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Forrester urges architects to adopt SOA-based BPM tools

Enterprise architects are missing significant advantages if they ignore mature integration-centric BPM suites as part of their SOA development, according to a new Forrester Research report.

Enterprise architects who are not using integration-centric business process management suites (IC-BPMS) in their service-oriented architecture (SOA) development efforts need to consider this option, according to a new report from Forrester Research Inc.

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Vendors are offering mature IC-BPMS products that can help organizations implement combined business process management (BPM) and integration capabilities based on an SOA foundation, according to Ken Vollmer, principle analyst at Forrester. Architects who are not using them are losing significant benefits, he said.

The IC-BPMS tools, which were first developed in the enterprise application integration (EAI) era, are mature and easy to use, he writes in a report released this month titled The IC-BPMS Reference Architecture Model -- IT View Tech Choices.

"However," he reports, "our recent discussions with enterprise architects at several global enterprises indicate that the comprehensive nature of these products is still not well understood, leading to many situations where enterprises are pursuing BPM, integration and application development projects without the most capable tool kit at their disposal."

The IC-BPMS from major vendors such as IBM, Oracle, SAP AG and Software AG's webMethods unit have evolved significantly from the proprietary version from the days of EAI, Vollmer said. While some vendors have built their own SOA and others have acquired the technology, IC-BPMS products are now based on "a solid foundation of SOA," he said.

The tools provide integrated support for business rules, Web services management and governance, model-driven development (MDD), process orchestration/workflow, business activity monitoring (BAM) and process optimization features, he said.

Asked why these tools are underutilized, Vollmer said that the IC-BPMS tools "represent a significantly different way of creating new application functionality, from code generated from process models as opposed to manually writing code. Having been burned a few times in the past, many organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach. However, early adopters are scoring some impressive gains."

Furthermore, the lack of adoption does not stem from a steep learning curve. Architects willing to take another look at the tools will not find them difficult to use, Vollmer said. "These tools abstract a lot of technical issues under the covers, so they tend to be easier to work with than the other options that have been around for a while."

For evidence that IC-BPMS tools can make a difference in creating business value in SOA applications, Vollmer pointed to a series of case studies in a report he authored for Forrester in September, EA and Metrics: For Maximum Impact, Measure the Business Value.

In the case of a corporation identified only as "a leading international provider of paper products," the EA report noted that use of IC-BPMS provided significant business value through the automation of cash receivable business process.

"The old process required manual intervention to interpret payment reconciliation transactions received from its bank prior to allocating the cash to the correct enterprise resource planning (ERP) system accounts," Vollmer said. "The new process feeds the reconciliation statements to an IC-BPMS that automatically allocates receivables directly into the correct ERP accounts by electronic interpretation of simple business rules stored in the BPM tool. This change completely eliminated manual efforts while shortening processing times by two days."

In another case study, Vollmer reported that a European telecom firm used an IC-BPMS tool was used build a service delivery platform to support its new development efforts. The telco cut development time from an average of four months down to one month, allowing the firm to undertake development efforts that were previously beyond the capabilities of its IT resources.

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