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Untitled Document Business process management (BPM) is often promoted as the key to achieving breakthrough improvements in business performance. As companies move from functional to process-oriented organizations, they need to align their technologies with the new approach. BPM systems promise to deliver exactly that.

If BPM systems are so perfectly aligned with process-oriented organizations, then why aren't all businesses using them? Why are many organizations that tried BPM getting less than the expected results? Before answering these questions, we need to digress a little and review exactly what a BPM-based application does.

At the core of any BPM application is a definition of the process. This definition supports execution, control, monitoring, auditing and documentation of the business process. The primary mechanism for this is through the definition of sequences of tasks or activities. The system delivers each task to the correct resource(s) in the correct sequence, along with any supporting documents or data. It records the actions of users as they work on those activities for monitoring and auditing purposes. It captures data entered during the process execution.

The earliest successful process applications involved high-volume, routine processes such as insurance claims processing or loan application processing. There is very little variation in the sequence of steps from one execution to the next, allowing fairly simple system implementation. An explicit goal of many of these was to reduce variation between instances. Many of these early applications had the process embedded in the core application, and didn't use an explicit process engine.

In the 1990s, general purpose workflow engines appeared on the market as platforms for building any process-based application. Companies in many different industries began applying these to many different problems with varying degrees of success. One major obstacle in applying these to more complex problems is accounting for all of the possible variations which need to be allowed for the process to be successful. Adding all of the conditions and branching into the process definitions made them difficult to develop, understand or maintain. Businesses found it difficult to trust them due to the complexity. For some processes it was simply impossible to model all necessary variations.


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