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Business Process Management 101: The Basics of BPM and How to Choose the Right Suite

Business Process Management is gaining adoption, but just what is BPM and how do BPM systems work? This article clears up some of the confusion and helps you choose the right product with a six-step guide to selecting a BPM suite.

Tulu Tanrikorur

IT giants are either buying business process management (BPM) vendors or expanding on existing BPM capabilities. Business Intelligence vendors are partnering with BPM vendors, as are purveyors of business activity monitoring and business rule vendors. Plenty of businesses are adopting the technology, too, so just what is BPM, why is it gaining attention and how do you choose the right technology?

You would think that defining BPM would be straight-forward, but that's not the case, in part because business process management suite (BPMS) capabilities are now being found in many solutions solving different needs. Thus, the terminology is sometimes used rather loosely (not to mention the confusion with the other BPM, business performance management). Regardless, one thing is clear: BPM is getting a lot of attention. Forrester Research estimates that BPMS license, services and maintenance revenue will grow from $1.2 billion in 2005 to more than $2.7 billion by 2009 – an adoption trend vendors and practitioners alike can't ignore.

A common confusion about BPM surrounds the difference between the workflow systems of the 1990s and today's BPMS. Older, proprietary workflow systems managed document-based processes where people executed the workflow steps of the process. Today's BPM systems manage processes that include person-to-person work steps, system-to-system communications or combinations of both. In addition, BPM systems include integrated features such as enhanced (and portable) process modeling, simulation, code generation, process execution, process monitoring, customizable industry-specific templates and UI components, and out-of-box integration capabilities along with support for Web-services-based integration.

All of these ingredients translate to increased interest today in BPM suites because they bring businesses a higher level of flexibility for business processes while reducing risks and cost. Think of BPM suites as offering a way to build, execute and monitor automated processes that may go across organizational boundaries - a kind of next-generation workflow. Read on to learn what's inside the two styles of BPMS, what makes the technology tick and how to choose the right system for your organization and process needs.

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