BPM: It's Not Just About Integration Engines Anymore

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Let's face it; you really don't need business process management (BPM) middleware inside your own firewall. A lot of organizations (maybe even most) use BPM software in that way because a good sales guy cornered their CIO. Or because their company is the result of a merger or acquisition. Or because the IT staff always has to have the latest, greatest widgets. But you don't really need BPM to integrate your own internal information processing.

Don't worry. It won't hurt to use BPM middleware instead of enterprise application integration (EAI) and data integration (DI) inside the firewall, except maybe at budget time. If you use it inside the company now, you have a head start on a much better use of it next year or the year after (that is, enabling it to more easily manage business processes across legal entities).

The reason you don't need it inside is that BPM middleware is really all about tying together disparate applications… those with different brand names or custom developers, different integration schemes and metadata maps, different purposes (transactional or analytical), different standards, and so forth. Inside your own firewall, there is no logical reason for deploying software with so many different characteristics (except for the merger/acquisition example cited above) and therefore no need to tie it together. Outside your firewall, on the other hand, the range of software characteristics cannot be avoided.

Going outside the firewall is how you reach partners and suppliers, and even reach customers that don't know they are customers yet. Ten years ago this concept was called supply chain management (SCM) software. But the market for SCM never quite took off. Instead, part of SCM branched off, hooked up with a quirky little PC software program called ACT, and became the multi-billion-dollar market called customer relationship management (CRM). Another part split off in the opposite direction and became supplier relationship management. What was left got folded back into ERP (Red Pepper into PeopleSoft, Numetrix into J.D. Edwards, Manugistics into JDA, and so forth). The problem was that all the different types and brands of SCM software did not work well together outside the enterprises that deployed them (e.g., for ideal performance, every partner had to have the same brand SCM software).

But the SCM concept is still what users need and what BPM middleware could deliver over the next 3-5 years. BPM middleware is all about overcoming the hard-wired-business-process drawbacks of ERP. In fact, with longer supply chains and a truly global economy, the SCM concept is needed more today than 10 years ago. BPM middleware's advantage is that a lot of it already has the "outside-the-firewall" problem solved.

BPM middleware also brings new life to some dot-bomb concepts
If automating business processes within the firewall is primarily hard wired, how are IT staffs expected to combine business to business (B2B), business to consumer (B2C) and other ecommerce and eBusiness business processes outside the firewall?

Appian, a BPM middleware supplier now in its 10th year, says the answer lies in better management of changing business processes. It has built the business-process "change management' concept into its latest version of Appian Enterprise. Appian says it's a matter of both the technology (e.g., support of access control changes and management of governance policies mandated by such laws as Sarbanes/Oxley) and the methodology being flexible. The change management features Appian's users have instituted inside the firewall can be transferred to managing business processes across enterprises-across the supply chain.

Software AG's BPM functionality depends highly on the May 2007 WebMethods acquisition. In March 2008, the company announced that 3Com has implemented a real-time business infrastructure for its internal operations using the webMethods Suite from Software AG. That adjective, real time, is Software AG's way of saying change management. Specific components of the implementation include the webMethods ESB, webMethods BPMS; and webMethods for B2B, a solution for real-time management of extended trading partner networks. So why B2B if the intention is to support "internal operations?" The reason according to 3Com (based on a press release from Software AG) is that a project currently underway calls for the company to update its existing electronic data interchange (EDI) implementation as it replaces legacy technology. The press release says this will allow 3Com to further automate end-to-end processes like fulfillment and real-time reporting of order status.

EU-based startup Cordys says users need to look at "processes as services" in order to better cross the divide among partners. Cordys' version of change management and real-time is referred to as adaptability and Cordys seems to come at the issue from the technology angle. To go outside the firewall, Cordys added a generic XSLT-based framework to import/export business processes to its latest version.

TIBCO on the other hand is a leery of betting too much on services-oriented technologies. It feels a human cannot be defined as a web service even inside enterprises. TIBCO won't even concede my point that EAI middleware-as opposed to BPM middleware--is all that is needed inside the firewall. Although TIBCO feels many users still need to break out of departmental shells before worrying about crossing to other legal entities, the Palo-Alto-based supplier estimates 5%-10% of its BPM customers are already managing processes that are running outside of the firewalls.

Long-time BPM supplier Metastorm says it is standard operating procedure for its customers to combine a public-facing business process set for order entry with a supply chain component, CRM and back-office accounting functionality. This lets users add information value to transactions rather than simply process them, and wait for information about them at a later time, after an action would mean something.

BEA, which finished and released a major study of BPM on January 25th, 2008, says one BPM trend everyone seems to be agreeing on is that BPM is combining with collaboration and social computing providing "new tools (that) allow business users to participate in building, managing, and monitoring applications like never before." BEA said leading BPM middleware can support a wide range of collaborative and social processes that today are lost in email, documents, and hallway discussions. Those activities can easily extend across legal entities. Oracle's pending acquisition of BEA will strengthen BEA's BPM product role in such solutions.

BPM is not just about integration engines anymore
For these and similar BPM middleware products, their integration engines are the underpinning for handling the hard-wired-business-process challenge. But part of the ability of BPM middleware to help enterprises reach across firewalls seamlessly and in real time involves increased use of powerful rules engines and modeling tools that are built into the vendors' BPM suites or frameworks. When the issue is handling all the permutations of BPM characteristics across legal entities as described above, products must support incorporation of master data management, metadata-based mediation, and transformation features so well that neither users nor IT staffers see it.

All of the BPM middleware suppliers we talked to for this article seem to understand that users need to change process flow rapidly in response to business needs.

Global360 described the function as users needing to be able to change in real time without IT department interference. Some would say this is ultimate objective of BPM but most agree that the market is not very close to achieving it. In the meantime, Global 360 says, providing a clear way of relating rules to processes via rules management will help. Then business analysts could change a rule without endangering the integrity of the underlying software. Being able to do that in a model is one thing but it is not yet easily translated to the engine. In the meantime, the company suggests users build in standards such as ebXML which has anticipated the need to communicate across the web and is related to solutions that are emerging industry by industry.

Intalio does not think the market is near a point that such changes can be made automatically without going through the IT department. Its position is that with the right product-its open source offering being an example of course-changes can be made quickly. By going through IT, business analysts will not be blamed for "breaking the infrastructure," another way of saying protecting the integrity of the software. This approach also lets analysts concentrate more on methodology/responsibility/accountability rather than on the tools.

At IT Investment Research we are following more than 50 suppliers of BPM middleware that are rapidly trying to reconcile all these application characteristics with the need to support business processes across the firewall.

There is no silver bullet in BPM (or anywhere else). There are industry-centric and performance tradeoffs you will have to make if you are looking at one of these offerings. But in general, we believe you will like the BPM middleware approach to integrating with your supply chain as opposed to dealing with multiple point products.

About the Author

Dennis Byron brings three decades of analyst experience to his role as ebizQ's Community Manager for Improving Business Processes. This community covers Business Process Management (BPM), Process Modeling, Process Analysis, and Business Alert Monitoring (BAM), among other topics.

As Community Manager, Byron will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ community fully informed on the latest news and breakthroughs relevant to enterprise BPM. Byron will be responsible for bringing you breaking news on BPM daily, writing feature articles and sourcing content from other analysts, industry associations and vendors for publication on ebizQ. Finally, each week, Byron will compile the most important news and views in an e-mail newsletter for ebizQ's ever-growing BPM community.

Byron is ideally suited to the job, as he has researched and analyzed all areas of IT and information-systems use for the past 30 years. Byron looks at BPM market dynamics backed up by facts, while taking into account the perspective of the IT and business person. He is a frequent speaker and moderator on business processes, which will also be one of his roles as Community Manager.

Byron was the ERP and Middleware Analyst with the Datapro division of McGraw-Hill and IDC from 1991 to 2006. In these roles, he was the primary analyst for Business Process Management. He has conducted over 500 specific information-systems case studies. He has contributed to Application Development Trends, IT Business Edge, Research 2.0 and other publications.

Byron is also the principal of IT Investment Research, which is aimed at institutional and individual investors in IT, or anyone who enjoys peering under the covers of "the financials," where large companies and emerging IPOs like to bury their most interesting facts. His main area of interest is investment opportunities in enterprise software.

More by Dennis Byron

About ebizQ

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