David Chappell


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BPM Heads for the Mainstream  
# Friday, December 10, 2004
I gave a presentation on BPM servers to a group of architects in Minneapolis this week. Drawn partly from my recent paper on this topic, the talk described the role that BPM technologies play in a service-oriented world. As with other groups I've spoken to recently, most of the people in my audience felt that this was, or very soon would be, a central issue for their company. BPM technology is heading for the mainstream.

What's moving this technology from the sidelines to the center is SOA. A number of small BPM-focused companies, the ones that Gartner refers to as "pure-play" BPM firms, have existed for several years. Most of them positioned their products as supporting a business-focused BPM initiative rather than building on the more technology-oriented push that SOA provides. This business-oriented approach is interesting, and it certainly has value. Still, it hasn't been enough to make BPM widely successful. For many of these companies, years of sales efforts have produced a customer base that wouldn't qualify as a decent beta for IBM or Microsoft. As SOA takes off, however, BPM technology is finally crossing the chasm.

Most of the small BPM firms probably won't make it across this market crevasse. The major vendors--IBM, Microsoft, BEA, SAP, and others--are in this market now, and it's hard to see how the little guys can survive. BPM technologies are typically used to support critical business processes, and not many organizations are willing to bet these on platforms from small, unproven companies. Some of these small vendors are reinventing themselves as makers of applications that run on multiple BPM servers, not just their own, or specializing in other ways. This makes sense, since no matter how good these small-vendor platforms might be, the competing BPM servers from IBM, Microsoft, and the others are (or will soon be) good enough. If the pure-play BPM firms don't find some kind of specialty, they're going to get crushed by the majors.

It can't be a happy time for most small BPM companies. For users, though, the news is all good. BPM technologies, including support for orchestration, integration with human workflow, business rules engines, and more, are becoming available from their trusted vendor partners. These technologies are also commonly integrated with the application servers they already use. Best of all, these BPM products fit well in the service-oriented environments that most organizations are striving to create. Ubiquitous BPM won't arrive in quite the way that its visionaries thought it would, but it will get here nonetheless. And soon, too.

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