Sunday, August 3, 2008

Will BPM be the Savior of SOA?

My friendly Software AG representative recently gave me a copy of the "BPM Basics for Dummies". This was an interesting little book pitched at the Executive level. It would not help an IT person to get started with any particular product set but would help them understand what all the fuss was about.

BPM (see note below) has been with us since at least the 1980s. It used to a paper process of writing up the process and then getting a team of programmers to build it, then implementing it on usually a big computer that could handle it and then have the computer operators monitoring it.

In the 1990s Business Process Reengineering (BPR) was an approach which changed an organizational process. It involved process diagrams, IT change and business change.

The excitement with BPM is that some of the leg work involved in actually building systems can be removed if the components of the business process are already established. In this case the components are Web Services enabled through an SOA.

What interests me about this is that some of the concepts behind BPM are a lot easier to explain to the business than SOA. You can get out the Lego blocks and explain the benefits of agility until you are blue in the face but you are still only talking in analogies and expecting the business to take a leap of faith. If you show the business a diagram of one of their business processes and then tell the business the cost of changing that business process then that makes sense in terms the business understands. Of course there is a significant investment in infrastructure, tools and services to establish before you get to that point. It is this significant investment that the IT executive wants to sell. If you are pushing a plan to buy infrastructure, tools and establish services then the plan will make more business sense if the objective is BPM rather than SOA.

I think Software AG understands this and that is why they are giving out "BPM Basics for Dummies" and not "SOA Basics for Dummies". I think the business will get behind BPM before they will embrace SOA. We may see more push for BPM to business executives and SOA may take a back seat. The IT department however knows it needs SOA to get BPM to work. That is just how it meets the business goal of BPM.

Note:

BPM stands for Business Process Management, but you would excused for thinking it stood for Business Process Modeling. The "Management" implies that we are doing a lot more than mapping out the processes. The "Management" moves beyond documenting the processes to making them happen and monitoring their effectiveness.

This is not to be confused with BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) where the "M" stands for "Modeling". BPMN however can move beyond an aesthetic model to an operational system by converting it to BPEL.

References:

http://www.ebizq.net/hot_topics/bpm/

http://www.bpmn.org/Documents/Mapping%20BPMN%20to%20BPEL%20Example.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_process_reengineering

Kiran Garimella, Michael Lees and Bruce Williams, "BPM Basics for Dummies (Software AG Special Edition)", Wiley Publishing Inc. 2008.

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