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Shakespeare wrote so many great metaphors for the software industry; it’s as if he grew up in the dot-com era. One play which comes to mind in the BPM space is A Comedy of Errors. Specifically, this storyline paints a great picture of the confusion which many customers are experiencing as they understand BPM (business process management), BPEL (business process execution language) and SOA (service oriented architecture).

A Comedy of Errors is basically your story of twins mistaken for each other, which causes a general ruckus. It’s a classic story that has been done in other plays, books, and films. BPM, BPEL and SOA are frequently mistaken for each other. Having “process” in two of the three acronyms certainly doesn’t help matters. But at a more fundamental level people confuse the business centric perspective, which BPM is supposed to bring to the enterprise, with the IT centric perspectives which SOA and BPEL embody.

That distinction is vital to understanding the role which BPM should play in your business. Successful BPM strategies put the focus on business process improvement first, and the role of technology and systems second. As such, BPM is inherently people centric – not because people are human computers to be orchestrated in the same way as web services; but rather because people are the only ones who fundamentally understand what makes certain processes work, and others not.

Not to say that the IT centric perspective isn’t important for what it is. SOA is in effect good corporate IT hygiene; making components and services reusable is an important requirement for enterprise IT agility and cost savings. BPEL also fills a useful IT role in integrating disparate web services to accomplish things like sharing customer information between one system and another.

The comedy of errors occurs when business people expect to be able to personally use their BPEL-enabled SOA infrastructures to magically change the way they do business today. SOA and BPEL are not designed for business people. BPM is. The tools, methodologies, best practices – even the corporate cultures – of truly BPM enabled companies are different than those solely focused on BPEL and SOA.

The responsibility for this confusion sits squarely on the shoulders of software vendors. Instead of asking our prospects to step back for a minute and consider what they are trying to do, and the cultures they wish to adopt in their businesses for process improvement, each vendor immediately tries to cram its own approach down prospects’ throats. Everyone’s spin is a little different because everyone is trying to sell their own wares.


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