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Blurring The Boundaries

Business-process management products have much in common, but stake decisions on key differences.

With companies focused on being more efficient and leveraging existing systems, business-process management is a top priority. While it isn't new, the definition of "process" continues to broaden.

A process is any business function or set of functions that includes the interaction of large numbers of distributed people and disparate systems, where management, coordination, and automation of tasks and decision-making would provide a business benefit.

The value of managing business processes has given rise to a market for BPM technology products. These provide frameworks that can be used to develop multiple applications that manage or simply participate in business processes.

Business-process management software must be able to automatically manage processes, as well as allow manual intervention, and they need to be able to extract information from data sources while simultaneously adding new transaction information. It should also be able to generate transactions in multiple related systems and support straight-though processing without human invention, all while maintaining complete transaction control. BPM software may involve the use of integration server components that tie together a company's back-end systems and enable systems to be added with minimal customization.

Residential-mortgage processing is one of the most process-intensive applications for BPM. From the origination of the loan through closing and servicing, the process involves a tremendous amount of manual labor, as well as integration with multiple internal and external applications. With BPM software, lenders could cut costs and processing time while meeting service and compliance deadlines.

Business-process management frameworks also make sense for claims-processing applications. BPM meets the needs of straight-through processing of claims with no human intervention and handling multiple exceptions requiring staff review and research.

Some products evolved from workflow software offered by vendors such as FileNet, IBM, Identitech, Plexus, and Staffware. As process management became more complex and the need for enhanced capabilities such as transaction management, straight-through-processing support, and multisystem integration arose, vendors offering workflow products had to enhance their software's capabilities.

Many workflow vendors added integration servers or adapters to allow more efficient multisystem integration. Staffware supports integration adapters from Actional Corp. Identitech supports Novell's XML integration server. FileNet includes the IBM CrossWorlds integration server in its Brightspire framework. IBM incorporates CrossWorlds into WebSphere Business Integration products, which include MQSeries Workflow.

Other BPM offerings evolved from integration products. They've always been strong in integration technology and transaction management but typically weak in workflow capabilities, such as managing human intervention, monitoring workflow steps, and providing graphical design modules to let users build workflows.

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