BPM and enterprise architecture: The case for integration

BPM and enterprise architecture (EA) sometimes seem to exist in parallel universes. That’s a situation that can be detrimental the function of each--and to the organization.

EA can be defined in multiple ways, says Michael zur Muehlen, an associate professor at the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology. Some such definitions emphasize the approach’s role in understanding, guiding and changing the organization itself. More frequently, though, EA functions as an IT-centric approach for describing complex systems from a variety of perspectives.

“What both views have in common is the perception of the domain of interest as a complex system that cannot be completely described from a single viewpoint,” says zur Muehlen, who is also director of the school's Center for Business Process Innovation. Which viewpoints are appropriate for an EA depends on the purpose of the architecture, but, generally, a description of system structure and system behavior are desirable, he says. That's where processes—and process management—enter the picture.

“Process models form the core of how we describe system behavior,” zur Muehlen says. “That means that BPM and EA overlap to the extent that processes are part of a comprehensive EA approach.”

Conversely, he notes, BPM solutions comprise more than just process models. In fact, users need to describe the data consumed and produced in these processes, the rules and service level agreements that cover the processes and both the human and technical resources involved in the performance of the processes. “Each of these aspects represents first-order concerns in an enterprise architecture, while in a BPM approach they tend to be secondary to the process, which sits at the center,” he says.

BPM's role in EA
Similarly, notes Jaap Schekkerman, president at Enterprise Architecture Consulting Services, BPM—or what he prefers to call "business function modeling"—is an integral part of EA management work. “We always start with defining or visualizing the business function model, an integrated model of business functions, sub-functions, activities, information flows of input and output and the related actors,” he says.

The way Schekkerman sees it, EA is really a management-lanning discipline designed to support management decision-making about business and technology. “So, from my perspective, BPM is an integral part of EA and can only deliver value to an organization when used within the scope of overall EA results,” he says, adding: “BPM models, most of the time, will be part of the outcome of EA work. I don’t see that there is a value for BPM on its own. Business and technology are so aligned to each other.”

BPM and EA do to tend to coincide in some areas in terms of common structure and goals. For instance, the root of both tasks is in understanding the fundamentals of the business, notes Kevin Parker, a 30-year industry veteran and chief evangelist at Serena Software, an application lifecycle management vendor.

In Parker's view, Edgar F. Codd, inventor of the relational database model, “had it right when he realized that the underlying data in any business hardly changes over the decades but how that data is processed changes radically."

For example, he explains, the ideal home might be one with plasma-screen walls with pictures that change to suit the resident’s mood. Similarly, the ideal system is one where the way we process the data can be constantly changing, but the underlying data remains the same.

“So both EA and BPM are seeking something pure: EA, the underlying minimal, optimized architecture that supports today’s and tomorrow’s business [and the] need to process and interpret data, and BPM’s own grail of a constantly optimizing and ever-fine-tuning process that is adapting to changes in the market,” he says.

Parker recommends considering two issues before trying to integrate BPM and EA. First, he says, keep in mind that EA is essential in today’s modern enterprise. From that platform, it’s possible to orchestrate the direction of all application development and manage the emergent portfolio of applications toward shared, common, enterprise architecture. Applications that are built from BPM solutions need to be part of that enterprise architecture: “They need to be congruent with the business goals and directions,” he says.

Today’s BPM tools have the ability to integrate information from disparate data sources to help with decision making, he continues. The very best tools mine the data directly and make decisions based on the data without human interaction, he notes.

Second, every part of the development process needs to be part of the whole Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). That means the efforts of enterprise architects are as crucial to the development process as those of the quality assurance team, he says: “They need tasks assigned, they need handoffs approved, they need notification of change.”

“BPM is the glue between your existing system and an overarching architecture,” says John McMahon, who, as founder and CEO of Extentech Inc., an open source software company, has been involved with BPM and EA efforts. “You want to have a top-down and bottom-up approach, where IT and lines of business and C-level management sit down and really come to grips with what the goals area, and then come back together with approaches to meet those goals,” he says.

“BPM and EA each have value on their own,” notes Sean Narayanan, chief delivery officer for iGate Patni, a consulting and outsourcing company. “They are also naturally synergistic and best positioned when presented together for improved business outcomes and strategic alignment of business and IT.”

When the two are done together, “BPM provides the business context, understanding and metrics, and EA provides the discipline for translating business vision and strategy into architectural change,” Narayanan says. “Both are, in fact, needed for sustainable, continuous improvement.”

READER FEEDBACK: This feature identifes several issues to consider in integrating BPM and enterprise architecture. Which do you consider most critical? What would you add to the list? Let ebizQ's staff know what you think. Please e-mail Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

More by Alan Earls, ebizQ Contributor