Business Process Management (BPM) for some time now has been established as an important business management practice and discipline. Complemented with BPM software, often referred to as a BPM Suite (or BPMS), a category of enterprise software, BPM has shown that it can help organizations streamline and automate their key business processes, effectively monitor and measure them, and provide the means to optimize those processes on a continuous bases.

BPM benefits

In doing so organizations who have successfully practiced BPM and deployed BPMS-based solutions, have been rewarded with benefits such as improved operational efficiency, lower cost, better communication and more collaboration between IT and business, more visibility and transparency, quicker turnaround in offering new products and services, more agility in meeting the changing business needs, increased revenue and more satisfied customers. Even through the rough economic times of late 2008 through 2009, BPM market continued to show growth as organizations were able to leverage BPM to reduce cost and become leaner and more efficient.

BPM market

That is why most analysts estimate that today BPM software alone is roughly about a $2 billion market worldwide with a healthy double-digit growth rate through 2015. And of course there is even a bigger services number associated with delivering that BPM software as BPM requires professional services for implementation and deployment.

The term BPM was coined by Gartner’s David McCoy around 1999. A few years back he predicted that BPM would go away and simply serve as an enabling technology for other emerging areas. The viability of BPM on its own as an enterprise software market has been questioned on and off. But BPM has withstood the test of time and continues to be a growth market as it delivers business value.

BPM as a business management discipline

In terms of business management strategy and discipline, BPM has relations to Six Sigma and a mutation of Six Sigma called Lean Six Sigma that combines Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. For example, the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) principle or methodology roughly corresponds to the BPM cycle which is typically represented as the figure below or a variation of it.

A typical BPM cycle

BPM technology

BPM software consists of the tools, components, frameworks and servers that enable the above BPM cycle for a given business process. The typical key elements or capabilities of a BPMS are as follow:

  • Visual process modeling, simulation and analysis tools
  • A presentation layer such as a portal or a mashup including e-forms for users to interact with a process
  • The means to integrate a process to existing applications or systems; i.e. a step in a process gets performed by an application
  • Servers to enact and execute processes and rules, and handle events; this may be a single unified engine or separate but integrated engines for processes, rules and events
  • Analytics, reporting, real-time monitoring tools and dashboards
  • The ability to (hopefully fairly easily) change processes and rules, ideally even in run time

Over the years, BPM software has evolved to include or at least touch on many related software technologies such as workflow, integration (or EAI of the mid to late 1990s) including connectivity to other business applications such as ERPs and CRMs, service-oriented architecture (SOA), business rule management system (BRMS), business event management (BEM) or complex event processing (CEP), business intelligence (BI), and business activity monitoring (BAM) or corporate performance management (CPM). And from a user perspective, forms, portals, mashups, and presentation technologies come into play.

But it doesn’t stop there. For certain types of processes that deal with documents, content management (ECM) becomes very important and complementary to BPM. There are certain knowledge-based and high-value processes whose effective management requires collaboration. In fact, both design-time and run-time collaboration is quite relevant to BPM though it has been a weakness in most BPMSs. One of the emerging applications of BPMS is case management which loosely speaking brings together BPM, ECM and collaboration along with a wide range of analytics.

Vendor landscape

I have been doing BPM-related work on the vendor side since 1997 in various capacities such as sales engineering, technology alliances, OEM sales, product marketing, product management, and now research, analysis and strategy.

Over the last 10 years many BPM vendors have come and gone. Some have been successful while others have not done so well. Most have got acquired (Staffware by Tibco, QLink by Adobe, Fuego by BEA and BEA by Oracle, webMethods by Software AG, FileNet and Lombardi by IBM, and Savvion by Progress Software, … among others). Most of the acquirers such as IBM, Oracle, Software AG and Tibco have continued to do BPM. There are also still a handful of recognized independent BPM vendors (e.g. Pegasystems, Appian, Metastorm) as well as a number of new entrants who continue to focus on BPM.

Others have defined variations of BPM such as Progress that leveraging its CEP technology and its recent Savvion acquisition has positioned its offerings as RPM (responsive process management). Adobe does not explicitly position around BPM but its BPM technology plays an important role in its enterprise solutions. EMC is focusing on case management, which has also become an investment area for a few others such as IBM, Pega and Global 360. Oracle with its Fusion Applications is looking to leverage BPM in a new generation of business applications. There are also ISVs who have been successful in leveraging BPM technology in other software areas such as supply chain management (SCM), storage and system provisioning and management, application development and change management.

On occasion I may explore specific aspects of BPM in more detail. But as a follow up I will provide references to other resources on BPM. Much has been written on this topic and there are several good active bloggers who solely blog on BPM. I do not intend to do that as I cover a broader range of topics including social media and marketing in this blog.

Note that the distinction between BPM the discipline and BPMS the technology is not always explicit, though it is important. Often people simply say BPM to refer to both, but the intent should be clear from the context. Tom Baeyens in his article, “Why IT should select a BPMS instead of business“, makes an interesting observation that vendors may intentionally blur the the distinction between the two, and that in turn may result in certain challenges in reaping the benefits of BPM.

potentially better communication and more collaboration between IT and business people