Emerging Trends in BPM – Five Years Later

I just found a short article that I wrote for Savvion (now part of Progress Software) dated November 21, 2006, and decided to post it with some updated commentary on the 5th anniversary of the original paper. Enjoy!

Emerging trends in BPM
What happened in 2006, and what’s ahead in 2007

The BPM market continues to evolve, and although 2006 has seen some major events, there will be even more in 2007. This column takes a high-level view of four areas of ongoing significant change in BPM: the interrelationship between SOA and BPM; BPM standards; the spread of process modeling tools; and the impact of Web 2.0 on BPM.

SOA and BPM, together at last. A year ago, many CIOs couldn’t even spell SOA, much less understand what it could do for them. Now, Service-Oriented Architecture and BPM are seen as two ends of the spectrum of integration technologies that many organizations are using as an essential backbone for business agility.

SOA is the architectural philosophy of exposing functionality from a variety of systems as reusable services with standardized interfaces; these, in turn, can be orchestrated into higher-level services, or consumed by other services and applications. BPM systems consume the services from the SOA environment and add in any required human interaction to create a complete business process.

As with every year for the last several years, 2006 has seen ongoing industry consolidation, particularly with vendors seeking to bring SOA and BPM together in their product portfolios. This trend will continue as SOA and BPM become fully recognized as being two essential parts of any organization’s process improvement strategy.

There has certainly been consolidation in the BPM vendor portfolios, especially the integration vendors adding better human-centric capabilities through acquisitions: Oracle acquired BEA in 2008, IBM acquired Lombardi in 2009, Progress acquired Savvion in 2010, and TIBCO acquired Nimbus in 2011. Although BPM is being used in some cases to orchestrate and integrate systems using services, this is still quite a green field for many organizations who have implemented BPM but are still catching up on exposing services from their legacy applications, and orchestrating those with BPM.

BPM standards. 2006 was the year that the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), a notational standard for the graphical representation of process models, went mainstream. Version 2 of the standard was released, and every major BPM vendor is providing some way for their users to make use of the BPMN standard, whether it’s through a third-party modeling tool or directly in their own process modelers.

But BPMN isn’t the only standard that gained importance this year. 2006 also saw the widespread adoption of XPDL (XML Process Definition Language) by BPM vendors as an interchange format: once a process is modeled in BPMN, it’s saved in the XPDL file format to move from one system to another. A possible competitor to XPDL, the Business Process Definition Metamodel (BPDM) had its first draft release this year, but we won’t know the impact of this until later in 2007. On the SOA side, the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), a service orchestration language, is now widely accepted as an interchange format, if not a full execution standard.

The adoption of BPM standards is critical as we consider how to integrate multiple tools and multiple processes to run our businesses. There’s no doubt that BPMN will remain the predominant standard for the graphical representation of process models, but 2007 could hold an interesting battle between XPDL, BPDM and BPEL as serialization formats.

The “Version 2” that I referred to was actually the second released version of the BPMN standard, but the actual version number was 1.1. That battle for serialization formats still goes on: most vendors support XPDL (and will continue to do so) but are also starting to support the (finally released) BPMN file format as well. BPDM disappeared somewhere in the early days of BPMN 2.0. BPEL is used as a serialization and interchange format primarily between systems that use BPEL as their core execution language, which are a minority in the broader BPMS space.

Modeling for the masses. In March of 2006, Savvion released the latest version of their free, downloadable process modeler: an application that anyone, not just Savvion customers, could download, install and run on their desktop without requiring access to a server. This concept, pioneered by Savvion in 2004, lowers the barrier significantly for process modeling and allows anyone to get started creating process models and finding improvements to their processes.

Unlike generic modeling tools like Microsoft Visio, a purpose-built process modeler can enforce process standards, such as BPMN, and can partially validate the process models before they are even imported into a process server for implementation. It can also provide functionality such as process simulation, which is essential to determining improvements to the process.

2006 saw other BPM vendors start to copy this initiative, and we can expect more in the months to come.

Free or low-cost process modelers have proliferated: there are web-based tools, downloadable applications and Visio BPMN add-ons that have made process modeling accessible – at least financially – to the masses. The problem continues to be that many people using the process modeling tools lack the analysis skills to do significant process optimization (or even, in some cases, representation of an event-driven process): the hype about having all of your business users modeling your business processes has certainly exceeded the reality.

Web 2.0 hits BPM. Web 2.0, a set of technologies and concepts embodied within the next generation of internet software, is beginning to impact enterprise software, too.

Web 2.0 is causing changes in BPM by pushing the requirement for zero-footprint, platform-independent, rich user interfaces, typically built using AJAX (Asynchronous Java and XML). Although browser-based interfaces for executing processes have been around for many years in BPM, the past year has seen many of these converted to AJAX for a lightweight interface with both functionality and speed.

There are two more Web 2.0 characteristics that I think we’re going to start seeing in BPM in 2007: tagging and process syndication. Tagging would allow anyone to add freeform keywords to a process instance (for example, one that required special handling) to make it easier to find that instance in the future by searching on the keywords. Process event syndication would allow internal and external process participants to “subscribe” to a process, and feed that process’ events into a standard feed reader in order to monitor the process, thereby improving visibility into the process through the use of existing feed technologies such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

Bringing Web 2.0 to BPM will require a few changes to corporate culture, especially those parts that require different – and more creative – types of end-user participation. As more people at all levels in the organization participate in all facets of process improvement, however, the value of this democratization of business processes will become clear.

I’ve been writing and presenting about the impact of social software on BPM for over five years now; adoption has been slower than I predicted, although process syndication (subscribing to a process’ events) has finally become mainstream. Tagging of processes is just starting to emerge; I’ve seen it in BonitaSoft but few other places.

I rarely do year-end prediction posts, but it was fun to look back at one that I did five years ago to see how well I did.

2 thoughts on “Emerging Trends in BPM – Five Years Later”

  1. Hi Sandy,
    first of all: congrats, you got a 5/5 hit rate :), which is quite impressive given the liquid scenario in BPM.
    On the integration with web services, I’d like to add the possibility to integrating with REST service style too (I’m watching a presentation on this by Cesare Pautasso at the BPMN 2011 Workshop right now).

    It would be nice to get the list of the additional ones that you identified along the last five years too. Just to mention some: mobile BPM, and also personal BPM. There is a lot of hype around these today. Do you see actual interest from companies?

  2. Hi Marco,

    I didn’t mention web services specifically, SOAP or REST, but have seen REST emerging as a favorite in the past couple of years due to the lighter-weight requirements. However, most of the BPMS vendors implemented SOAP first, guided by enterprise clients who really thought that was what they wanted, and some still don’t support REST natively although all support SOAP.

    For the type of companies that I typically work with on BPM implementations (financial services and insurance), mobile is still far in their future. I’m hearing about some case studies from the vendors, but unclear on how broad the adoption actually is.

    As for other predictions along the way, that would take a bit of work: I’m not sure that I did another “predictions” post after this one.

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