In Focus: BEA-Fuego and the SOA/BPM Convergence

BEA's acquisition of Fuego fits two of the most important trends shaping

Last week's announcement of BEA's acquisition of Fuego came as no surprise. But it made sense for more than the simple business reason that BEA had acquired Plumtree, which was using Fuego's technology. The deal also made sense because it fit two of the most important trends shaping business process management (BPM).

The first trend is consolidation, a hungry engine that is never sated in the technology markets. But with more than 100 vendors still in the BPM space, we may only be finishing the first course. The most notable deals to date have included IBM's acquisition of Holosofx, Oracle's buy of Collaxa and Tibco's purchase of Staffware. There have been other deals as well, such as last year's merger of BPM pureplays Metastorm and CommerceQuest. But what the first three deals have in common with BEA-Fuego is that they are also examples of the second trend, which is the convergence of BPM with service-oriented architecture (SOA) approaches and technologies.

In its remarks about the purchase of Fuego, BEA couched BPM as "the fastest growing segment in the infrastructure/SOA market." BPM pureplay vendors would certainly bristle at the notion that BPM technology is a subsegment of the SOA market, but the two are closely intertwined.

"I'd say that 75 percent of our deals are tied to SOA," says Fuego CEO John Lauck, who will join BEA. "For most large corporations, processes are part of a larger SOA strategy." That said, Fuego and other BPM vendors do not require the other 25 percent of practitioners to handle process components as Web services or to implement Enterprise Service Buses (ESBs). "You can still build processes and automate even if you end up changing your architecture," Lauck says.

SOA and BPM are clearly complementary approaches. But if companies are thinking about BPM, should they force IT to embrace SOA? "They should certainly embrace a services orientation within their business process architecture," says BPM expert Derek Miers. "Processes need to be flexible, which means ensuring that it is possible to call subprocesses as distinct, standalone process fragments. Key to this is ensuring that processes and the technology underpinnings are insulated from each other, and this is where SOA comes into its own."

Sofware AG and Fujitsu are also blurring the lines between infrastructure and process. But what about all the tiny pureplay BPM vendors that don't offer SOA infrastructure? More than ever, the pressure is on to acquire or be acquired and to specialize in certain processes and industries, supporting a business case that trumps IT's call for vendor consolidation.