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In Focus: Avoiding Growing Pains in a Maturing BPM Market

Business process management (BPM) is headed mainstream. That was the consensus among several leading analysts speaking at IDS Scheer's Process World 2005 user conference, held last week in Hollywood, Fla.

Business process management (BPM) is headed mainstream. That was the consensus among several leading analysts speaking at IDS Scheer's Process World 2005 user conference, held last week in Hollywood, Fla.

"The downturn proved that BPM saves money," said Jim Sinur, a vice president and analyst at Gartner Research. "The giants [IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft] are catching up [on BPM], and compliance demands now dictate that we all have to document our processes" — a step that goes hand-in-hand with the process modeling that takes place in any BPM initiative.

As is the pattern in all maturing markets, vendor consolidation and failed deployments will surely accompany broad BPM adoption. But everyone need not suffer the growing pains. Delivering one of the event's keynote addresses, Sinur said a recent Gartner study revealed that successful BPM projects are usually marked by visible business-driven projects, big cost savings, cross-departmental impact and strong partnership with IT, whereas failures typically suffer from a lack of senior management buy-in, scope creep, unclear processes, and poor documentation and requirements definition.

Consolidation will winnow down the current herd of more than 125 BPM vendors to about 40, Sinur predicted. Naturally, this will contribute to the tendency of BPM newbies to flock to major platform vendors.

But Connie Moore of Forester Research urged users to consider the BPM pure-play vendors as well. "The larger infrastructure vendors enter markets when they hit critical mass, and as a result their products are less mature," she said. "The specialists that were early to the market tend to offer more extensive functionality, so you have to balance your [buying instincts] against your need for rich functionality."

The gap between platform and pure-play products often boils down to support for human-to-human processes, and Mark Smith of Ventana Research said the infrastructure players aren't doing enough to address business needs because "they're still trying to work through the technology infrastructure." He said finance and compliance issues would accelerate the maturation because "CFOs know they have to have documented and automated processes."

Addressing the many manufacturers among the more than 200 in attendance at Process World, Colin Masson, research director at AMR Research, said that SAP shops would inevitably adopt the ERP vendor's NetWeaver-based service-oriented architecture (SOA). "Most CIOs understand SOA and what it will do to improve agility and lower costs," he explained. "The challenge is that they don't make decisions in isolation. The IT organization has to justify the upgrade cycle, but the business side doesn't see the benefit in the current upgrade yet."

Business benefits will be more evident as organizations get to a more process-oriented approach, with fast, flexible reconfiguration of business processes and on-the-fly upgrades and product enhancements. This is a crucial step, said Masson, in moving toward the demand-driven supply networks exemplified by Wal-Mart, P&G and Dell and characterized by lower inventory yet better fulfillment, with fewer out-of-stocks and shorter cash-to-cash cycle times.

For SAP shops, it's not a matter of if, but when for NetWeaver and SOA, said Masson, and he concluded that it's but one more of the many roads now leading toward BPM.

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