Business process management

Organisations are moving from a data-driven view of business and of IT systems, which tend to be hard-wired and inflexible, to a process-driven approach, which is much more fluid, functional and is designed to cross boundaries.

That, at least, is the theory – expounded by many analysts and some suppliers. Their view is that, sooner rather than later, managers will be able to change their business processes in the same way that they can currently change data – at a high level, with little technical knowledge and little risk. It has come to be called business process management (BPM).

But what about the practice? Do customers understand the terms and the technologies, and are they buying or implementing? Information Age, in association with the process management software supplier Staffware, asked over 200 managers about this emerging, but technically complicated area.

The results suggest that if there is to be a BPM revolution, it will take some time. That, however, does not appear to the result of ignorance, but of a justifiably cautious approach in a confused market.

This is, for example, demonstrated by the definitions of BPM. Just over half identified BPM as a system for designing/modelling business processes. A quarter, however, went for the more radical definition, “a new system for storing/retrieving and managing processes.”

At present, only one-quarter of companies are currently using BPM or workflow software – according to their own understanding of the terms. But a further 12% say they plan to do so within the next 12 months. That still means more two-thirds of the respondents have no plans to adopt BPM technology in the foreseeable future.

Customers appear to have a good understanding of the possible benefits of moving to a process-oriented approach, even if most aren’t ready to buy. More than two-thirds identify better business agility and control over workflow as key benefits. Only one-fifth think it will speed up application development.

Delayed adoption may have something to do with scepticism about standards, which are widely seen as key to the successful widespread adoption of BPM. More than two-thirds think the necessary standards will not be in place in the next two years, if ever.

The move to a process approach can be seen in almost every product release at present, whether it is a business application from SAP or Microsoft, an application platform from BEA, a workflow system from Staffware, or a web services orchestration engine from Tibco or Iona. That has all helped to add to the confusion. In a fragmented market, IBM is the most widely cited supplier, identified as a leader by 24% of respondents. Staffware is identified by 17%.


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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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