Business process management (BPM) is becoming big business. Forrester Research predicts that the global market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 20% between 2005 and 2009 to reach an estimated $2.7 billion.
Little surprise then, that Microsoft is getting serious about BPM. At the end of March, Microsoft officially launched BizTalk Server 2006 which, along with SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 launched late last year, completes its three-pronged BPM strategy.
Ease of integration has long been one of Microsoft’s strongest cards and this is no different, with a development tier in Visual Studio, a data tier in SQL Server and a business process tier in BizTalk Server, all work together seamlessly.
"BizTalk Server is just one part of Microsoft’s greater BPM strategy," says Steve Martin, BizTalk’s director of product management. "Other elements of that strategy include Virtual Server; Exchange for doing email-based connectivity and Windows workflow foundation to facilitate an end-to-end BPM offering."
The product is now in its fourth iteration, with new versions having been released every 24 months since 2000. One of the main enhancements, says Martin, is an increased focus on usability. "We have taken the typical Microsoft approach and made the user experience easier. We have also made sure all our development tools sit nicely on top of Visual Studio, so if you have basic Visual Studio skills, you can easily get up to speed on BizTalk," he adds.
Steve Martin, Microsoft
From a product perspective, BizTalk 2006 is really a fit-and-finish version of BizTalk 2004, according to Jess Thompson, an analyst at IT marketing group Gartner. "There’s some new functionality, but not enough to win in sales situations where it competes with the integration suite market," says Thompson.
But where BizTalk Server 2006 has really started to apply pressure on those competitors – who include IBM, Oracle, Sun, Tibco and webMethods – is on price.
"The main advantage of BizTalk Server 2006 is a lower total cost of ownership," says Martin. "We are on average half, but can be as much as one-sixth, the cost of our competitors’ products." That is thanks to BizTalk Server 2006 being bundled with a host of adaptors, added after customers told Microsoft that their management and implementation costs outweighed software acquisition costs.
Connectors to Oracle-owned software such as JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, and end support for connectivity to IBM iSeries servers, for example, now come as standard. "If you just add up all the adaptors we put into the box, that’s worth over $200,000 alone," Martin says.
BizTalk now has about 6,000 customers – a small number by most standards, but large for its market. UK users include retail giants Marks & Spencer and Tesco, and the Derby City Council.
"We have used BizTalk for a number of years to as part of our own IT strategy, for the delivery and enablement of business process management via that framework," says David Gale, principal e- Government consultant at Derby City Council. In December 2005, Derby City Council deployed a beta version of BizTalk Server 2006. Gale claims that since combining the latest version of BizTalk with Microsoft CRM 3.0, his organisation has been able to make significant cost savings.
"The greatest benefit we have experienced with BizTalk is that it is extremely flexible. There have been no major code changes and BizTalk delivers true integration and real-time customer benefits."