Selecting a BPMS

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If you don't have the time to listen to this issue's Featured Archive, this article serves as an Executive Summary of the presentation "Selection Criteria for BPM Software" by Bruce Silver of Bruce Silver Associates. There are real differences among software vendors and their products. Some of these solutions will work much better for you than others, but on paper, they look the same. Silver gives a sensible and detailed explanation of how find Business Process management Software that will work for you.

Dr. Bruce Silver is an independent industry analyst and consultant focused on business process management and content management technologies. He is the author of the 2006 BPMS Report series, evaluations of leading BPMS offerings available free through BPMInstitute.org, and the BPMS Watch blog at www.brsilver.com/wordpress, which includes numerous other reports and white papers. He also writes the Change Agent column in Intelligent Enterprise magazine, the BPMS Watch column on BPMInstitute.org, and feature stories in Intelligent Enterprise and InfoWorld.

Business process management is a challenge because processes cut across traditional stovepipe boundaries. These challenges include:

  • Inefficient handoffs, long cycle times
  • Stovepiped systems that are hard to integrate and change
  • Ad hoc, out of control processes
  • No end-to-end metrics
  • Constant change
  • Scarce IT resources
  • BPMS stands for Business Process Management Software programs that automate, integrate and optimize business processes. BPMS delivers efficiency, agility, compliance, and visibility (end-to-end metrics). BPMS is used in the banking and insurance industries, in telecommunications, in government, and in all industries for human resources, SOX compliance, tax filings, and others.

    BPMS vendor solutions don't all do the same thing. Each is optimized for a specific set of processes, integration requirements, human interface and exception-handling requirements, and performance management requirements. Each makes specific assumptions about the roles and required skills of process designers. Finding the BPMS solution that best fits your needs is not an easy task. The selection criteria should be based on the following questions:

  • Is the BPMS a good fit to your process type? Look for key features like workflow, business rules
  • Does the BPMS support your process lifecycle? Does it have agile integration w/o programming? Performance simulation? Analytics?
  • Does the BPMS meet your standard IT criteria? Does it have the traditional IT values of scalability, reliability, architecture?
  • Does the vendor have financial strength and maturity?
  • The promises of BPMS are:

  • Modeling, which includes the ability to have executable end-to-end business processes, combining straight-through processing, human workflow, application integration and exceptions and transactions
  • Integration, which assures the ability to link with any external system regardless of location, platform, communications, programming language or model
  • Management, which includes business metrics that can be viewed in real-time with real-time alerts and actions triggered by deviations from the target business metrics and service-level agreements.
  • There are two basic types of BPMS architecture. The first is workflow architecture which has the following attributes:

  • Based on WfMC reference model, XPDL
  • Activities assigned to roles or queues
  • Typically strong in human interaction, weaker in integration
  • Tools more business analyst-oriented
  • Examples are Savvion, Fuego, Lombardi, Tibco, FileNet, Documentum…..
  • The other type of architecture is Service-Oriented. Attributes of this include:

  • Based on web service orchestration, BPEL
  • Activities assigned to "service endpoints" (URLs)
  • Typically strong in agile integration, weaker in human interaction
  • Tools more developer-oriented
  • Examples are IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SeeBeyond, Vitria….
  • For SOA integration, the packages use integration adapters that generate integration components for selected methods, objects or events. The method executes a response when invoked by the process.

    There are big differences between business rules and routing rules. Business Rules are very important in BPMS and include:

  • Complex conditions invoked by a wide variety of triggers
  • Defined in business-oriented rules
  • Rules stored centrally for the business
  • Changed rules take effect immediately without versioning or redeploying
  • Routing rules, on the other hand, are:

  • Simple conditions invoked at a point in the flow
  • Defined in executable process designer (IT tool)
  • Rule stored in each activity where used
  • Changed rules require versioning, redeploying the model
  • Most real BPMS are not content-aware, according to Silver. They treat an ECM repository like any external business system. BPMS solutions are values out of the box. They have vertical and horizontal solutions along with modeling tools that can create a life-cycle process design. The business-IT handoff works better now, since both business and IT use the same tools by assembling components and not by programming.

    Simulation analysis is a standard feature. The model animates the process and computes cycle time, throughput, and costs. It also accepts feedback of actual performance data to refine parameters.

    Performance management monitors historical and real-time process data using built-in and user-defined business metrics. It is becoming a key differentiator as process integration and automation become standardized. Dashboards, tables and charts can be created.

    You should ask six things of a vendor when considering a BPMS package.

  • Examples of installed customers with process similar to yours
  • The business/IT touchpoints in your process lifecycle
  • Point-click graphical design (process without programming)
  • What kind of programming is still needed, and where
  • Tools for creating simulations and performance management dashboards
  • Solutions value out of the box for my specific applications
  • Silver said that BPMS offerings vary widely in assumed process type, assumed process lifecycle, system architecture, features, and product maturity. The problem is that marketing makes these solutions all sound alike. There are major differences and some vendor solutions will work for you while others won't. Getting a good fit means doing your homework to understand just what kind of solution you need.

    You can find out a great deal more about individual BPMS vendors by going to Bruce Silver's website, www.brsilver.com.

    Bruce Silver recently spoke on this topic at a recent BrainStorm Business Process Management Conference.

    Jon Huntress

    Special Events Correspondent

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