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As in past years, a few of us here at Camunda got together and discussed some of the trends we’ve seen in 2021 and how we think they’ll progress as 2022 unfolds. The event itself was a lot of fun and you can watch it here on demand, but what was particularly interesting about the event was the Q&A section at the end. There were a lot of great questions from the audience, some of which we managed to answer live and some we sadly didn’t have time to cover. So we’ve decided to take the top-ranked questions from the event and deliver their answers with the help of Niall, Bernd, and Amara: 

Q: As cloud providers push their own “workflow automation” services, what are the core advantages/differentiators of more traditional process automation tools like Camunda? – Ed Hollingsworth

A: (Bernd Ruecker)

The biggest advantage is the use of business process model and notation (BPMN) as the process modeling language. Foremost, BPMN is ISO standard and a really powerful execution language. BPMN can be directly executed by workflow engines without any wired translation or mapping. 

Custom process modeling languages, as used by all cloud providers, come with the promise of being simpler than BPMN. But in reality, claims of simplicity mean they lack important patterns required for execution. Hence, if you follow the development of these modeling languages overtime, you will see that they add patterns once in a while. Whenever such a tool is successful, it almost inevitably ends up with a language complexity comparable to BPMN, but in a proprietary way.

Additionally, BPMN has a graphical representation suitable for various stakeholders of different roles (what I call BizDevOps). Platforms like Camunda offer additional tools supporting all lifecycle phases around BizDevOps; for example, for technical operations, business analysis and intelligence, or collaborative process modeling. 

This aligns with the vision of those tools. Tools like Step Functions look at smaller integration problems, like wiring together a handful of functions, and thus solely target the developer, whereas tools like Camunda target end-to-end business processes. 

Of course, there are also a lot of other aspects. Camunda has been a thought leader in process automation technology, BPMN, and Decision Model and Notation (DMN) for over a decade, which results in a lot of expertise in building the right product. 
If you want to dive even deeper into this topic, I recommend taking a look at chapter five of Practical Process Automation.

Q: Does low code/no code work for e-commerce? – Gene Rigoni

A: (Amara Graham)

As noted during the webinar, yes, low code/no code does works for e-commerce. Platforms like Shopify do this really well with a plugin/connector marketplace. Bernd mentioned some difficulties when working on a storefront for his wife because plugins/connectors for things like tax, VAT, etc. may be country or regionally designed and not inclusive. This is similar to what we discussed in the webinar, as low code/no code “works,” but has limitations that must be clearly articulated.

Q: What role does DMN have in low code? – Christian Moore

A: (Niall Deehan)

The nice thing about DMN is that it’s already a low code way of designing and executing decision tables. While designing it, The Object Management Group (OMG) had in mind that a non-technical user should be able to build and execute the rules they design without any need for writing code. The Friendly Enough Expression Language (FEEL)was helpful with this. With the way Camunda has implemented the standard, it functions perfectly as envisioned. 

Q: Any plans to introduce a way to handle unhandled BPMN errors thrown by a service task? – Tamás Érdfalvi

A: (Niall Deehan)

Currently,  if a BPMN error is thrown and not caught by a BPMN error catch event, the process instance terminates. We’ve made this choice by design. If you’d like to avoid that behavior, you can add an event sub-process with an error catch event that will catch any error thrown. 

Q: How does BPMN fit in a microservices world? Isn’t it a bit outdated for that? – Jaime Izuzquiza

A: (Bernd Ruecker)

I’m glad you asked! Absolutely not, BPMN is a great fit in modern architecture. I make a case for this in section Not Your Parents’ Process Automation Tools as well as chapter five of Practical Process Automation. The subtitle of this O’Reilly book is specifically Orchestration and Integration in Microservices and Cloud Native Architectures, by the way. In a nutshell: 

  • Yes, there are old-school BPMN systems that don’t fit in modern architecture. But at the same time, there are modern workflow engines that are a perfect fit with modern architectures. 
  • BPMN doesn’t mean to do “BPMN monoliths.” You can divide your business logic into smaller pieces, like microservices, and probably use domain-driven design (DDD) to find the right boundaries, and still apply BPMN within those boundaries for orchestration logic. I described this in Avoiding the “BPM monolith” when using bounded contexts.
  • Workflow engines and BPMN solve an eminent problem that doesn’t go away with microservices – stateful orchestration. Actually, related problems grow even bigger if we distribute architectures more and more. You might be interested in my talk about Complex event flows in distributed systems.

Q: Does a microservices architecture irreparably break long-running processes, or do event-based gateways with inbound messages cleanly & completely solve this? – Ed Hollingsworth

A: (Niall Deehan)

Long-running processes and microservices are not necessarily at odds conceptually. When designing a microservice architecture, people tend to try to make their services synchronous and transactional. This actually makes things easy for smaller systems. As a system grows, having exclusively synchronous services will lead to scaling problems, from things like blocking threads, dead messages, and distributed transactions. These factors are exponentially worse if you’re looking at implementing long-running processes. The solution is actually quite simple – hold state within your microservices using an orchestrator.  I gave a long explanation about this very recently; check it out here

Q: What are the top challenges about industry process automation in a cloud API-led economy? – Hugo Severino

A: (Amara Graham)

This could be a whole webinar itself! I wouldn’t say these are specific to process automation, but also data and security requirements, cloud-native thinking (resource skills lift), and the limitations of the existing architecture.

Q: How can I make it easier to generalize process flows to share among other divisions/companies? – JT

A: (Niall Deehan)

Companies and divisions can have very different reasons why sharing process workflows between parties is complicated. We have a few cool things that can be used depending on what you’ll need:

  1. Share and synchronize BPMN and DMN models with Cawemo.
  2. Make it easy to share details about service implementations with Camunda’s element template feature. 
  3. From a design perspective, you can always abstract common utilities into reusable models and share them between teams using call activities

More to Come

I’m sure a lot of people would’ve had very similar questions to the ones we’ve answered but if not, you won’t need to wait for next year’s event to ask them. We regularly run the Camunda Question Corner, where anyone from the community can show up and present their questions to Niall & Nele, who’ll answer them as best as they can. Won’t you join us next time? See you at our next Camunda Question Corner event on Jan. 27!

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