Enterprise integration offers a bundle of benefits for BPM

In surveying the enterprise integration (EI) tools and platforms landscape, Forrester Research analyst Ken Vollmer spotted a fast-growing trend that's now crossing corporate planners' radar screens: a marked shift toward solutions that actively support BPM and similar initiatives.

What Vollmer and his colleagues call "comprehensive integration solutions" now offer a broad array of capabilities for solving complex integration challenges. At the core of those solutions' value proposition is more effective support for BPM, as documented in the analysts' most recent report on the subject, "Forrester Wave: Comprehensive Integration Solutions," from late 2010.

EI's BENEFITS FOR BPM

Chief among the advantages that EI tools and methodologies bring to BPM: greater support for process-improvement efforts. "The BPM features embedded in a comprehensive integration solution enable developers to incorporate model-driven process management directly into their application development efforts," observes Vollmer, who has been tracking the move toward BPM-supporting solutions.

Other benefits include easier integration with internal applications, including both commercial and homegrown applications, and better control over file transfers.

A BOON FOR EXTERNAL PARTNERS AS WELL

In addition, EI tools make it easier for external partners to link to enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications. "Comprehensive integration solutions offer many features to support effective B2B exchanges, including support for both EDI and XML-based messages, extensive data transformation support, and built-in support for a wide range of communication protocols," Vollmer says.

In this Q & A, Vollmer offers additional insights about how the two disciplines are converging:

JM: Have BPM efforts to date been doing a good job of employing enterprise integration as part of their modeling and methodologies?

KV:
I would say it's a mixed bag at the moment, with some successes and some failures. We [at Forrester] do see attempts by some to make BPM a very "silted" solution when it should be approached from a broader perspective. We recommend a holistic approach that includes application, process and data integration in a single cohesive effort.

JM: Are too many initiatives still stymied or limited by silos or legacy systems?

KV:
Due to technology limitations, application, process and data integration efforts evolved over the years into separate silos. That makes it difficult to support effective end-to-end processes that encompass all three.

However, this situation is beginning to change with the arrival of more comprehensive integration tools that address the full range of integration needs. Now companies can consider all their integration requirements—application, business to business, process and data—to develop a holistic strategy that addresses them all with a minimum of technology overlap. We expect this trend to continue strongly over the next three years. In response, integration vendors are taking a more holistic approach as well.

JM: Are current BPM tools and platforms effectively addressing enterprise integration requirements? Or are other types of solutions required to complete the picture?

KV:
Forrester has taken the position that the current BPM space is complicated, with at least three types of tools providing varying degrees of support:

—Human-centric business process management systems



—Document-centric business process management systems, and

—Comprehensive integration solutions.

These tools are effective in solving enterprise integration needs, depending on the need. However, they do not effectively address the holistic approach. A holistic approach to integration is primarily about strategy, not tools. At this time, there are integration tools – primarily CIS products – that can cover application, process and [business-to-business] integration, but they don't do much in the area of data integration. However, we are seeing early signs that this is changing, so tools will be more able to support a holistic integration strategy over time.

JM: Is the enterprise integration aspect becoming—or promising to become—less daunting due to initiatives such as SOA, enterprise application integration [EAI], virtualization and Web services standards? Or is complexity still on the rise?

KV:
As each generation of integration tools hits the market, more and more of the underlying technology is abstracted "under the covers," making the implementation of new integration requirements less daunting than it would have been in the days when the focus was on development of point-to-point integration interfaces. Today's approaches rely more on graphical modeling and the use of service-bus technology. Bottom line: There is much less coding and results can be delivered faster.

Of course, this only applies to those organizations that are adopting the new tools. Many enterprises are still stuck using the same approach they have used for the past 10 years.

JM: Should BPM professionals have a deeper understanding of SOA, EAI or virtualization? Have you seen this kind of knowledge grow among practitioners?

KV: In most situations, there is no need for BPM professionals to have this level of technical expertise. As long as they maintain an effective partnership with the technical team, they can focus more on the specifics of their BPM processes.

JM: Are there issues with bringing BPM professionals and integration specialists together to the same table to accomplish projects? Or are there professionals within organizations now bridging these roles?

KV: It's a common thread that organizations who are experiencing the most success with their BPM efforts have a good working relationship between the BPM and IT teams. Neither side can ensure success without the other.

About the Author

Long-time ebizQ contributor Joe McKendrick is a writer and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He writes ebizQ's Business Transformation in Action (formerly SOA in Action) blog and is a frequent speaker at industry events.

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