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BPM modeling tools said to boost business analyst abilities

Business process modeling tools have improved to the point where business analysts can play a major role in Business Process Management initiatives, said Forrester's Ken Vollmer. Still, developers play a role too. Vollmer discussed this and other issues as Forrester rolled out a report showing several vendors grouped together as BPM leaders.

Modeling tools for business analysts have improved to the point where the business process that is modeled ends up being the same thing business users monitor from their dashboards when the app goes live, said Forrester analyst Ken Vollmer.

But sophisticated as the business analysts' tools are, there is still a need for developers, also working with modeling tools, to do the finishing work on the code, he added.

"The bottom line is that a large part of what the business analyst creates is what actually gets implemented," the Forrester analyst said in discussing a survey in a webcast and interview last week. "It's becoming less and less the case where IT people need to come in and make significant changes.

"This does vary by vendor. But there are cases where the business analysts can do much more on their own without strong IT involvement," said Vollmer.

In most cases, he asserted, it is not realistic to believe that there will be no need for developers to work on a BPM application. But Vollmer sees a trend where business analysts and developers are working as a team on the modeling, and thus generally reducing application development time to a three-month timeframe. Such a brief timeframe is key to showing results for applications projects that, left unchecked, can take a long time to fulfill.

"The good news is that in the process in general, the business people have more effective tools but so do the IT people," Vollmer said. "The fact that these two models are connected in many cases makes it more feasible to achieve that three-month timeline. People are doing it in the field today."

IC-BPMS: Who's on first?
Vollmer said BPM is a broad area that should be viewed from several perspectives. In his opinion, there are document-centric, people-centric and integration centric versions of BPM.

He positions Software AG, IBM, Tibco Software, Vitria Technology, Oracle , SAP, and Cordys Software as leaders in the latest Forrester Research evaluating the integration-centric business process management suite (IC-BPMS).

In a second tier are Microsoft, Sterling Commerce, and Sun Microsystems, which Forrester puts in its "Strong Performers" category for vendors with "some limitations related to BPM functionality."

Forrester used 109 criteria in its overall rankings but leadership status for the top seven vendors is based on strength in four major areas of evaluation: enterprise application integration (EAI), business-to-business interactions (B2B), BPM, and service-oriented architecture.

In discussing the survey in a webcast and interview this week, Forrester's Vollmer noted: "Several of the leaders are relatively bunched up in [Forrester's leadership sphere]. This is the sign of a somewhat mature market. These vendors are watching each other very closely. Adding new features and functionality. On paper they shake out fairly close together."

However, Vollmer cautioned that there is variability among the top seven products, and there is no one-size fits all. Speaking to Forrester clients who are potential customers for IC-BPMS, the analyst recommended requiring bidders to do a proof of concept to make sure individual vendor technology matches specific IT and business needs.

Whither BizTalk Server?
With software industry giant Microsoft in the second tier, the question arose: can .NET catch up?

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

Forrester sees convergence of SOA and BPM

"Microsoft is putting a lot of money into enhancing BizTalk Server, which is their IC-BPMS product," Vollmer said. He sees this investment aimed at getting the Microsoft technology to the point where it can deal with a wide range of new development needs inside and outside the BPM space.

In the larger application development arena, the Forrester analyst noted that while the integration-centric BPM suites are "very good for supporting process improvement," they are not the alpha and omega of development tools.

"There are other types of application requirements that don't fit neatly into that IC-BPMS environment," Vollmer said. "So it's unlikely that all large enterprises will always use one technique to meet their needs. They will use a palette of tools. Sometimes an IC-BPMS will be the right one. Sometimes development inside .NET directly will be the right one for Microsoft shops."

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