The heart of the matter

BPM's granular control spells relief for process management, but innovation is still missing the beat

OVER THE PAST few years, BPM (business process management) has become one of the hottest trends in the world of enterprise application integration. And why not? With BPM, companies can take separate pieces of business logic and organize them into specific sequences to achieve specific goals. Later, when new needs arise, these building blocks can be reorganized in any number of patterns to customize business objectives, thus eliminating the need to start from scratch.

Financially, BPM simply makes sense. With business processes becoming increasingly distributed and complex, technologies that deliver easy management, extensibility, and repurposing are crucial to bolstering the bottom line.

In the early days, technologies such as document flow routing and state management tools drove BPM, helping the technology find a home in a variety of application-server and integration-broker packages. But BPM's potential remains largely untapped. Although the basics for rules processing are in place, much work remains to round out other capabilities, such as improvements in human intervention, exception handling, and cross-platform interoperability. Meanwhile, the demand for continued process innovation is nipping at the heels of BPM vendors.

The good news for BPM backers is that the rise of service-oriented architectures (such as Web services) is assuring the technology a place in the enterprise software market for years to come. Because of their componential design, Web services rely on BPM to lace individual, specialized processes together into a completed fabric of enterprise design and functionality. As the Web services revolution rolls on, businesses will find BPM's chief attributes (namely, its support for code functionality resequencing and the close control it provides over workflow) to be a boon in rolling out new capabilities and adapting to the requirements of partners and customers. To reach this goal, enterprises must look to BPM as more than just an afterthought. The technology must be tightly integrated into the heart of all enterprise systems.

For now, a realistic goal for the BPM industry is to make process management so understandable and accessible that every system developer is familiar with concepts like rules engines and flow control. During the next 12 to 24 months, through vendor partnerships and acquisitions, BPM capabilities will become increasingly commoditized in enterprise integration platforms and development tool environments.

To that end, companies should be making IT investments to capitalize on BPM efficiencies coming in the months ahead. The cultural mind-shift that will be demanded of developers (who eventually will be asked to break their applications into more modular, service-oriented components) will take some getting used to.

Moreover, companies invested in BPM solutions should keep a close watch on vendor activity, looking for trends and standards that can translate into continued competitiveness. In the end, BPM -- much like the services-oriented world of tomorrow it seeks to facilitate -- is still a work in progress.