Overview: Business Process Modeling (BPM) has become the gleaming focal point in a number of technology suppliers’ portfolios. BPM offers an opportunity to control more and bigger pieces of new and existing customer infrastructures. This particular segment of technology is attracting application development and workflow suppliers, Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) suppliers, and those who have “rolled their own” technology. It is also attracting multiple standards as the industry attempts to identify a common language that can leverage an organization’s existing IT (Information Technology) infrastructure and bridge the gap between this environment and emerging business-to-business (B-to-B) collaboration protocols.
to workflow automation. Workflow automation began as a key enabler within collaborative groupware applications,
document management systems, and image management systems, making these software applications more adaptive and
responsive to organization requirements.
As defined by the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) workflow is "the automation of a
business process, in whole or in part, during which documents, information, or tasks are passed from one participant
to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules." Workflow automation software automates all
steps of a process to accomplish a desired goal.
Robust middleware technology has provided a rich, fertile, and mature layer of technology that
has enabled the concept of workflow to play a much more powerful role in an organization, moving it out of the
structure of an application onto the middleware layer to do more than just route documents within an application.
Today, workflow automation software is a subset of a much larger environment, BPM, which defines,
enables, and manages the exchange of enterprise information and the adaptive structures for action through the
semantics of a business process view that involves employees, customers, partners, applications, and databases.
While the goal of workflow is to accomplish a task according to a set of procedural rules, the goal of BPM, according
to the BPMi Business Process Modeling Language Working Draft version 0.4, is to "accomplish business goals
that include end-to-end efficiencies, transformation empowerment and value management." BPM has to be capable
of modeling a process, brokering that process, delivering it with straight through processing (STP), and then managing
The path to BPM is evolving from three "forks in the road" — traditional workflow suppliers,
EAI suppliers, and pure-play BPM suppliers. Knowing which front a supplier has emerged from can be instrumental
in understanding the core competencies of suppliers and their BPM offerings.
Workflow suppliers are traditionally well versed in collaborative applications and understand
the definition and flow of operations among people and document and image formats within these environments. Traditional
workflow applications were built in C or C++ rather than Java, making them platform-dependent. They are subsequently
less savvy with integration issues between software and hardware systems and often may not have thin-client architectures.
Even those companies adopting thin-client architectures — unless they create a code base from scratch — required
grafting new technologies on old architectures, which can be problematic. In addition, starting from scratch creates
a serious time-to-market impediment.
Workflow suppliers have also been traditionally internally focused, limiting business-to-business
integration (B-to-Bi) capabilities. BPM suppliers that have evolved from the traditional workflow market include
FileNET, Kabira Technologies, Metastorm, and Staffware.
EAI suppliers or B-to-Bi suppliers, while being the ultimate enablers of BPM, tend to be focused
on point-to-point integration and approach process integration as an extension of an application. These suppliers
have more of a data- and transaction-oriented domain expertise.
EAI suppliers moving to BPM have traditionally built workflow capabilities on top of their EAI
frameworks. These solutions address static resources within an organization such as documents or information and
provide data or document-modeling environments to describe processes and tasks that will facilitate disseminating
these resources, but do little to address the dynamic and flexible aspects of a business. Dynamic conditions can
include constraints and heuristics and exceptions to procedures.
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The dynamic conditions of a process cannot be predetermined when processes are being modeled.
These conditions are spontaneously invoked to respond to changes in an environment. Support for this kind of flexibility
is what differentiates best-of-breed BPM solutions from traditional business modeling techniques as well as application
and data integration platforms. For EAI suppliers to excel in this arena, they need much more flexible functionality
and domain expertise and a much greater understanding of business issues — particularly dynamic ones. BPM suppliers
that have evolved from the EAI market include CrossWorlds, Level8, SeeBeyond, TIBCO, Vitria, and WebMethods.
Pure-play BPM suppliers start at the top of an organization to understand organizational processes
and drill down from there. This approach typically has a better defined modeling environment that is process-oriented
rather than data- or information-oriented. That approach may also be more people-oriented and consequently better
suited for change management. Pure-play BPM suppliers that have built their applications from scratch include Business
Threads, Intalio, Lombardi Software, Metaserver, Nobilis, and Savvion.
Many of these suppliers still have a long way to go to architect their methods and tools to be
able to deploy objects, components, and applications within a services-oriented framework. This approach will ensure
the fundamental flexibility required to move from a static, workflow-enabled environment to a dynamic, real-time
BPM infrastructure. The ideal architecture will embed routines and handle exceptions flexibly and with adaptability.
However, for BPM to rise to the top of the enterprise and be truly suitable as the conductor
of an organization’s multi-faceted business, it must effectively culminate the functionality of all of the backgrounds
from which BPM suppliers are emerging. It is no longer tolerable for BPM, workflow, and integration to be separate
capabilities. Just as a composer is interested in the combined sounds of the entire orchestra and would only rewrite
the strings section of a composition if it were "out of synch" with the rest of the instruments, a business
process conductor is interested in the integrated landscape of the business. The overarching concern is how each
of the parts interacts with all of the architectural layers of the business — from application-specific components
to business domain components to extended platform components to platform/network components.
Industry proponents claim that BPM will become as valuable to managing business processes as
RDBMS (relational database management system) was to managing databases beginning in the mid- to late-1980s. Business
processes, like data, have to reside in their own management systems where they can be analyzed to determine the
best way to conduct business. They can then be disseminated to various constituencies — systems, applications,
and people — in a common language, describing how a particular process should be performed.
There is a good probability that BPM will follow in the RDBMS market’s footsteps, which took
about a decade to mature and is now growing between 8% and 10% annually. In 2001, the BPM market represented a
$1 million opportunity and has a projected 70% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) by mid-2003. Even for the small
percentage of early adopters, to date, less than half are in their final stages of deployment. These are early
indicators of a market poised for growth. That also indicates that 2002 will be a year of transitioning from early
adopters to early majority, a pivotal year for BPM.
Standards are still elusive in the BPM arena, with multiple efforts being focused on the issue
of coordination between and collaboration of standards. Creating a common business process language is critical
for enabling interoperability. It is this language that will enable process to be managed across an enterprise
and beyond it, bridging the gap between legacy IT infrastructures and emerging B-to-B collaboration protocols such
as RosettaNet, BizTalk, and ebXML (electronic business eXtensible Markup Language).
The Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) is one language specification that outlines a simple
language/process structure that extends the semantics of other models — including the WfMC Workflow model, RosettaNet
PIPs, and Universal Modeling Language diagrams — to represent a BPM architecture that covers a wider set of requirements
BPML uses simple activities to model the consumption and production of messages, tasks, data,
or goods. The language also models operations of actions and communicates failure. The modeling environment models
the flow of control, including serial, parallel, or conditional. It must also model compound states, consisting
of multiple subactivities representing substates. (For more information on this language/process structure, download
the BPML Specification Working Draft 0.4 at www.BPMi.org).
The current economic environment demands that organizations reduce operational costs in an effort
to stop the fiscal bleeding from drastic revenue declines. But reducing operational costs must, in turn, bolster
operational efficiencies: Organizations can cut fat but not muscle. BPM offers a compelling path to obtain healthy
operations — and burns fat in the process. BPM leverages an organization’s existing IT infrastructure, bridges
the gap between this environment and emerging B-to-B collaboration protocols, and provides ongoing incremental
value and savings.
Darcy Fowkes is research director of the Internet infrastructure group at
Aberdeen Group in Boston. Aberdeen Group is an IT market analysis and
positioning services firm that helps Information Technology vendors
establish leadership in emerging markets. For more information, go to www.Aberdeen.com.