Three No-Cost Ways To Get Started With BPM

Several business process management vendors now offer free, downloadable tools that let you model processes, analyze expected performance improvement and create most, if not all, of an actual executable design.
You've heard all the promises about business process management (BPM)--how it can streamline outmoded practices, enhance efficiency, promote compliance and standardization, make your organization more agile and put you on the path of continuous performance improvement. But it all seems so abstract. How do you convince yourself, and the CFO, that you're going to get a solid return on what's probably a six-figure investment?

BPM isn't an enterprise application like ERP or CRM, but it's not really core infrastructure, either, so making the ROI clear and convincing to buyers is a challenge. Fortunately, BPM vendors are starting to realize this, too. Several now offer free, downloadable tools that let you model processes, analyze expected performance improvement and create most, if not all, of an actual executable design. The giveaways vary, but they're all based on the same basic premise: If users can try BPM software without charge, they'll see the value and ultimately step up to a production-scale investment.

In an example aimed at business analysts, Savvion offers its Process Modeler as a free download. Like other modeling tools, it lets you define process flows in swimlanes, model participants and system resources required, and then project anticipated costs, cycle times, service levels and other process metrics through simulation analysis. Geared to nontechnical users, the tool even lets you model process data and define Web forms for human tasks.

The Process Modeler's simulation capabilities are excellent. For example, you can assign costs to process activities and participant resources, and you can model contention for resources across multiple simultaneous processes. Based on the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) standard, the tool generates complete documentation of the process model and simulation analysis. Where once business users gave IT a Visio flowchart to document BPM requirements, now they can provide complete documentation with built-in ROI analysis. What's more, with Savvion, process modeling and executable process design are handled in the same tool. The free Process Modeler looks just like the Eclipse-based BPM Studio, but integration, business rules, exception handling and business activity monitoring (BAM) functions have been disabled. Even so, you can still do 80 percent of the executable process design.

Oracle's BPEL Process Manager ( is also a free download. This tool demonstrates the speed and agility of BPEL-based development versus conventional Java code. You can build, test and run J2EE BPM solutions without spending a dime on software. You only pay when it's time to deploy to the production environment.

Geared toward service-oriented architecture (SOA) developers, Oracle's designer generates BPEL via graphical drag-and-drop and point-click wizards, then compiles it to Java deployed to the runtime. The BPEL Process Manager supports human workflow services, advanced data mapping, an assortment of integration adapters and other capabilities you wouldn't expect to find in free software.

A third example in the free-download trend ups the ante. Intalio ( not only offers an executable process designer and development runtime for free, it's giving away the production runtime as well. And why stop there? Intalio BPMS Community Edition is a complete J2EE BPM system, including Intalio's open-source BPEL engine, an Eclipse-based process designer supporting data mapping and simulation, a rules engine, an enterprise service bus, integration adapters, a metadata repository and a full BAM suite. Intalio's design tool uses BPMN, providing an environment that, like Savvion's, can be shared between business analysts and IT.

The only "catch," if you want to call it that, is that Community Edition runs on Geronimo, the Apache open-source application server, and the MySQL database. The suite includes some third-party components, such as the BAM suite, for which customers are now paying six-figure fees in the conventional software licensing model. Following the Linux model, Intalio and its technology partners are pinning their hopes on fee-based support, which will cost $3,000 to $8,000 per CPU per year for most of the Community Edition. That should make the CFO smile.

Whether you're a business analyst or a hard-core SOA developer, you don't have to spend a lot for BPM software before you understand exactly how it addresses your specific process problems.

Bruce Silver ([email protected]) is an independent industry analyst. His "2006 BPMS Report" is available for free here.