Analysis: As BPM Evolves Is the Focus Devolving?

Upstart vendors still need to fill in voids to create end-to-end suites.

Contrary to predictions of rampant consolidation, new vendors and even new classes of vendors seem to be populating the business process management (BPM) market. Gartner estimates there are approximately 140 BPM vendors, and some believe the number will be as high as 160 by year's end, defying expectations that the market would evolve and a clearer market landscape would emerge.

Whether many of these companies are truly BPM players is debatable, as there has been a proliferation of process automation, business application, workflow and service-oriented architecture (SOA) solutions confusing the market. "Many companies indirectly provide BPM functionality, so there is [confusion] about what pure BPM is," says Michael Melenovsky, director of BPM research with Gartner. Melenovsky defines BPM as a "management practice or discipline" that employs methods, policies, metrics and software tools to manage and optimize processes and activities for enhanced agility and productivity.

[ THE Q.T. ]
Buiness intelligence vendors have been sniffing around the business process management market looking for acquisitions. Cognos was close to buying, says one BPM CEO, but it feared IBM backlash.

Vendor consolidation may still be a couple years away because the top players "have already made most of the critical acquisitions they needed to play in the space," says Dennis Byron, research analyst for business process integration and deployments at IDC. Byron predicts "the [BPM] market will grow 20 percent compounded annually through 2010, and then there will be signs of maturity."

Given the many components of BPM, upstart vendors still need to fill in voids to create end-to-end suites. Yet OEM partnerships have been far more plentiful than acquisitions when it comes to adding modeling environments, process orchestration engines, workflow tools, rules engines, integration servers, simulation environments or monitoring and analysis tools.

One of the most recent examples of real consolidation was the merger of Metastorm and Commerce Quest, announced on October 5. "We wanted to run the gamut from human-to-human process management to the process integration side of BPM," says Metastorm CEO Bob Farrell, who will lead the combined companies. Farrell says Commerce Quest's system-to-system integration technologies will complete Metastorm's workflow-oriented solutions. Continuing under the Metastorm name, the new company's revenues will approach $50 million, making it a leader among the gaggle of private, mostly sub-$100-million pure-plays in the BPM market.

There is no question that natural selection will winnow that market in the next few years, with IBM, SAP, Microsoft and lesser giants honing in on process management needs even as they twist definitions to suit their own strengths. IBM, for example, is addressing business process needs as part of a WebSphere SOA Foundation announced in September. Also in September, Microsoft announced Windows Workflow Foundation for building workflow-enabled applications in Windows.

Just as IBM is setting a bigger stage intertwined with SOA, "Microsoft is trying to differentiate itself with a message that says issues around process management—such as workflow—are bigger than BPM," says IDC's Byron. "Microsoft will try to sell its product as...the underpinning of applications, which intimates there would be less integration down the road."

Byron notes that it's a similar strategy to SAP, which has NetWeaver underpinning its applications, or Oracle with Fusion. Meanwhile, the BEAs and Tibcos of the world will try to gain market share by highlighting neutrality to packaged applications.

To BPM purists, the hype around underlying technology amounts to a devolutionary path away from empowering business users to manage, monitor and change processes on the fly. "The technical aspects comprise only 20 percent of [BPM] projects," notes Gartner's Melenovsky. "Productivity and user-friendly tools are what business users warm up to; they couldn't care less about infrastructure issues."

Susana Schwartz is a freelance writer and technology editor at Telestrategies and Billing World & OSS Today.

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