Developing a BPM Reference Architecture

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Much has been written about the importance of having a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to support both the development of BPM applications as well as to promote enterprise deployment of BPM. But one of the early steps in a BPM application strategy is to develop a specific BPM reference architecture that supports SOA principles and leverages your existing investment in technology and systems.

An enterprise reference architecture (ERA) is a comprehensive framework used to manage and align an organization’s information technology (IT) software and hardware, local and wide area networks, people, operations, and projects with the organization’s overall strategy. Reference architectures were created initially as a means to inventory technology components and their relationships using a stacking model with layers such as presentation, process and collaboration, application services, data services, and event management. These are all common categories used by vendors, analysts, and leading enterprise IT organizations.

Once in place, a reference architecture provides a valuable tool for a number of purposes:

  • To facilitate the definition of standards, or candidate standards, in each technology category (it is easier to define standards in targeted areas rather than general groupings)
  • To gauge adherence to standards so that once the standards are defined, the stack view can be used as a dashboard for monitoring the progress of adoption

Well-designed reference architectures help everyone:

  • Executives, managers, architects, and designers to manage technology decisions without micromanaging
  • Business units to understand the best options to get the most value out of technology
  • Business users to gain the benefit of consistency
  • IT management to leverage technology investments across the enterprise
  • IT operations to better serve their clients, while making better use of available resources and assets
  • External providers and outsourcers to better serve business needs of their clients as a result of better communication of business standards

In addition, a reference architecture can prioritize areas for innovation. Gaps identified in the stack, such as in portals, collaboration, or rules management, can be prioritized based on the degree of non-compliance or operational pain. An ERA can also assist in evaluating new technologies so that once standards are set, new additions to the enterprise stack can be matched against existing or candidate standards. Consolidation and retirement opportunities can be highlighted where there are duplicate or competing standards in areas such as manual workflow or integration services. Finally, and most important for our purposes, it can aid in the BPM application design process.

The most important elements in any BPM application strategy are to develop:

  • A conceptual design that identifies the key components required to meet the BPM application requirements (for example portal, manual and automated workflow, collaboration, business rule engine, business activity management, integration services, etc.) and their relationships to current systems and infrastructure
  • A BPM reference architecture model for the enterprise current state that indicates what BPM components may already be in place (such as other workflow engines or integration services)
  • A BPM reference architecture model for this BPM application, indicating the level of functionality needed for each of the BPM components identified in the conceptual design

Such an approach not only helps identify the gaps within the existing infrastructure, but also can be used to evaluate solution providers which can potentially provide BPM components to fill those gaps. Developing this BPM reference architecture for this initial application can serve as a model for future deployment of BPM across the enterprise. Thus, just as it makes sense to follow an ERA model for general architecture, an organization can benefit from a standardized conceptual framework for its BPM architecture that can provide a consistent and standardized approach for managing and automating processes across the whole organization.

Bill Chambers is a Principal Consultant with Doculabs, a consulting firm that helps organizations develop sound technology strategies for document and content applications & processes. Contact Doculabs at 312-433-7793,,


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