David Chappell


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The Big Lie of BPM  
# Friday, October 22, 2004
“Don’t bridge the business/IT divide—Obliterate it!” is the tag line on the book Business Process Management: The Third Wave, by Howard Smith and Peter Fingar. It's a succinct way of summarizing one of the points made by them and by a few other BPM proponents. The idea is that given the powerful graphical tools of BPM servers, business analysts are all that's needed to implement business processes. Developers? IT organizations? They'll just get in the way. One day soon, the argument goes, we'll have something like spreadsheets for business processes, and business people can create the software they need themselves.

This is nonsense, of course. Anyone who's actually worked with BPM servers, or who remembers the similar claims made for CASE technology 15 years ago, knows that while graphical tools make it much easier for business analysts to work with developers, both kinds of people will be needed for a long time to come. The right approach today appears to be providing two interoperating tools: one targeting business analysts and the other targeting developers. IBM, Microsoft, and others take this approach, and as long as the process definitions produced by each tool can be imported and exported into the other one, it can work well.

Making excessive claims for the power of BPM may get attention, but it ultimately does more harm than good. BPM servers provide powerful and useful technologies for creating, running, and monitoring process logic, but developers are absolutely required to make them work. Blurring this fact may help make initial sales to business decision makers, but it's no way to create truly successful customers. The truth always has its day.

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