David Chappell


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BPM Servers, Not BPM Systems  
# Saturday, May 22, 2004
A new kind of software platform is emerging that's expressly focused on supporting business processes. The term Business Process Management System, or BPMS, is one suggested label for this category of software. While I certainly agree that we're seeing a new platform style emerge, as I've argued here, I think calling it a BPM system is misleading.

The term BPM system suggests an analogy with a database management system (DBMS), a conceptual connection that was an explicit goal for some early promoters of this idea. A DBMS is fundamentally about storing and managing data, as its name suggests, with some support for executing logic that uses that data. Similarly, one would expect a BPMS to be fundamentally about storing and managing business processes, with some support for executing the logic of those processes. This implied similarity is exactly what some users of the term are hoping for.

But it's not accurate. The truth is that the platforms for business processes provided by the major vendors in this area--IBM, Microsoft, WebMethods, and others--are focused on defining and executing those processes, not on storing and managing them. Given this, a better analogy for this new style of infrastructure is with application servers, since they're also focused on defining and executing logic. Rather than calling them BPM systems, a better name would be BPM servers.

What we call things can greatly influence how we think about them. Choosing good names is also important in making technology successful, especially in the early stages of a new category. Thinking of BPM platforms as more like application servers than database management systems would be a step in the right direction.


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