BPM fills some application modernization needs, not all

Not every legacy application can be modernized with BPM, but some organizations find success with this iterative approach to enterprise modernization.

Can the business process management (BPM) lens be trained on legacy applications to fill enterprise modernization needs? Some say yes, BPM is the way to go, while others argue that BPM is a relatively small portion of a complete legacy modernization effort.

"[BPM and enterprise modernization] are related," says Erik Marks, founder and CEO of AgilePath, a long-time SOA and BPM specialist. "BPM is an approach; it's a pattern of work that is very process centric. … We look at processes, data, the consumer centric part [the presentation layer] and the legacy side. It takes all four of those things to get the whole answer."

While some specialists argue that BPM has little or no place in legacy modernization efforts, others champion the approach. SearchSOA.com’s reader survey indicates that BPM usage is not too far behind mainstay approaches, such as migration and SOA.

According to Marks, the challenges in modernizing legacy applications come mostly from the fact that, in many legacy applications, the business process workflow is hardcoded and tightly coupled with other aspects of the legacy code. "The trick is how to abstract business process from the hardcoded side and BPM enable it, which will allow you to BPM out that implied or hardcoded business process workflow.

However, some experts feel BPM has little or no place in enterprise application modernization. "I see very little connection between BPM and application modernization," says William Ulrich, president of TSG, INC., a consultancy focused on architecture-driven modernization. "The mapping between business architecture and IT architecture is multifold, and business processes play a relatively small role in that."

According to Ulrich, enterprise modernization requires a big picture approach. Organizations need to take time up front to build a working target state for their application architecture based on business capabilities, rather than business processes. "The business architecture and data architecture relationship is based on what's done in the business, not how," says Ulrich.

He explains that business capabilities describe the things that an organization does, while business processes explain how those things are done. Ulrich says that building an effective target state architecture, based on capabilities, will enable enterprise architects to better view which parts of the applications are really helping the business.

Ulrich also says that "in most cases modernization is going to require a change in data architecture." He says that architects are often reluctant to modify the data architecture because they have yet to build a clear picture of what the data architecture should look like and/or they don't have visibility into the inner workings of the legacy applications so they don't know how deeply data architecture changes will be felt.

On the other hand, says a BPM tool vendor, the deep search for architecture holds out a chance of "analysis paralysis" setting in. Scott Menter, vice president of business solutions at BP Logix Inc., says, "The biggest threat is getting too deep into it and thinking that you have to get everything completely right the first time."

Menter feels that when taking a business process approach to application modernization, organizations should just do it. Menter says, "Just get the processes online as quickly as possible, and then use the tools that are built into BPM to improve them as you go along." Doing too much analysis up front, in Menter's view, just gets in the way.

According to Menter, many of the formalisms built up around BPM practices are really about getting all the right measurements to inform decisions about how to alter processes. Menter says using an out-of-the-box BPM suite can take care of acquiring measurements, so that you build your knowledge base as you improve your application architecture.

This was first published in August 2012

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