Business Process Management (BPM) technology is still in its infancy. However, it is becoming apparent that BPM is bifurcating, becoming on one hand an application development platform serving IT and - with increasing support from and integration with business intelligence (BI) - on the other a performance management dashboard serving lines of business. Ventana Research recommends that organizations develop a three-year architectural blueprint for how they will use BPM. Without such a blueprint, they run the risk of replicating the dilemma of a decade ago, when various client/server fourth-generation language (4GL) tools infiltrated departmental systems and created incompatibilities throughout the enterprise.
BPM technology has been described as a "service-oriented architecture (SOA) starter kit." This characterization refers primarily to BPM tools' ability to amalgamate Web services, exposed via Web Services Description Language (WSDL), into applications. However, WSDL, eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) constitute only first-generation technologies for Web services. It is as yet unclear how BPM tools will support the second-generation Web services technologies - WS-Coordination, WS-MetadataExchange, WS-ReliableMessaging, WS-Security and WS-Transaction, for example - that are critical for anything beyond an isolated departmental application.
A current application of BPM that is an alternative to the development tool platform path is as a process performance dashboard platform for decision-making and decision auditing. In this use, BPM is integrated with BI to support management processes that are characterized by collaboration-intensive participation, requirements for information in context and "run-time" process decision paths.
Users of BI tools have long been stymied by the inability of those tools to support taking action based on the insights afforded by BI reports and analyses. Integrating BI with BPM can yield a system in which:
• BI is embedded in business processes to strengthen decision-making
• data feeds from BPM to BI facilitate drill-down exploration from key performance indicators to root-cause process problems and bottlenecks
• BI and event detection can trigger suspension or alteration of business processes to allow for management remediation of the affected processes.
Although the possibilities for BI/BPM synergy have been apparent for some time, BI vendors have been reticent to commit to BPM (Pentaho and Appian have been notable exceptions). This hesitancy to step into anything labeled "process" stems largely from BI vendors' tenuous relationships with enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors, in particular Oracle, SAP and Siebel (now part of Oracle). BI vendors depend on open access to data from those ERP vendors' systems, particularly as the market for Operational BI (which may involve extracting data directly from ERP systems) heats up. They also are leery of alienating the proprietors of their data sources, which, by "trespassing" into ERP process territory, they could be perceived as doing. Another problematic dynamic for BI vendors is that the ERP vendors themselves are making increasingly stronger moves into the BI market.
Currently, most BPM deployments support operational workflow processes, which happen not to have been snapped up yet by ERP applications. With the exception of a few BPM vendors who have OEMed BI technology, most BPM tools lack support for information-intensive management processes. Moreover, BPM model development currently suffers from the inability to define enterprise data access using anything more than rudimentary queries; and it cannot tie management reports to process activities in support of decision-making. Both these capabilities are strengths of BI.
In an attempt to bring new value to the increasingly commoditized business intelligence market, and to elevate BPM use from rote operational processes to strategic management processes, some vendors of BI and BPM technologies are beginning to work together. For example, Cognos will embed Lombardi's TeamWorks BPM software in its analytic applications. The initial result will be Cognos Workforce Performance, the first of Cognos' reengineered suite of analytic applications. (This arrangement does not include Lombardi's BPM technology for the Cognos 8 BI platform.) And Information Builders is integrating its WebFOCUS BI platform with its iWay SOA middleware to offer what it calls "process-driven BI" (although, lacking a modeling tool, users have to construct processes manually).
BPM technology, by failing to maintain pace with Web services technologies, is not ready for prime-time enterprise SOA applications. With newly emerging BI properties and relationships, it is, however, a viable candidate for automating and documenting heretofore ignored management processes. Indeed, decision-making facilitated by a combination of BI and BPM can and should be used for knowledge dissemination and compliance auditing. However, Ventana Research urges companies to keep an enterprise eye on BPM technology investments by operational departments and lines of business, so as not to let them create a support burden for the IT organization.
About Ventana Research
Ventana Research is the leading Performance Management research and advisory services firm. By providing expert insight and detailed guidance, Ventana Research helps clients operate their companies more efficiently and effectively. These business improvements are delivered through a top-down approach that connects people, process, information and technology. What makes Ventana Research different from other analyst firms is a focus on Performance Management for finance, operations and IT. This focus, plus research as a foundation and reach into a community of over two million corporate executives through extensive media partnerships, allows Ventana Research to deliver a high-value, low-risk method for achieving optimal business performance. To learn how Ventana Research Performance Management workshops, assessments and advisory services can impact your bottom line, visit www.ventanaresearch.com.
2006 Ventana Research