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Process Engines May 15, 2009

Posted by Michael in Economics, Entertainment, Science.
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What is a process engine?

Not sure, exactly, but I’ll try to explain anyway (ignorance has never stopped me before).

A process engine is basically a set of rules by which computer software chews on massive amounts of data in business relationships in order to efficiently control workflows.  This is sometimes called BPM software, referring to “business process management.”  It could apply to supply chain management systems, transportation management systems, point-of-sale management systems, production management systems, order fulfillment systems, warehouse management systems — the list is endless.  In our economy, all this stuff is controlled by process engines residing on computers.

Look at it this way:  Wal-Mart does not make anything.  They just bring stuff to you cheaper than anyone else.  One of the major reasons why stuff is cheap at Wal-Mart, and why Wal-Mart became the most successful retailer in the history of the universe, is because of their sophistication in deploying process engines to control how they bring goods to market in a manner that squeezes out avoidable costs.

Or consider a practical example. I went online yesterday evening to buy a new part for my Polaris pool cleaner (that part being the Polaris 280 UWF connector assembly). Virtually everything about that transaction was controlled by process engines without human oversight, from order to payment to shipping. UPS already has that part today. That part is now on the way to Texas, and it was much cheaper than getting the local pool supply store to fix the problem.

I’m sure some of our techie readers can describe this better.  I’m only mentioning it to explain this cool (and funny) video, which uses a process engine for a totally non-business purpose.  The programmer (Shamus Young) uses those rules I mentioned to automatically generate 3D active cityscapes with a process engine.  It’s also cool how he presents this, because you can actually see the processes at work.  It sort of gives you a visual feel for what a process engine does.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Pixel City:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

For the übergeeks amongst us, Young’s description of how he developed the program starts here.

Thanks to Neatorama.

Comments»

1. Michael - May 15, 2009

Hey, looky there in the sidebar at our new flag counter — somebody from Gambia showed up to learn about process engines.

2. Cathy - May 15, 2009

Possible use: Movie production.

I enjoyed this.
Sorta hypnotic.
I loved the music also.

3. Vmaximus - May 15, 2009

Gotta ask you Michael,
How many countries are there? Is there any point in keeping it up after you get all of the flags?

4. BrewFan - May 15, 2009

Fascinating. Where I’m at now we are using workflows which allow us to create transactions (logical units of work) even though the processing is taking place on heterogenous systems. Technology marches on. As a side note, to keep up with this technology I have had to forego almost all recreational reading. I’m hoping I live long enough so I can read a good book or two when I retire.

5. Michael - May 15, 2009

Gotta ask you Michael, How many countries are there?

There are 194 countries, if you don’t count Taiwan. The flag–counter is counting places that aren’t really countries, like Guam and Puerto Rico. You can set the limit on the number of flags it will display up to 248.

Is there any point in keeping it up after you get all of the flags?

Yes, of course there is. The Hostages have a flag-counter up, so I can go over there and mock you.

Plus, it kind of makes a visual statement about the site’s reach. IB has always gotten a lot of international hits. They mostly come in from the Google Images search engine. People all over looking at a pic I posted a long time ago of the “Hello Kitty” image or a shark picture and stuff like that.

In other words, junk traffic.

6. Mrs. Peel - May 15, 2009

Where on earth did you find Shamus, Michael? I’ve been reading his blog since he did DM of the Rings a while back, but I didn’t think anyone else at Ace’s (other than Hal of Halbert’s Cubicle, where I really should comment more often) did.

7. Vmaximus - May 15, 2009

Are you a programmer Brew?
What language (if you are)?

Yes Michael we are always up to mocking

8. Michael - May 15, 2009

Mrs. Peel, thank you so much for commenting. I was hoping you would appreciate this.

In my head, this is actually one of my better posts, but I know it will be generally ignored. It’s just too geeky, but the role of process engines in our economy is really really important.

I found the Shamus video at Neatorama, which I check out occasionally for postable material. If you scroll up you will notice my dutiful attribution in my post.

9. Michael - May 15, 2009

I think Brew does J2ee. Maybe I’m wrong. Certainly he does C++.

10. Tushar - May 15, 2009

Michael,

I think Brew is more on the .Net/C# side.
I am the J2EE nerd.

11. Michael - May 15, 2009

Thanks for the clarification, Tushar.

There is still no doubt that Brew is a Calvinist heretic, and he is destined for one of the stricter reeducation camps during the Lutheran Millenium™.

12. BrewFan - May 15, 2009

I am actually an MCTS: .Net Framework 3.5, ASP.Net Applications on my way to being an MCPD. 🙂

I am looking forward to the Lutheran reeducation camps. I see it as a mission field where many Lutheran souls will be saved.

13. Dave in Texas - May 15, 2009

>> their sophistication in deploying process engines to control how they bring goods to market in a manner that squeezes out avoidable costs.

Total bullshit. Complete, utter, total crap.

Distribution logistics amounts to about 16 percent of product delivered.

It is almost completely how they buy. Not nearly how they move.

14. Dave in Texas - May 15, 2009

of cost of goods sold I meant to say.. 16% thereof.

I’d correct it because I could except I don’t do that.

15. Michael - May 15, 2009

I see it as a mission field where many Lutheran souls will be saved.

Hyuh, try to do that on bread-and-water rations. I don’t think there is a MCTS: .Net Framework 3.5, ASP.Net Application that will help you out.

16. Vmaximus - May 15, 2009

I took a J++ class just before MSFT went to .net. Did not get it. However if you want to know how to do anything in autocad or microstation I have forgotten more than most people ever knew. (Especially autocad I started with version 2 now using 2008 (ver 23)I am not as familiar with the 2008 version but I figure it out as I need to)

17. Vmaximus - May 15, 2009

I am a MCSE in 2000 and XP 2003

18. Michael - May 15, 2009

Distribution logistics amounts to about 16 percent of product delivered.

It is almost completely how they buy. Not nearly how they move.

Dave, you are missing the point. In your industry, Wal-Mart buys efficiently because they have scale. They have scale because they distribute efficiently. That 16% cost-of-distribution you mentioned makes all the difference to grocery stores, which operate on razor-thin margins and depend on volume to make an acceptable ROE.

Wal-Mart did not get big by beating up on suppliers, because they were not big to start with. They were this little chain of stores in Arkansas with an idea — bleed cost out of the supply chain, focus on underserved rural/suburban markets, and gain scale.

19. Lipstick - May 15, 2009

I think Brew is more on the .Net/C# side.
I am the J2EE nerd.

I don’t think there is a MCTS: .Net Framework 3.5, ASP.Net Application that will help you out.

I go away for a few days and the blog turns to gibberish!

20. Michael - May 15, 2009

I am a MCSE in 2000 and XP 2003

Pshah!

I have actually edited my Windows registry from the C: prompt line.

Take that, bitch.

21. Michael - May 15, 2009

I have actually edited my Windows registry from the C: prompt line.

In all fairness, I maybe should mention that I almost killed my computer doing this. But I got it going again, after staying up all night.

The message being — don’t edit your Windows registry without reliable software assistance.

22. BrewFan - May 15, 2009

I have actually edited my Windows registry from the C: prompt line.

That’s the first thing they teach you *not* to do at MCSE school.

23. Vmaximus - May 15, 2009

Pshaw
have actually edited my Windows registry from the C: prompt line.
Oops you already said that
so what? Msconfig is standard elementary command. I use xcopy /s/i/c/k

24. BrewFan - May 15, 2009

IMHO, the registry was the single biggest design flaw in Windows. I hate it to this day. Somebody was smoking crack when they came up with that idea.

25. Michael - May 15, 2009

All across America, Wal-Mart is bleeding conventional grocery store chains with price competition based on their superior supply chain. That means, they can control distribution with process engines. That means, Wal-Mart avoids selling tricky high-cost stuff like meat and fresh produce.

The conventional grocery chains are fighting back with a value/service proposition that Wal-Mart cannot match. That’s why your Kroger or Tom Thumb grocery store increasingly looks like a Whole Foods outlet, with a deli counter, prepared dinners, fresh sushi, salad bar, wine and cheese tastings, and so forth.

All this turmoil in the food industry is good for consumers. It’s called capitalism.

We buy Pringles at Wal-Mart, and real food at the nearby Tom Thumb.

26. Nobody you know - May 15, 2009

That’s why your Kroger increasingly looks like a Whole Foods store,

Uh, do they have Arugala?

27. Michael - May 15, 2009

Uh, do they have Arugala?

Nobody, I can answer that question, but I will not do so until you learn how to spell arugula.

Sheesh.

28. Retired Geezer - May 15, 2009

Around here, the most expensive place to buy food is:
1. Albertsons (can’t believe people actually shop there)
2. Fred Meyer
3. Wal*Mart and WinCo (tied)

WinCo is Employee Owned.
You bag your own groceries and they don’t take Credit Cards

29. Michael - May 15, 2009

However, Nobody, having just checked your IP address, I would say that nobody is trying to sell arugula to Spudders.

Just sayin’.

30. Retired Geezer - May 15, 2009

Whew, good thing I used a sockpuppet for the Aragola question.

31. Michael - May 15, 2009

Go fix a sprink and buy some Pringles.

Pringles are the food of the gods.

32. Lipstick - May 15, 2009

Bag your own groceries??!!

Blasphemy!

33. Michael - May 15, 2009

^
The Princess checks in.

Lipstick, if you were not sweet and hot and friendly and funny and smart and considerate, I probably would not like you.

Except you gave me a Zippo lighter, so I might like you anyway.

34. Lipstick - May 15, 2009

I take the trouble to get dressed, drive my SUV to the store, muscle around a wobbly wheeled cart and wait in line behind some check-writing Luddite and then you want me to BAG my own groceries?

I think not, Sir!

35. Lipstick - May 15, 2009

My acting abilities and that Zippo are paying Major Dividends.

36. Retired Geezer - May 15, 2009

I take the trouble to get dressed

*Geezer looks forward to surprising Lipstick at home on our upcoming trip to Vegas.

37. Michael - May 15, 2009

It just so happens that I am refilling my Zippo lighter right now.

I love the smell of naptha in the evening. It smells like victory.

38. Lipstick - May 15, 2009

Geezer looks forward to surprising Lipstick at home on our upcoming trip to Vegas.

Yoga pants, Road Kill Cafe sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers are what you are likely to find if knocking at the door unexpectedly. (Oh, not that I do yoga, of course)

39. Michael - May 15, 2009

And a hearty welcome to our latest IB visitor from Fiji.

Dude, if you don’t get the comments here, that’s perfectly understandable. Go catch a fish for dinner.

40. Edward Von Bear - May 15, 2009

When I see some of the countries that are listed on the flag counter, I can’t believe that a computer exists in Cambodia or Laos that can get an internet connection.

As for the grocery store references, I have noticed an uptick in traffic at the Trader Joe’s in Brentwood, MO, only a few blocks from the Whole Paycheck Market. Must be a bunch of hipsters who still won’t deign to shop at WalMart, Schnucks, or Shop n Save, yet still wat to look hip and trendy.

Me? I go there because my daughter loves the fact they give her a helium balloon, and their food is still fairly reasonably priced.

41. Cathy - May 16, 2009

We had Trader Joes in Dublin. Like shopping at a zoo. Checkout folks in tropical shirts. Funny brown bags, odd foods. Frumpy place. Plants. But a kinda fun outing. Not good for weekly shopping.

42. Mrs. Peel - May 16, 2009

I prefer to bag my own groceries because the baggers are so incompetent. Really, is it that hard to not put raw chicken in the same bag as bread?

43. Mrs. Peel - May 16, 2009

Anyway, Shamus is great. He has a really thoughtful blog with an excellent cadre of commenters. His topics are mostly geek culture, though, so he won’t necessarily appeal to everyone here.

44. Edward Von Bear - May 16, 2009

The atmosphere is fun there. The employees are nice as can be, and the exotic food (I had never heard of Briyani or Nasi Goreng until I wen t there), and decent prices.

And I forgot to add that Little One loves the miniature carts for children.

But yeah, it is not a good idea to base your weekly food planning on them.

45. Edward Von Bear - May 16, 2009

Peel:

The TJ’s folks do a good job. But when I have to go to Schnucks or Dierberg’s, I bag my own, for the same reason you gave.

46. Lipstick - May 16, 2009

I like Trader Joe’s. Mr. L calls it “that hippie place”, but he just doesn’t know how to ignore the soy milk and appreciate the good things about it.

47. Lipstick - May 16, 2009

And I forgot to add that Little One loves the miniature carts for children.

Eddie, you just brought back a treasured childhood memory!

48. Edward Von Bear - May 16, 2009

She usually puts one of her stuffed animals in the cart and the orange juice.

Quick OT:
Tonight, I read her three (!) of the original, old school Winnie The Pooh books, one of which was about and expedition to the East Pole. when she asked what the East Pole was, I explained (briefly) the 4 directions, and when I got to “East”, she mentioned that she knew what “East” was.

When I asked her what it was, she replied:
“That was the direction that Mrs. M’s car kept telling her to drive to her house in Dallas.”

Oh, and she still has her Bluebonnet in a vase in her room.

49. Dave in Texas - May 16, 2009

>> Wal-Mart buys efficiently because they have scale. They have scale because they distribute efficiently

They had scale and that imposed distribution efficiency. They had to learn it because they did not know it. They couldn’t move crap in 1994.

Forward buying preceeded purchasing income. Brackets didn’t exist until 2001.

You can’t teach me this stuff Michael. I’ve lived it for 20 years.

50. Lipstick - May 16, 2009

Miss Von Bear is such a lovely and delightful girl. I really hope to get to meet her again and please tell her that I say hi to her and to Pompadour Poodle.

51. Mrs. Peel - May 16, 2009

My new stove will be here sometime in the next 4-5 hours! YAY!

52. Tushar - May 16, 2009

We got some dirt cheap Chilean wine from Trader Joes. Undrinkable. So we kept it in storage for more than a year. Tasted great after that.

Yeah, I am a cheap guy. I never go for expensive stuff. Sue me.

Michael - May 16, 2009

Cathy makes really good Nasi Goreng. It’s this Indonesian dish that the Dutch adopted. (Her father is from Holland.)

Michael - May 16, 2009

You can’t teach me this stuff Michael. I’ve lived it for 20 years.

OK. We’re talking about historical cause vs. effect, but I don’t think we disagree on the end result and the role of process engines. Which was really the point of the post. I suspect that 99% of America has never thought about BPM software.

53. Retired Geezer - May 16, 2009

I suspect that 99% of America has never thought about BPM software.

They have software that measures Heart rate?
Who knew?

54. lauraw - May 16, 2009

My mom’s boyfriend was half Indonesian and half Dutch. What a great cook. He recently passed away. They were together for 20 years.

I have to get down to the Asian store and pick up some krupuk one of these days (tears up).

55. Dave in Texas - May 16, 2009

Oh dang Laura.

I’m sorry about that.


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