Whatever Happened to Business Process Management?

Sometimes we spend so much of our day on the hot topics of IT — Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, and Social Media, to name some biggies — that we lose sight of not-so-hot topics that go the way of Courtney Stodden (don’t remember Courtney Stodden? Exactly my point.) Let’s take a look at one of these has-been markets: Business Process Management (BPM).

The road for BPM was bumpy even before it faded into the background noise of irrelevance, because managing business processes and buying a BPM tool were often very different activities with very different results. BPM tools became extensions of heavyweight enterprise middleware suites, focusing on technology-centric processes that organizations were able to shoehorn into the tools. But ask business executives how to best manage their processes, and they would rarely answer that they needed to spend more money on middleware.

And then there was the SOA angle to this story. One of the advanced benefits of SOA, supposedly, was to create Services you could compose into applications that automated business processes. Furthermore, you could represent such processes via standards like the Web Services Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) or Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN). Process analysts could model a process in a business-friendly visual tool, push a button, and out pops a composition of Web Services that automates the process.

In our dreams!

In reality, there remains a Evel Knievel-worthy gap between how businesses think about their processes and how techies think about building software to automate or otherwise support those processes. But this problem isn’t new; in fact, we’ve been struggling with it for several years now. The essential questions are: who’s working to close this gap, and why haven’t they already been successful?

The answer is murky. Vendors would rather work on Cloud or one of the other sexy topics of the day? Indubitably. There’s no money in advancing the state of the art of BPM? Perhaps. Or maybe no one really knows how to solve the remaining problems, so they’ve all given up? Bingo!

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