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Is Standalone BPMS Really Dead?

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First SOA was proclaimed dead and now Tom Baeyens, the founder of jBPM, is coming up with a new obituary - this time for Standalone Business Process Management Systems (BPMS). According to Baeyens, standalone BPMS have two main problems:

  • High cost of setup. This implies getting the software up and running and also get all people up to speed with the technology.
  • High cost of integrating the BPM system with the outside world. Web services or even specific adapters for communicating with other applications results in a significant threshold.

That means that in order to justify their usage it is typically necessary to implement a significant amount of complex business processes, which is not always simple, due to required BPM maturity of the enterprise. As a result, usage of BPMS creates a very expensive entry point for a BPM implementation.

Baeyens’ solution to this problem is to offer a business process platform where it is mostly used. The example of such approach is jBPM:

Originally with jBPM, we focused on developers. We provided BPM and workflow capabilities in the hands of the developers. We offered those feature in the world of the developer.

The jBPM framework can be used to either build an application embedding business process (es) or to be extended to get a full-fledged BPMS.

It lowered the threshold to start using BPM and that opened up a new world of use cases for BPM. By making it so easy, even for small processes it becomes worthwhile to start using a BPM system... With open source distribution and application embeddability we showed with jBPM that BPM can scale to a much more widespread adoption than any other individual BPM product had done before.

Another example offered by Baeyens of using BPMS as a foundation for application implementation is that of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems:

An ECM system is a great environment where embedded BPM can lower investment to start collecting the fruits. Imagine a monthly meeting for which meeting minutes need to be reviewed and only after approval of the key attendees, the minutes need to be sent out to a wider audience. Would you setup a BPM system for that? I don't think so. But if that capability is offered inside the ECM system, then return on investment is instant. Again this is our strategy that will opens up BPM to scale far beyond it's typical niche.

It’s hard to argue with Baeyens that an entry point to a BPM implementation has to be lowered. It is also true that jBPM is a great framework. The real question is whether BPM is a tool for developers. There are definitely situations when BPM can be used as a high-level development language, but the real power of BPM, especially when it is used together with SOA, is its ability to break application’s boundaries and implement enterprise-wide business processes. And at this point, true BPMS, providing not only an execution environment, but also modeling, simulation and BAM support, start to really shine.

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