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2006 new-model-year BPM software: Workflow, STP and more under the same hood

Fall is one of the most popular times to announce new automobiles. It's also vendor announcement season in the information technology (IT) business. The August to November timing is not just to give you an alternative to kicking the tires or comparing engine performance. It's all about laying the groundwork for your budget year, which typically begins in January. Not surprisingly, almost all of the "top 10" suppliers in the IDC measurement of the business process management (BPM) software market announced new functionality from August to October 2005. So did many of the other 50-plus BPM software suppliers that IDC follows. Now, as new 2006 calendars pop up on your desks and desktops, those software suppliers want you to stop looking under the hood and move to the new model year in BPM.

In earlier-model-year BPM systems, it was typical for one supplier to offer only one dimension of BPM: human workflow-centric or straight through processing (STP), intranet support or Internet support, event-driven or data-driven, and so forth. Some of the larger suppliers offered two or more BPM products to cover different dimensions. However in the second half of 2005, Adobe, BEA, FileNet, IBM, Metastorm, Microsoft and Sterling Commerce all rolled out major new initiatives that moved two or more dimensions of BPM into the same chassis. Most put some interesting new performance characteristics under the hood as well.

Also, in the second half of 2005, Oracle and TIBCO were already beta-testing or shipping similar functionality in the latest versions of their BPM products. Very few smaller cross-industry BPM suppliers can offer a hybrid vehicle with two or more dimensions covered, but many of the large industry-specific BPM products such as Advent Geneva, QuoVadx, Cloverleaf BPMS, and Sungard OMGEO are well along the multidimensional BPM functionality curve, albeit for their specific industries.

The genesis of the convergence of functionality from the multiple dimensions of BPM lay in the formation of the BPM market itself. BPM is not really a product but a value proposition. Many types of product functionality can provide that value, and that explains why suppliers from around the "market circle," established and startups, are converging on the opportunity to compete for your budget. In Figure 1, the leaders in the market, as measured by IDC, are highlighted in bold (we call it the business process automation deployment software market in our subscription research, if you wish to search on idc.com for more details). For example:

  • You can use content management products to enable BPM; that is an especially good choice if your processes are frequently based on unstructured information and are totally human-centric.
  • You can use very industry-specific products to enable BPM; that is a good choice, especially for high-performance STP in that one particular industry.
  • You can use the workflow or rules engine built into your favorite application packages; that makes sense if you are totally committed to the package and like the way it already automates many of your business process sets out of the box.

But in bringing disparate functional advantages to the business process automation party, each supplier needs to add functionality that its base BPM chassis lacks. In terms of functional enhancement trends, that convergence is probably the most important and most meaningful for you as you look to commit to new BPM software in 2006. In particular, the ability to handle workflow and STP under the same hood is based on increased use of powerful rules engines and modeling tools built right into the BPM software. Other trends include:

  • The move toward suites or frameworks and away from point products.
  • Functional support for business-to-business (B2B) and other variations of e-commerce and e-business, not away from but in addition to support for intranet-centric BPM. Functional support for extra-enterprise and totally public exchanges appears to be the near-term driver of the BPA deployment software market's growth. If IDC's research is correct, that is why you are looking at upgrading your BPM in 2006 (of course, often your leading customers and suppliers are larger than you, and they are demanding it).
  • Incorporation of metadata-based mediation and transformation features to begin to provide the industry- and role-centric master data management and semantics support that BPM deployment software needs to support these trends.

The new rules engines and modeling tools not only allow support of both workflow and STP, but also permit "programming by nonprogrammers" (what some vendors are calling composition, rather than coding). The section that follows highlights the announcements made by a majority of the leading players in fall 2005. We expect to see some of that functionality from all of the other suppliers we are tracking in the market as well. Or at least we will see this functionality from those suppliers that hope to survive to take advantage of the forecasted double-digit compounded annual growth rate in this market.

Adobe's position in the IDC BPM deployment software leader board is based on both earlier versions of the LiveCycle product and especially the market strength of Adobe's content applications, which have been a driver of workflow since 1990. In September 2005, Adobe announced enhancements to its Adobe LiveCycle server platform, more tightly integrating long popular document services to people-centric processes. With that release, which was generally available at the time of the announcement, LiveCycle provides visual assembly of BPM models and includes business activity monitoring (BAM) for visibility into business processes. The LiveCycle visual assembly capabilities include a workflow designer and more than 50 Quick Process Action Components (QPACs), which enable drag-and-drop integration of steps in a process, such as routing tasks to a user, sending an e-mail or integrating with back-end systems. Technology from Celequest (celequest.com) is the foundation for LiveCycle's BAM solution, which measures and manages workflow performance through customizable dashboards for monitoring business process performance and key performance indicators. Adobe's BAM solution also has an integrated event engine and rules, which enable on-the-fly process optimization.

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