that you want to explicitly handle exceptions.

As mentioned above, the concept of Activity Groups implements transaction control for groups of related process activities, which can be particularly useful in automated work scenarios primarily directed at integrating existing systems. From a scalability perspective, there’s good support for load balancing across multiple process servers and for clustered server environments.

Facilities to support transactional work

Organisational models are ‘first class citizens’ in both Oracle BPM Suite and PCS. Designers or business analysts can use Studio’s tools to define models based on external databases (LDAP directories or HR applications) that lay out relationships between roles and groups, skill levels present in groups, and so on. If you’re taking models forward into a process automation project, those models can actually be used to determine runtime processing.

Oracle’s technology is very capable in the way it can direct work distribution and monitoring based on models (rather than scripting – though Groovy-based scripting is also supported in both Composer and Studio). Organisational models that specify calendar and holiday definitions, roles and access permissions, management relationships and skills can drive task assignment, re-assignment and collaboration at runtime; role-based access to portals, dashboards, reports and worklists; and task deadlines and escalations.

Oracle provides other features to help with common work assignment patterns. A special kind of Human Task implementation called a Task Flow can be used to act as a container for the individual tasks; in this situation each individual task will be presented to a given participant to complete in one integrated user interface – though at runtime individual tasks in a Task Flow can be delegated from one user to another. Within Task Flows, you can also employ a design time concept that Oracle calls ‘sticky user’: here, you can specify that any set of two or more tasks within the flow should always be assigned to the same individual. Note that today Task Flows aren’t available in PCS, although the concept of ‘sticky user’ is supported.

When it comes to using analytics in an operational context, for example to guide human process participants by suggesting likely choices based on historic evidence, Oracle can support this if you employ Oracle Real-Time Decisions (RTD) alongside Oracle BPM Suite. With limited integration work, you can configure Oracle RTD’s predictive analytics capabilities to generate action recommendations that can be surfaced both within social activity streams and within the context of running processes and tasks. These capabilities are currently not provided by PCS.

Facilities to support exploratory work

Oracle has assembled some strong capabilities in support of designing case management applications. Designers and developers can create multiple Case definitions within any given Project, which in turn specify:

  • Case categories and priorities.
  • Relationships with other case types (for example you can specify cases as sub-cases of others)
  • Attributes (structured datatypes) and documents (via integration with Oracle Unified Content Management).
  • Sets of case activities and sequences (available at runtime to appropriately privileged users).
  • Policies that constrain which activities are mandatory, and which activities are available for selection/processing in which circumstances (defined in Oracle Business Rules).
  • Milestones that identify ‘checkpoints’ in the lifecycle of each case instance and represent points at which deliverables or sets of related deliverables are made.
  • Events that case instances can signal when milestones are reached, activities are started or completed, and so on.
  • Stakeholders, roles and permissions that shape which individuals can see and interact with which aspects of case instances.
  • Links to Oracle WebCenter Content structures, with the ability to specify case-related content permissions and retention policies.

If you use PCS, then the features you have at your disposal are broadly the same, though content and document storage is provided through Oracle Content and Experience cloud rather than WebCenter Content. A new Kanban board-style user interface is provided for case management applications in PCS, and this makes it easy for case management application users to visualise and work on available activities across case stages and milestones.

With case objects deployed as part of your projects in PCS or Oracle BPM Suite, your process applications gain the ability to dynamically create and manage tasks, processes and their associated information at runtime; the platform has the ability to execute work using flow structures that are made available by the system and selected by individuals at runtime, guided by system events and rules. Cases can also be linked together through associations. Activities can be reconfigured at runtime, for example (so a required activity can be made optional, or vice versa; a non-repeating activity can be made repeating; a manually-invoked activity can be made automatic; and so on).

Case owners and other stakeholders have the ability at runtime to perform ‘people searches’ for individuals who might be qualified to help perform a given task or process and assign them as collaborators on that task or process. Searches can be rich, if your organisation has put the requisite work into developing its organisational model; searches can be based not only on roles, but also on social connections (see Engagement scope and scale below) or skills.

Events created within case instances are recorded within each case instance, creating an audit trail that case workers with the right permissions can easily explore; on case closing, the platform can check and enforce that all required activities have been completed. Although today there’s no in-built feature that enables the runtime to automatically archived closed cases for later auditing or analysis, with a small amount of work, it’s possible to script behaviour that will serialise case information and history and archive it to a Records Management system.

In Oracle BPM Suite, the ability to monitor the progress of cases – individually and in aggregate – has been improved with the re-architected implementation of Oracle BAM. It’s now possible to quickly configure case performance reports and dashboards that hook into your runtime case management environment.

Reference information

Regional capabilities

As a global technology provider Oracle has local representation in all countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and Japan.

Industry capabilities

In the BPM area specifically, Oracle has specialised industry teams serving financial services and the public sector; Oracle Solution Accelerators are offered as freely available assets to these industries (currently only for deployment to the Oracle BPM Suite).

Oracle Solution Accelerators are designed to be deployable out-of-the-box yet easily extensible though the Oracle BPM Suite. They’re built on functionality from Oracle BPM Suite, Oracle WebCenter Content, Oracle WebCenter Imaging and Oracle WebCenter Portal. Solution Accelerators include best practice process models, business-rules, UI and dashboard definitions, and make use of other Oracle applications as required. Example targets include Financial Services Loan Origination (FSLO) and Public Sector Incident Reporting (PSIR), as well as horizontal processes, such as Internal Service Request (ISR) and Employee Onboarding (EOB).

More Solution Accelerators, including solutions for Oracle Process Cloud, are currently under construction. Process Cloud solutions will be made available through the new Oracle Cloud Marketplace and will enable customers to automatically provision software from Oracle partners into their own Process Cloud instances.

Partners

In the BPM area specifically Oracle cites over 200 consulting partners – including Accenture, Capgemini, Avio Consulting, Keste, Link, eProseed, PwC, CSC, Deloitte, Infosys, and Opitz. A full list is available at the oracle.com website.

Oracle also provides its BPM Suite as an embedded component to www.frevvo.com.

Platforms and connectivity

The Oracle BPM Suite runs on Oracle’s WebLogic Java application server. You can, if you want, use an Oracle BPM Suite license and deploy the product to the Oracle Java Cloud – leveraging hosted WebLogic services and creating your own hosted full Oracle BPM capability.

A very wide range of application adapters is available as chargeable extensions to your core Oracle BPM Suite licensing: these cover all popular packaged business application suites, middleware and data transfer standards, database stores and more. You can find a complete and up-to date list at http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/middleware/adapters/overview/index.html

For situations where you need to coordinate the exchange of information between organisations you’ll currently need to deploy Oracle BPM Suite and then use that in conjunction with Oracle B2B, which can be deployed as a chargeable extension to the runtime platform. Note that you’ll also require separate adapter licenses if you want to deploy EDI, Healthcare-specific, RosettaNet or ebXML related functionality.

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