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How To Win At BPM

Effective business-process management ensures that a company's people and technology work as a cohesive team
Vendors are aware of this deficiency, and on the BPM horizon are deeper simulation, scenario-planning, and predictive-analysis features, Gartner's Sinur says. "There will be dashboards at the operational and strategic level, and there will be a whole market around decision optimization," he says. "If you get two yellow caution lights and a red light for a third process, how will you respond? Scenario planning will help develop rules in advance for just that situation. There are chemical plants applying these principles today because bad decisions could put lives at risk."

Just as enterprises pay people to watch video cameras to ensure security, employees increasingly will be tasked with monitoring these dashboards. In addition, alerts and notifications for exceptions or exceeding thresholds will be used extensively.

Among the 100-plus vendors in the business-process-management market, most have their roots in workflow or were founded as pure-play providers. Joining the party in recent years have been enterprise-application-integration, application infrastructure, and, most recently, ERP vendors.

There are two types of BPM pure plays: those that transformed themselves and those that were BPM from the get-go. The former group includes workflow vendors such as FileNet, Metastorm, and Staffware (acquired by Tibco last year to bolster its process-oriented technology and expertise). These vendors have moved away from proprietary, hard-coded approaches to embrace loose-knit Web-services integration and standards-compliant orchestration based on Business Process Execution Language, the most significant BPM standard. The latter camp includes Fuego, Lombardi, and Savvion, vendors that had no legacy in rigid approaches to process automation but that also lack the document- and content-management capabilities of most workflow-derived BPM systems.

Obstacle Course ChartThe conventional wisdom is that pure-play products, including those with roots in workflow, are best suited to handling processes that combine human-to-human and system-to-system interactions. If those processes are content-intensive such as lending, claims, or other forms-driven activities, seek out systems like those from Ultimus or Tibco that can easily handle content-review and approval steps.

Like BPM pure plays, EAI vendors such as Tibco, Vitria Technology, and webMethods have helped close the gaps between major application infrastructure and application platforms by including a broad selection of tools with their BPM suites, including those that only platform vendors have offered.

Their challenge in moving to business-process management, however, is in serving a mix of business and IT users and focusing on process management--their history is in serving IT with integration alone. It's important that they create design, modeling, and rules environments that won't make business analysts' heads explode. To this end, Tibco has taken the services-oriented architecture model and applied it squarely to its own set of technology. Although the models and workflow can be implemented using BusinessWorks, Tibco's integration product, it's not required. Staffware's use of services provides an open environment in which any service can be inserted into a process.

According to analysts, big application infrastructure players such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and, to a lesser extent, BEA Systems split the BPM market evenly with the pure-play vendors. But from the results of Network Computing's latest BPM E-poll, you'd think the big boys pioneered the technology: 580 respondents ranked IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and BEA (in that order) as the "leader in BPM solutions." About the same number cited the same players, though in a slightly different order, as the top vendors being considered for BPM deployments.

Truth is, these application-infrastructure bigwigs aren't BPM pioneers, but they won't discourage the perception. Like integration players whose technology is rapidly becoming commoditized, application-platform vendors recognize the commoditization of the application server. BEA, IBM, and Oracle are moving rapidly to provide reasons to invest in their application platforms, and business-process management is a natural complement.

But their efforts and acquisitions haven't changed their focus: All continue to primarily target the developer. Oracle, for example, acquired its Business Process Execution Language engine from Collaxa only last year; it relies entirely on third-party modeling tools; and it concedes that implementation is developer-oriented. Modeling and simulation are left to partners.

Driving Forces ChartForrester Research estimates application-infrastructure vendors will claim 30%, the largest share, of the BPM market within three years. Next up will be the application-platform vendors, with 25% of the market. Those customers that have built their businesses on Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, and Siebel Systems should know that these vendors are offering another route to BPM. For example, SAP claims its NetWeaver brings process-management capabilities to the application server, though the half-step of composite applications also is being promoted. The addition of third-party modeling and performance-management tools from the likes of IDS Scheer might help achieve true BPM, but implementations are still in the early stages.

With infrastructure and enterprise application vendors expected to take half the market by 2008, that will leave the BPM pure plays and application-integration vendors each with a 20% share, with the remaining 5% going to other types of vendors, according to Forrester. It should be an interesting shake-up that will leave enterprise IT with plenty of choices.

Illustration by Taxi