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Market Analysis: Understanding Business Process Management


Most BPM suites are process-oriented, sharing information among modeling tools, fat clients, portals and the process engine through Web services. The advantages to this model are reuse, interoperability and faster time to deploy.

Process-oriented thinking is at least as old as the Industrial Revolution. It was made an art form by entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, who recognized the advantages of disassembling the manufacturing process into discrete work steps, then measuring and maximizing the efficiency of each step and applying just enough resources--in those days, mainly human--to avoid bottlenecks. As with BPM, the idea was to keep things moving smoothly and efficiently.

In more recent history, process gained its enterprise credentials in the re-engineering boom of the early 1990s. Within many conglomerates of the day, departments had ossified into fiefdoms with pockets of data management detached from underlying processes. Business process re-engineering tried to fix this state of affairs by applying process-oriented principles to white-collar realms like purchasing, accounting and production planning. Unfortunately, BPR often led to overly ambitious cost-cutting. New processes were handed down from on high with little effort to gain buy-in, oversee implementation or tune the results. Deep cuts in staffing led to internal power struggles, gaps in product and service quality and, in the end, short-lived efficiencies.

ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), SCM (supply chain management) and standalone workflow implementations followed in the mid-to-late '90s. IT-based automation was taking hold, but in a functional rather than process approach. Inevitably, these silos of automation created bottlenecks, errors and disconnects. What's more, the automation hard coded in big applications and workflow systems couldn't be tweaked or adapted without costly and time-consuming integration and customized coding. Now what?

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