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
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.