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IBM BPM Chief Architect Phil Coulthard on BPM and IBM i

In this second in a series of articles on business process management (BPM) for IBM i, I spoke to Phil Coulthard, an IBM Master Inventor and chief architect of IBM BPM and SOA tools. He was also one of the original AS/400 architects and thus offers some particularly insightful comments for IBM i developers and managers.

Q. What was your role in the AS/400 for IBM?
A. I worked on the AS/400 since day 1 of the box as a developer on SDA, and my last role was architect of the tools and compilers we do here in Toronto. For example, RPG and what’s now known as RDi (Rational Developer for i). I grew up on AS/400 and it’s still deeply in my blood.

Q. What’s your role now?
A. I’m lead architect for the tools in IBM Business Process Manager (IBM BPM), and a member of the BPM and ODM CTO Office in IBM, which has architectural oversight of these products. ODM is Operational Decision Manager, or business rules and business events, both of which are excellent complements to IBM BPM.

Q. What is BPM and IBM BPM?
A. IBM BPM is the product from IBM, and business process management is the discipline that it supports. There are tremendous gains to be made just by clearly articulating your business processes in the form of visual process models so all the participants and stakeholders can agree and execute with a common understanding of the process. Further, by visualizing a process, you can usually see where there’s room for improvement, and some simulation can often be used to see, for example, where there are bottlenecks.

Q. In what situations is BPM an appropriate application platform and where is it not?
A. You would consider a BPM application when your application implements a business process of some kind. Business processes typically involve multiple users who each must do a specific task, and calls to services to do work such as retrieve or update data, update an account, et cetera. Each user task is one or more screens that an individual end user interacts with, typically to present and collect data from them. Over time, some of the tasks done by humans eventually get automated and become services, and so ultimately, in some cases, you’ll have some “straight-through processes” that have no user tasks at all as they are totally automated. But they’re still considered a process because they’re orchestrating calls to services to achieve a business result. However, if you’re writing a simple single-user data input application or a number-crunching application, BPM may not be appropriate.

Steve Kilner is the creator of several software products and methodologies for the IBM i world. He writes a regular blog ( Steve can be reached at



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