Dec 31 2009

Will WSBPEL Engines Drive E-Gov?

Step by step, they could help agencies in their move to service-oriented architectures.

Photo: Sean McCormick
The IRS plans to include WSBPEL in its SOA efforts but still must map out its ultimate strategy, the tax agency’s Susan L. Smoter says.

To be truly useful, an agency’s business processes must handle diverse content, define the content’s structure, transfer the content in protective packages and cross-reference any related services.

Until Web services came along, this complex workflow demanded huge clerical staffs and mailrooms. Now, Web services standards are evolving to orchestrate these functions, says George Thomas, enterprise chief architect in the General Services Administration’s CIO Office.

As agencies flesh out their service-oriented architectures, a forthcoming international standard, Web Services Business Process Execution Language (WSBPEL), could build on the government’s Web services efforts, Thomas says.

According to Peter Roden, director of technology development for the international Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), WSBPEL is a hot area for agencies because it offers a business process management approach for fusing eXtensible Markup Language with Web services.

Through e-government initiatives, agencies have widely implemented XML to identify and tag data. WSBPEL can help with implementing SOA and integrating Web services. To achieve this goal, the Office of Management and Budget, has laid out what agencies must do in its “Services and Components Based Architectures” guidance, which directs agencies to:

  • redesign business and transaction models that emphasize collaborative services and eliminate silo applications;
  • accommodate reuse within an agency and with other agencies;
  • avoid duplicative development of services and apps;
  • build a culture that rewards and motivates reuse;
  • eliminate custom coding whenever possible when developing and deploying apps;
  • promote architectural models that are best-of-breed service components.

Leading the Way

GSA has begun trying out WSBPEL in enterprise architecture projects. “We have generated BPEL orchestrations directly from our business architecture and deployed them to open-source BPEL runtime platforms,” Thomas says. “We’ve demonstrated that this approach to business architecture design can make it easier to conceive and implement new services.”

As these projects mature, he predicts they will help GSA — and ultimately other agencies, too — better plan and use resources and continuously improve services across the government. GSA is undertaking the BPEL projects as part of the Open Source eGoverment Reference Architecture, at

“Through our participation in the CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee, we’re demonstrating how OSERA techniques can apply to what we call test-driven, service-based procurement,” Thomas says.

Service-based procurement is a transformational goal of recent CIOC-AIC guidance for governmentwide acquisition, capital planning and investment (see below). Agencies are beginning to meet and exchange information about their progress at collaborative workshops with broad federal and industry participation.

For example, in conjunction with a recent Service-Oriented Architecture Community of Practice conference, agencies and vendors demonstrated multiparty services interoperability within the Federal Financial Management and Human Resources Lines of Business. The demo showed how agencies can present real-time updates of program costs on an executive dashboard, with information integrated from different systems and competing vendors’ technologies.

Thomas says multiple vendors showed how their design and runtime tools could support transformation efforts. These first SOACOP demonstrations, however, are using eXtensible Markup Language, SOA and Web services without BPEL orchestration. Down the road, he says business management theories will continue to align with SOA, making agency transactions of all kinds easier to develop and manage.

Building Out Services

WSBPEL 2.0, now under public review in advance of approval by OASIS, will let agencies define their inbound and outbound business transactions through their existing XML constructs, says IBM’s Diane Jordan, co-chairwoman of the OASIS Technical Committee for WSBPEL. The committee has been working on the standard for three years, with participation by a number of federal representatives and contractors.

“We’re not focused on applications yet,” Jordan says, “but WSBPEL will be usable across government, health, credit card, banking and insurance organizations. It will let them generalize many of their long-running business processes such as procurement, which consists of formal sequences of steps. Agencies will be able to apply their business rules in XML.”

Tax processing, for example, consists of a set series of steps, from filing to data entry to collecting funds, issuing refunds and so on. WSBPEL would submit each element of an electronic tax filing to a business process management system that verifies it against current IRS policy to find any faults before proceeding.

“We are not yet using this technology and are only beginning to think about its place in our services-based architecture,” says the IRS’ Susan L. Smoter, who directs Internet development for electronic tax administration.

But the reality is that to achieve its Web delivery strategies, the agency ultimately expects to incorporate WSBPEL into its SOA strategy. “The IRS SOA working group has discussed the need for it as a component of the overall SOA strategy,” she says. Next, the IRS will have to define how to do so, Smoter says. “We have not taken any definite actions yet.”

IBM’s Jordan says an agency’s business process management system might be programmed in any language, “but it would have to be standardized in the way it uses XML constructs,” or self-defining messages about content and format, to benefit from WSBPEL. “A large number of vendors expect to implement the final specification,” she says. “Governments will have choices they didn’t have before to select from multiple software vendors without significant change to their existing business processes.”