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Let's be clear. There is really no such thing as SOA BPM. One is a design model; the other is a value proposition. One has been around a lot longer than the other. But they do go together nicely.

Service oriented architecture (SOA) is one way to build information technology (IT) infrastructure. It is the design model that will most likely dominate the IT market through about 2020 because it adds the concept of utility-like computing to the re-use and interoperability promised in earlier IT architectures such as client/server (C/S). But SOA is still just one way of putting your IT assets-physical and logical-together.

Business process management (BPM), on the other hand, is a value proposition. That value can be achieved using many different types of software (e.g., straight-through processing-STP, workflow, collaborative, enterprise content management-ECM) running 'on top of' varying architectures of which SOA is only one. For example, everything from Microsoft Project to BMC Remedy's Action Request System to IBM Rational tools can help users manage business processes.

Your options are not just the products with BPM somewhere in their name and SOA on the first page of the data sheet. Still, BPM and SOA are a good fit.

The Concept

One of the best ways to look at business processes and workflows is as services. Although it is possible to have a heavier modular view of a service-as opposed to a lightweight componentized view-the SOA concept really does not make much sense without hundreds or thousands of highly granular components, rather than a few or a couple of dozen modules.

These services are the pieces-artefacts in computer-science speak-that provide the benefits users expect of SOA. Because even the largest traditional software suppliers are unlikely to build thousands of such services, due to a limited market demand for each service individually, the BPM value proposition, where workflows are 'developed by' line management and end users-and shared around companies and supply chains-make a great source.

These fine-grained services need to be decoupled literally or figuratively from individual applications (and pieces of infrastructure software) and stored in repositories. SOA and BPM intersect so well because straight-through business processes and human-centric workflows-and their hybrids-can be built, rebuilt and executed as lightweight services. There are two types:

  • Those unique to a single enterprise and kept behind enterprise firewalls
  • "Community repositories" organized by supply chain or other inter-enterprise (likely industry-centric) characteristic.


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