Is XPDL Going to Become a Dominant Process Standard?

Scott Francis
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Jim Sinur of Gartner poses this question in a blog post the other day. Actually, he phrased it as “Is XPDL 2.1 on the Edge of Becoming a Dominant Process Standard”.  I think the answer is a “no (not yet).”

(this may just be because my definition of where the edge is, or what dominant means, is different than Mr. Sinur’s, or it may be because we disagree on some of the background material – either way, here’s my take)

Some arguments in favor of XPDL are cited by Mr. Sinur, and by others (Keith Swensen in a previous post as well), and by WfMC.  The primary argument in favor is the portability of the activity models.  And, a pretty inclusive vendor list that supports XPDL. I’m not against XPDL at all.  I won’t even mind if it becomes the dominant process standard. But here are the arguments working against it for now:

  1. First, keep in mind that these portable activity models are stripped of their execution attributes/elements – those elements are not, according to Mr. Sinur, part of the portability of XPDL 2.1.
  2. Second, the processes that are ported are also devoid of the implementation of human activities (and typically, system activities), which are presumed to be implemented outside the BPMN model.  (See John Reynolds thoughtful post on this subject here)
  3. When I look at the “implementations” of XPDL on the list above, I found a few problems with it:  the references aren’t dated (and may, therefore be out of date or obsolete), and several of the implementations are for tiny pieces of the software or companies being mentioned, and don’t represent full support of XPDL.
  4. According to Gartner, the two leading BPM vendors are Pega and Lombardi.  I looked through that list and I couldn’t find either of them on the XPDL bandwagon.  If the two leading vendors in the space don’t find it necessary to support the standard, then I’m doubting that it becomes the dominant standard.

All that said, XPDL could still become the preferred format for model exchange if BPMN 2.0 doesn’t fit the bill.  Or Gartner could ratchet up the pressure on the vendors that haven’t supported XPDL so far to begin doing so – by weighting that support higher on evaluation criteria for the next Magic Quadrant (though that is quite a ways off, it probably gives these vendors no excuses if they haven’t delivered it by then).  Currently the vendors not on the XPDL list seem to be waiting on the BPMN 2.0 to be released.  If that spec doesn’t live up to the billing, I can imagine vendors supporting XPDL for model interchange as a backup plan.  But I don’t see those vendors investing in two solutions for interchange if they don’t have to.  And I can’t see calling a format a “dominant” format if the leading vendors aren’t fully supporting it. I think the portability of XPDL, and the compliance tests they’ve put together, are a big step forward for the BPM community.  But that conclusion is regardless of whether XPDL in fact, dominates over BPMN, or vice versa.  Either way, the BPM community wins.  Because I’m sure some of the enterprising XPDL vendors will come up with a mapping from BPMN2 to XPDL 2.1… (These XML formats do lend themselves to being translated after all…)