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Anne Stuart’s BPM in Action

Dennis Byron

BPM VIEWPOINT: So Where Does the Term 'Business Process Management' Come From?

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Back in October I asked the question "Who first used the term business process management?" because I had come across multiple companies during 2008 that said they were the first to use the term "business process management (BPM)." They all could not be right. But while everyone credits Michael Hammer for inventing the term "business process re-engineering (BPR)" and Gartner for coining the term ERP, I couldn't find anyone that clearly claimed a similar distinction when it comes to BPM.

So, thanks to your input, the nominees are (in alphabetical order):

  • Intalio. Intalio started using the term BPM in mid 2000 in the first edition of its initial white paper. Here is a link (http://itredux.com/files/papers/The_Process-Managed_Enterprise.pdf).

  • Savvion. Founder Dr. Mohammed Ketabchi was a professor at Santa Clara University and the director of its Object and Multimedia Technologies Research Laboratory when he founded Savvion in 1994. So it is possible he is one of the academics described below. Savvion did not launch its first product in the market until 1999, but it appears from news-wire stories from that time that Savvion's product set was described as BPM from the beginning (its press release archive only goes back to 2001)

  • Ultimus. It is possible that Ultimus was promoting the term BPM during the 1990s, as claimed here (not by Ultimus) and Ultimus and its founder (Rashid Kahn in 1994) seemed to use the term business process automation earlier than at least 2003. However I cannot document any use of BPM by Ultimus earlier than 2003, when Ultimus apparently changed the name of its flagship product from Workflow Suite to BPM Suite

  • Vitria. Like Ultimus, Vitria was founded in 1994. Vitria used the term business process automation in its 1999 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in support of an initial public offering (IPO). However, I cannot find any use of the term BPM or business process management at that time although Vitria's web site now retroactively--and I believe accurately--refers to what it was doing in the 1990s as BPM. (Truth in advertising: I was in the room or at least down the hall from Ed Acly at IDC when he helped coin the term Businessware, the name of one of Vitria's product lines. At the time, we at IDC were calling what Vitria was doing 'eBusiness.' But then the dot.com boom busted.)

In turns out that it really doesn't matter to the accuracy of my search for the source of the term BPM if one of these name-brand BPM companies first used the term in 1994 or 1997 or 1999 or 2000. As Steve Nicholson of Stephen Nicholson and Associates, Melbourne, pointed out in response to my initial blog post, the Business Process Management Journal (not to be confused with the recently started IBM Business Process Management Journal) was first published in 1995.

That means the term must have been floating around academia for some time before that. So I went to academia to ask my question and Professor Michael zur Muehlen,. Director of the Center of Excellence in Business Process Innovation at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey tells me:

" Sorry, I think there's been a lot of uses in the (pre-1990s) past, not all traceable. Some people trace it back to Taylor's idea of Scientific Management; I have seen others refer to 18th century sources..."

But ironically, Dr. zur Muehlen also points to Michael Zisman's thesis at the University of Pennsylvania in 1978 as "the first description of a modern workflow system" and seminal to BPM thinking. That's ironic because Zisman is on the board of Metastorm (or was at the time of its now-withdrawn SEC IPO filing) and Metastorm appears to be repositioning itself away from the term BPM.

Oh well it was a good end-of-year, slow-news-period research exercise.

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Business process management and optimization -- philosophies, policies, practices, and punditry.

Anne Stuart

I am the editor of ebizQ.

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