One statistic from last summer's joint Intelligent Enterprise-Network Computing business process management (BPM) survey is a wake-up call to BPM software vendors. Asked to name leaders in BPM software, more than 1,600 readers elevated only three names above the crowd: IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. That's disheartening to "pureplay" BPM suite vendors, whose offerings not only provide more of the industry analysts' must-have functionality but also more closely adhere to their view of BPM's purpose: business performance optimization through modeling, human task automation and business activity monitoring (BAM).
IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, in contrast, describe BPM as one possible flavor of agile application development based on their new service-oriented middleware stacks. Somewhere between the analysts' picture of BPM and users' perceptions of technology leadership, there's a major disconnect.
BPM starts with modeling process steps, resources and overall performance metrics. The model is then optimized through simulation analysis. From there, the model is converted into an executable application that automates the process steps and generates KPI data to monitor process performance. This basic pattern of modeling, execution and performance monitoring separates BPM from its workflow and EAI ancestors.
Let's look at what the reader-named leaders provide. Oracle was the first to offer BPM based on the BPEL service orchestration standard. Oracle BPEL Process Manager provides a process engine and graphical BPEL designer, integration adapters and human workflow, and has the distinctive benefit of being a free download.
Business modeling, however, is nowhere to be found. Any modeling tool capable of exporting BPEL can front end BPEL Process Manager, in principle, but Oracle doesn't support business-IT collaboration. A companion offering, Oracle Business Activity Monitoring, supports performance management, but Oracle positions it as an alternative to BPM rather than an essential suite component. According to Oracle only 10 percent of a company's business processes are "structured" and addressable by BPM, while BAM can monitor performance of the other "unstructured" 90 percent. Whether or not you accept this assertion, Oracle clearly isn't buying the model-automate-optimize vision of BPM.
Microsoft's Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) is part of the next-generation Windows platform, Vista. It will provide a common set of workflow services for Microsoft applications ranging from Office and SharePoint Services to BizTalk Server, as well as for ISV- and user-developed applications. Microsoft also provides a BPEL-compatible process engine and programmer-oriented graphical design tool. WWF's process engine is not a standalone component but a run-time library that must be hosted in another application, such as Office or SharePoint, and its capabilities vary with each host. Among its own applications targeted for WWF, Microsoft describes only BizTalk as "BPM," but says it won't be WWF-enabled until the version following BizTalk Server 2006. Microsoft isn't on the BPM bandwagon, either.
IBM's WebSphere Process Server v6 also provides a BPEL-based process engine and programmer-oriented graphical designer, including a more elaborate suite of human workflow and application integration services. Unlike Oracle and Microsoft, IBM makes the leap to true BPM by integrating the execution piece with optional business-oriented tools for process modeling, simulation and performance management. In doing so, it matches the functional capabilities of the leading BPM pureplays while using the company's infrastructure. Even so, SOA developers are IBM's primary target; BPM is still a niche.
BPM is much more than Web services orchestration: It must also integrate business modeling, simulation, business rules, analytics and BAM. BPM connects business analysts and process owners more directly to IT solutions rather than leaving them as frustrated bystanders. BPM pureplay vendors have largely implemented this vision but aren't getting the recognition for it. The blissfully ignorant big platform players are nevertheless perceived as BPM leaders.
Users who believe that BPM should integrate business modeling, process automation and performance optimization must either demand changes from their perceived technology leaders or take a second look at the smaller vendors providing true BPM.