Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Key challenge for BPM-technology: integration with packages

I have now seen two major projects that decided not to go for a separate BPM technology layer.
Both had done a large package selection (both in the insurance market). And it turned out (surprise) that these packages had their own, simple but workable, workflow/orchestration technology component.

I participated in both projects during feasibility studies, aiming to analyse the possibility to integrate the package with the company's target BPM platform.

And in both situations, we had to conclude: yes it is possible, but it's complex, risky and leads to a lot of extra effort.

Hm. This is not the way that BPM Technology is going to be the next killer app....

Some facts
1. These package vendors build their own "BPM technology" type components, but with deep integration with their package. Make's sense from a vendor perspective (for the short run), but is a nightmare for integration and enterprise architecture goals for typical companies (that would like to limit different types of technology used for process coordination)
However, their defense is also: there is no consensus on what BPM technology should provide, and what standards it should follow. Result of course is a proprietary process language, and service integration platform.
As a result, it is very difficult to buy the package, but replace the BPM component with your own central platform.
So we end up with another process component, and extensive integration (back to EAI) with other software, that needs to play a role during the end-to-end processes (so we lose overall process views and coordination).

2. User interface issues around packages and human workflow components of your BPM platform is another pain. Typical requirements are:
- Inbox for tasks
- Ability to open, claim, pauze, intermediate save, finish task
- Context aware task windows (e.g. after claiming a task, open the right dialog and windows in the package
- Integrate with document management, showing for a task the related documents.

As there are no clear standards and answers in these area's, clients have the possibility to let the package do this (usually speedy, but limited and proprietary) or try to find a solution with BPM technology and some presentation layer, integrating BPM, package and ECM solution.
Unfortunately, this is for the most part hard coding, deep coupling web client, server and various other technology layers.
So we end with, again, package solution, proprietary presentation layer, including WFM user interface.

Question - Can we solve this?

Well - there will always be package vendors that provide their package with a proprietary BPM component. Just to be able to support client requirements, one stop shopping and to avoid being dependent on third party technology.

But I think from a customer perspective (mainly technology), customers and their IT architecture can require packages to be more open to integration with third-party BPM tools. Definitely a good advice.

And most vendors might not have an issue either - it's sometimes better to focus on the package functionality, and leave general functionality to others (see what happened to identity management/LDAP, database, app server, messaging). BPM technology is the next candidate for commodity infrastructural software.

However, the BPM vendors need to do something too - being able to standardize even more. Sure, the WFMC model is a start, and some standards are there. But solve the above two issues 9with minimal development required and customers can force package vendors to open up to process (as a next step, after opening up for data and services).

And then BPM technology has a chance to go more mainstream. Otherwise we will always view BPM technology as yet another 4GL, in which we can develop visually (but we still call it development...)

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