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Among the merits of enterprise BPM and SOA is that they are effective solutions to organization process problems. SOA and BPM shouldn't be thought of as one versus the other; rather they are complements. Distilled to their essence, SOA is an architecture and BPM is a business practice. Though different, each can bring great benefit to the other.
SOA = Architecture
SOA is defined as "the underlying structure supporting communications between services." In many ways, then, it can be thought of as a kind of mini-Internet, a network connecting computers that serve up information of different kinds according to specific queries.
These queries might launch services that involve the application of business rules, the routing of information or the running of a process simulation. SOA itself isn't executing any of these tasks; rather, it is the conduit through which they run.
BPM = Business practice
Business process management (BPM), on the other hand, is defined as the "systematic approach to making an organization's workflow more effective, more efficient and more capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment."
The important thing to notice is that there isn't any mention of technology in this definition. Enterprise BPM is a business practice, and while no one will say it out loud, it is possible to succeed at BPM without using technology at all. That being said, there's plenty of room for, say, SOA to play a significant role as a facilitator.
In the best cases, SOA-based infrastructures and BPM-grounded practices are used together to achieve -- and often exceed -- the desired outcomes. Properly orchestrated, adopting SOA is a great way to improve response times, balance loads, embrace legacy solutions, etc. -- and not incidentally, further BPM's goals of helping people work more effectively, efficiently and capably.
Where some critics in the enterprise BPM and SOA discussion go wrong is in confusing SOA's ability to support significant process improvement with BPM's stated raison d'être of achieving it. SOA fills the bill so nicely that it's easy to see how someone could view it as an alternative to BPM, but it's important to remember that the two serve different masters, one technical, the other operational. Arguing that one is better than the other leaves out half the equation and can have potentially major ramifications for the staffing, timetable and cost of a BPM initiative.
About the author:
Steve Weissman has a 20-year track record of innovation and success in helping organizations derive maximum total value from their information solutions. A seasoned consultant, analyst and professional trainer, he uses his keen strategy, business and technology skills to identify, measure and mesh his clients' needs and goals, and recommend effective best practices and solutions for managing processes, content and data. He can be reached at email@example.com or at (617) 383-4655.