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Some factors to consider when thinking about cloud BPM

There is more that should go into the decision to move toward cloud-based BPM than just a prerogative to move to the cloud. Steve Weissman explains what to consider.

Sometimes, it may feel like everybody's using cloud BPM. And you may find yourself wondering, "why aren't I?" Well, let me be the first to tell you that not everybody is using it, and it's OK if you aren't.

The devil, as always, is in the details. The details here begin with why you are contemplating the cloud in the context of enterprise business process management (BPM). Only when you acknowledge this can you begin to figure out what role the cloud should play in your grand scheme.

The cloud vs. cloud BPM

Let's start by making it clear that the cloud and cloud BPM are not the same thing. While this is often a distinction that is lost in the sound and fury of today's technology marketing, it's an important one because conflating the two terms implies a packaged simplicity of implementation. In reality, a simplified, packaged implementation of both can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Parsing it simply, the cloud is a hosting model that puts your applications, data, systems maintenance and other aspects of your software systems on a vendor's server to be tended to by the vendor's staff. On the other hand, BPM is the automation of the movement of information around your organization, according to predefined business rules. Cloud BPM, therefore, involves hosting the solution -- or selected parts of the solution -- that handles your automated routing on a vendor's server, and having it managed by a third party's staff.

With this in mind, you can see how determining whether you need enterprise BPM is one thing, and figuring out whether you should move to the cloud is another. Furthermore, decisions made on one side of the equation will affect the options available on the other. So it really isn't as straightforward an exercise as some would have you believe.

The good news in this is that the cloud actually can play an important role in boosting the value of an enterprise BPM solution. But it's no more a magic cure to all your ills than is BPM itself -- the lesson being that you need to think about how each will improve the way your business operates, be it independently or in combination with one another.

The honey hole: Enterprise interoperability

This piece isn't about the many ways BPM can make your work life better, but I do want to highlight one point that often separates the enterprise variety from all the others: the ability to use the technology to connect your application silos.

I don't think I've ever had a client who didn't bemoan some degree of inability to get systems to perform as components of a single solution. In some cases, this or that application stack simply can't be integrated with some or any of the others; most times it can, but at a cost of time and money that just isn't worth the investment. So, the silos persist.

Does cloud BPM make sense for me?

Now, because BPM is great at moving data around, it can be used as an overlay that plucks information from one system, gives it to another to process and then effectively returns it when the process is complete. In this way, BPM often enables the systems to interoperate, even though they can't readily be made to integrate, enabling the desired outcome to be attained with less fuss and muss.

This can be especially true when it comes to cloud BPM.

To cloud or not to cloud? It depends

BPM costs frequently stem from the need to program, test, update and maintain your various applications. This may also involve installing and configuring new enterprise BPM software and making sure it plays nice with the others.

Thankfully, these tasks are often at the core of many cloud BPM services, the value propositions of which can include the ability to relieve you of these various burdens. Such services come in a wide variety of sizes and colors and, chances are, you can find one with expertise in your particular problem area.

  • Maybe it's one that is especially proficient in BPM.
  • Maybe it's one with interoperation and integration technologies and skills you lack.
  • Maybe it's one you can use to simply relieve yourself of the never-ending need for application management, freeing your resources to support other initiatives.

When you get right down to it, whether and where to let cloud BPM play a fundamental role is an outsourcing decision. In other words, can you best achieve your goals using your own infrastructure and people, or should you leverage someone else's?

There isn't any one right answer, but it's critical to weigh several important factors. Among these are the following.

  • Your budget, both for technology and people.
  • Time, since there may be compelling reasons to get it done sooner rather than later.
  • The degree of openness of your internal infrastructure, which affects how complicated it may be to attain the level of interoperability you need.
  • How you feel about usability, which is particularly important in enterprise contexts because of the diversity of the users that need to be served.

Knowing there isn't one right answer can be comforting, especially when you're feeling on the spot at an event or corner office conversation.

Understanding all the variables associated with this decision will prepare you to have meaningful discussions with your coworkers about leveraging cloud BPM in an enterprise context.

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