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Exchanging information between my CRM system and ERP system is integration, right? Routing scanned documents from a generalized input source to different departments for processing based on selected fields is workflow, right? And designing, automating, and deploying the dynamic exchange and routing of information among various applications is business process management, right? Not so fast—in today’s world of evolving products, things aren’t quite so clear.

It becomes especially unclear when you try to listen to EAI, BPM, and workflow software vendors’ sales pitches. In effect, what’s evolved over the past few years is the mantra of: “If you’ve got a process, we’ve got a business process management solution for you.” For example, almost all of the original EAI and workflow vendors have long since added some elements of workflow and business process management to their products, while a new group of business processes-oriented “pure play” software companies offer solutions designed to automate business processes, and typically include integration functionality or support for integration products.

From the vendors’ perspective, it’s clear that almost everyone needs some type of business process management, and that almost all integration should include business process management of some form or other. To anyone looking at integration platforms, business process management software, or workflow engines, understanding what level of process management is really required is a key component of making the right decision.

And herein lies the real question that many organizations never take the time to think about: When does a process become a business process? Another way to approach this question is to consider it another way—when do you need to move from an integration or task-oriented solution to a business process solution? If you need to exchange information between a CRM system and an ERP system, is it an integration problem or a business process problem you’re trying to solve? Without that answer, it’s difficult to understand what class of products and what functionality you’ll really need.

While on one level it’s all semantics, at another level it really matters. For example, the BPMI.org’s stated goal is to “standardize the management of business processes that span multiple applications, corporate departments, and business partners behind the firewall and over the Internet.” An admirable and noble goal to be sure, but one that focuses on processes that span applications, departments, and business partners. Do I need a separate management facility for processes that reside in a single application? Should I be using an integration engine or business process management solution to exchange information between my CRM system and my ERP system?


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