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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.

Before You Buy

The selection of a BPMS demands unique analyses you won't find on a typical software evaluation checklist. Here are 6 things to look for in determining the BPMS that's right for your organization:

1. BPM systems aren't meant for all application needs. BPM systems are especially good for processes in which all activities are predetermined in order. Validate the business value of taking a BPM approach by developing a deep understanding of both the business problem and the capabilities of the BPMS. Document the detailed activities of your process and be sure the BPMS addresses core needs before committing to a product.

2. Next, consider the type of BPM solution needed: front-office-oriented BPM, for human-centric processes, or back-office-oriented BPM, for integration centric processes. It's possible that your environment may benefit from both types of BPM. If so, focus on products from either the same vendor or from vendors that have partnered to minimize integration efforts. If you use solutions from multiple vendors, keep in mind that you could end up with multiple process modeling and monitoring tools as well as server platforms.

3. Once you decide on the type of BPMS you're after, refer to the BPM lifecycle activities and architectural components covered earlier and analyze how your requirements are supported, in detail, by the prospective products. Make your product selection based on the total value of the BPMS rather than just standards support, particularly if you're considering front-office BPMS (an area in which standards aren't settled).

4. For front-office-oriented BPMS, ease of customization and out-of-box support for integration (such as with a content management or imaging systems) should be high on your list. If the same vendor provides content-management and collaboration modules as well, then confirm that their repositories, business modeling tools and administration consoles are integrated with all these components.

5. Among back-office-oriented BPM suites, you will notice that BPEL and WS-* support are widely implemented. Therefore, it's important to pay more close attention to the vendor's direction. Consider the vendor's support message transformation, routing and multiple-transport protocols. While most front-office-oriented BPM systems can be deployed on application servers, BO-BPM server requirements can vary. They may require installation of messaging-oriented middleware (MOM), application servers, subsets of application servers (such as a Web container) or some combination. Make sure you understand how the vendor solution is architected in order to wisely plan for its technology fit and impact on infrastructure.

6. Another issue you may want to consider is how rule engines are used in the BPMS. Rule engines are typically an optional component in most BPM suites, but you may find that certain vendors requires everything to run under a rule engine that needs a proprietary language. Determine whether the benefits of using that rule engine for the entire application are conclusive while also considering potential hiring and training needs tied to that environment and language.

BPM solutions bundle a lot of capabilities, so you should expect a learning curve to before you can take full advantage of a suite. Focus on proper training and establish best-practices and guidelines to create manageable deployments. Remember that matching the right type of BPMS to the processes considered is the most important decision you will need to make early on.

BIO: Tulu Tanrikorur is a corporate vice president, enterprise architecture at New York Life. He has written numerous articles including Who Are You? and Great Expectations. Write him at wtmtrk@yahoo.com

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