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Organizations looking to align IT with their business needs have turned to business process management (BPM) software and strategies, which examine a company's business processes, tie them together, automate them and get them to work more smoothly together. BPM also automates workflow and other procedures and can be part of an enterprise resource planning system.
As we've seen in my previous column, BPM and Web services are an ideal match. In this column, we'll look more closely at how they work together, their benefits, which vendors make use of them and what the future holds for the technology.
BPM, Web services and SOAs
BPM and Web services complement each other because they have a common goal: integrating different processes or applications and get them talking to one another in an automated way.
For BPM and Web services to work more effectively together, a third emerging technology -- service-oriented architecture (SOA) -- is important, said Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink. In an SOA, software components and business processes can be exposed as services on the network and can often be reused for different applications and purposes, as well as combined in several ways.
"SOAs are the key" to the use of BPM, Schmelzer said. "When you create an SOA, at some point you have to define your business processes, because you can't really build an SOA that's not process-oriented." Once you've defined those processes in an SOA, he said, you can best take advantage of BPM and tie it all together using Web services.
But just creating an SOA isn't enough, contends Jeanne Baker, vice president of commerce at Sterling Commerce and board member of BPMI.org. In fact, she said, BPM is vital to properly building an enterprise's SOA.
"If you create an SOA with IT at the helm, then you could easily end up building technology just for technology's sake," Baker said. "BPM comes into play because it gives business validation to the services that you actually want to create."
So before building the technology, an enterprise needs to first define its important business processes, because the processes, after all, are the underlying key to the company's success.
"BPM does a sanity check for the services you create," Baker concluded.
The top line benefits
Using Web services and BPM in concert has obvious benefits, such as increasing automation, enhancing efficiency and cutting down on errors. But Baker said the benefits go well beyond that and may, in some ways, help transform the way that corporations do business.
"Without business process automation, you have business people essentially throwing a picture of what they want at IT, IT taking a guess on what they really want and throwing it back at the business people who then send it back and so on," Baker said. "It can be an endless cycle that wastes a great deal of time and money."
However, with BPM and particularly BPM powered by Web services, such back-and-forth can be eliminated, reducing the adoption curve. This means faster deployment and less spending. With BPM powered by Web services, a business analyst can sit down with a toolset and design a workflow that can be implemented in a BPM system using Web services. Baker expects that eventually even simpler tools will be developed, making it easier to develop and deploy BPM.
Vendors and standards
Schmelzer noted that several vendors already use BPM together with Web services in one way or another. In particular, he cited Intalio, FiveSight, Collaxa and a variety of startups, as well as BEA's WebLogic integrator and IBM's WebSphere integrator.
Additionally, JBoss has recently introduced a business process workflow engine to several of its open source offerings, including its application server. And to emphasize the company's commitment to BPM, it acquired the open source Java Business Process Management project and hired its founder and lead developer, Tom Baeyens.
Anything to do with Web services, of course, has its alphabet soup of standards and BPM is no different. Particularly important is Business Process Execution Language, an OASIS standard that helps businesses coordinate and automate how business processes are done via Web services and ties actual business processes to a sequence of Web service interactions. Also important is the Web Service Choreography Interface that allows business processes to be choreographed via Web services.
What the future holds
So how is the BPM-Web services combination being used today? And will the combination ultimately take hold, or it will be another dead end among many others in the technology world?
Schmelzer said that although he has seen some adoption of the two, the combination is still in its early phase. But that, he said, is because "SOA adoption is nascent, and companies are still trying to figure out SOAs."
But once enterprises get serious about SOAs, which he sees happening over the next few years, the BPM-Web services combination will be increasingly important because "when you make the transition to an SOA, you absolutely need to define your business processes," Schmelzer said.
Schmelzer and other analysts said the combination will be an increasingly important part of an enterprises IT architecture in the future.
More Resources on BPM-Web services:
BPM tools: benefits and opportunities
Business Project Management (BPM) tutorial
Webcast: Pragmatic BPM and SOA
About the Author
Preston Gralla is an expert on Web services and is the author of more than 20 books, including How the Internet Works. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.