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Business-side often drives BPM initiatives today

Business Process Management is often posed as the killer app for SOA. At least one analyst suggests combining SOA and BPM is not as simple as vendors would have their customers believe.

Business groups within organizations now drive business process management (BPM) efforts. That can complicate things when architects look to combine their service-oriented plans with BPM initiatives, according to an industry expert.

Even in the organizations pursuing both BPM and SOA, the two initiatives aren't heading on paths that will lead them to be joined up.
Neil Ward-Dutton
research directorMacehiter Ward-Dutton

While the IBM acquisition of ILOGlast week gained favourable reviews from most of the SOA analyst community, Neil Ward-Dutton, research director, Macehiter Ward-Dutton, reports that BPM is not as far along in practice as it is in hype.

"Conceptually there's a great fit between BPM initiatives and SOA initiatives," said Ward-Dutton. "However our research shows that on the ground, the way that SOA and BPM are pursued means that they're going to be difficult to 'join up.'"

The Macehiter Ward-Dutton research found that where BPM initiatives are in place they are being driven by the business side in the vast majority of companies in Europe.

"They're driven by business teams, and are largely focused on process modelling and business analysis tasks," Ward-Dutton said. "Few companies seem to have really gotten past that to deliver better or more flexible, fit-for-purpose automation in support of improved processes."

As others in the U.S. have found, the Macehiter Ward-Dutton report finds that SOA in Europe is largely about application integration being done by IT. This produces the disconnect Ward-Dutton finds between business people doing BPM or at least business process re-engineering (BPR), and IT professionals using SOA tools for what is basically an updated version of enterprise application integration (EAI).

"Even in the organizations pursuing both BPM and SOA, the two initiatives aren't heading on paths that will lead them to be joined up," Ward-Dutton said.

The analyst agrees the BPM has the potential to become a united effort by business and IT, which is one of the main promises of SOA. But it isn't working that way now, regardless of the vendor hype involved in selling the two approaches as technology that can be purchased.

"The point we're making here is that at the same time, many of the vendors selling BPM solutions paint a very simplistic picture that positions BPM as a technology, layered on top of SOA, which is also shown as a technology," he said. This again harkens back to the EAI products of the 1990s in Ward-Dutton's view.

"It's just like people used to paint a picture of application architecture back in the 1990s with business logic separated from integration/database concerns," the analyst said. "It's just not that simple."

For more information
Forrester details 'secret sauce' for BPM success

The business and IT roles inside SOA and BPM

The Macehiter Ward-Dutton research indicates that vendors and consultants need to recognize the complexity involved in combining BPM with SOA, rather than try to sell one as the "killer app" for the other.

"So the key message here is that there is real value in combining BPM and SOA, sure, but if you try and paint too simple a picture of how the two things fit together, you'll probably miss many of the real benefits and also the real challenges," Ward-Dutton said.

The situation is not hopeless and the analyst expects a more realistic alignment of SOA and BPM may emerge in the next year.

"But only if we hear much more concrete information from real-world implementations, rather than overly simplistic vendor promotional messages," he said.

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