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Business Process Management: Bridging the Gap between Business and IT : Page 2

Business process management tools help solve many of the problems with traditional architectures by isolating application code from rapidly-changing business processes. This article is a good managerial overview of the issues, benefits, and components of BPM.

BPM vs. Workflow
So, as you've seen, while BPM and workflow share many of the same characteristics, there are distinct differences between the two. Workflow is a part of BPM; conversely BPM is a superset of workflow. Workflow is just one way among many to implement business processes, whereas BPM is about the management of workflow. A WFMS controls the flow of work from one person to another. In other words, it controls the information associated with workflows in an enterprise. But a WFMS does not optimize a process. Unlike a WFMS, a BPMS provides process control and integration different application software.

BPM—Integrating Business and IT
Many of today's software applications are static in nature in the sense that they don't adapt well to possible future changes, because the business logic is embedded inside the application's code. Therefore, when the business changes and the applications need to reflect those changes, the application's source code needs to be modified too, which is a labor-intensive and error-prone process.

BPM, however, isolates business logic from the application, which is in turn built on top of and relies on BPM. BPM defines, executes, and manages the business processes independent of any particular application. Thus, changes to the business process don't affect the application(s) associated with the process. BPM aims to solve the adaptability problems stated above by describing the methodologies, metrics, and processes that an organization should adopt to monitor and manage its business.

In essence, BPM is an abstraction for building business systems. It defines a structure for application development that can be as agile as the application's data. It is responsible for automating the business processes to achieve maximum flexibility with minimum development cost and time.

In a nutshell, BPM is about managing the entire life cycle of a business process.

Benefits of BPM
The key benefits of BPM are:

  • Process transparency
  • Process refinement and optimization
  • Process streamlining
  • Increased productivity and faster ROI
  • Better agility and responsiveness
  • Improved customer service
  • Increased revenue and reduced expenditure
  • Data centralization
Business Process Management System (BPMS)
Just as WFMS manage workflow, business process management systems (BPMSs) manage business processes. The global business community is rapidly adopting BPMSs because they simplify describing, maintaining, measuring, analyzing, and continually improving business processes. When alterations in business processes are required, a BPMS facilitates the changes, and ensures that such changes can be implemented using minimal development time and effort. The core BPMS advantage is isolation of business logic from an application's core, helping to bridge the gap between business and IT.

In addition, BPMSs constantly measure and store process execution data in the form of business activity monitor (BAM) reports, which managers can use for process monitoring, performance management, etc. From the organization's perspective, better reporting helps ensure better efficiency, higher productivity, reduced cost, and the other benefits listed earlier.

BPMS Components
Business process management systems cover the full range of management services. The major activities that constitute a BPM solution include:

  • Process design
  • Process execution
  • Process activity monitoring
A complete BPMS solution should have the necessary components to address the three listed activities. Some of the major components of a complete BPMS are as follows:

  • BPM Process IDE. This is typically a graphical business process designer.
  • Business process simulation engine. This engine is responsible for executing and persisting integration processes. When a process flow is triggered the process engine takes over to execute the process flow.
  • Business Rules Engine. An engine that manages business rules.
  • Business Activity Monitoring. This component consists of a set of reporting tools for process owners, senior management, and other business users.
A Typical BPMS Process
Typically designers design business processes using a business process modeler, which consists of a visual interface for creating, editing, and deleting business process diagrams. The business process diagrams produced using a Business Process Modeling tool are called business process diagrams (BPDs). This diagrammatic representation is then captured in business process execution language (BPEL). This is in turn deployed to the business process simulation engine. This engine is responsible for executing one or more business processes.

The Simulation and Execution Engines
The business process simulation engine parses the BPEL data and executes the series of activities in memory, storing execution data that can later be used for process monitoring and improvement. The business process execution engine can also pass parameters of the activities that accept parameters for their execution. These process engines use well-known specifications such as JMS, WSDL, etc. BPM tools provide an SDK so businesses can integrate them with custom applications. See the sidebar "BPM Software and Resources" for links to the most widely used BPMS solutions and resources.

Companies today are using BPM to evaluate, redesign, and customize their existing core processes and help rapidly integrate processes and applications within and across enterprise application boundaries. Globally, organizations are adopting BPM to include process model-driven and data-centric architecture approach rather than a document-centric one for greater operational agility, better efficiency, and higher productivity. In this article, I delved into concepts of business process, workflow, BPM, and BPMS, components of both WFMS and BPMS, and the features and benefits of BPMS with the hope that broad oversight and understanding will help your organization succeed with the business process paradigm.

Joydip Kanjilal has over 10 years of industry experience with C, C++, Java, C#, VB, VC++, ASP.Net, XML, Design Patterns, UML, etc. He currently works as a senior project leader in a reputable multinational company in Hyderabad, India, and has contributed articles on .NET and related technologies to www.aspalliance.com.
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