ERP pioneer Jan Baan on impact of BPM

Will ERP continue as centerpiece of corporate computing? Controversial industry veteran Jan Baan sees ERP as overly complicated legacy. The answer to the ERP conundrum is BPM, Baan suggests.

A whole generation of ERP applications are up for renewal – but some viewers wonder if those applications will just be left as is, playing the role of legacy as Business Process Management (BPM) architectures take on a more central role in connecting the corporate dots.

Among such seers count Jan Baan. In recent years, Baan, one of the major forces in ERP in the 1990s, has been busily building and leading a company around BPM. That company is known as Cordys.

"The successor of ERP is becoming BPM. I see ERP being replaced by BPM," said Cordys President Baan in an interview with SearchSOA.com. "BPM is in a central point where business process is key," he said. "With your BPM layer, you differentiate yourself and go toward operational excellence."

In contract, said Baan, ERP today is "vanilla" – vanilla standing for plain, not a differentiator.

"ERP is becoming the model of complexity," he continued. "It has become too complicated."

With ERP, "everything became connected to everything. It was for the old back-end [database-centric] world that existed before the Internet. Now it is a burden."

BPM as constructed in the past needs modern enhancements, according to Baan. For example, a SOA grid layer is needed to integrate legacy systems, in his view. Classic BPM may offer a skewed perspective focused toward compliance needs, and creating reference business models of accepted practices – in Baan's acerbic take: keeping executives "out of the newspapers and out of jail" - rather than forging actual new flexible, executable business architectures.

Baan's discussion here is not without some irony. In the late 1990s, he ceded control of the fast-growing Netherlands based Baan Corp. amid controversy surrounding a complex corporate structure and questioned sales booking policies. But he has continued to capitalize interesting ventures. Since the Baan Corp. days, he has backed startups WebEx and TopTier (companies that he says gave him a good view into Internet networks and cloud computing), besides Cordys.

Baan's talk of ERP as a ''burden'' is not unmitigated. It is a burden, "but we respect it," he admonished. "We take it as a transaction system." The best elements of the ERP model can continue to serve the enterprise. That is part of the Cordys mandate.

Change is the enemy of ERP, in Baan's current assessment. The trouble with classic ERP is "it becomes spaghetti if you try to change it," he said.

Clearly, cloud and collaboration are key trends at Cordys. Last year, the company released Cordys BOP-4 which upgraded the firm's flagship product with human-centric workflow, integration-centric workflow and hybrid versions; a collaborative modeling environment for business and IT; and ''Enterprise Cloud Orchestration'' tools. Just recently, it formed a pact with services provider NCCW to jointly build a cloud computing platform with which housing corporations can streamline business processes.

Cloud and collaboration activities – some including work with Google - mark Cordys among BPM players. At the moment, BPM independents appear to be the immediate target of take-over hungry mainline software houses – witness Software AG's, IBM's and Progress Software's bids to buy IDS Scheer, Lombardi Software and Savvion, respectively.

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