BPM: Untangling the terminological mess

One of our missions at Lustratus is to remove the confusion that gets in the way so often in IT – in the way of understanding what technology can do for a business, in the way of understanding how to select the right product and in the way of making the right IT investment decision.

As spaces get hotter the confusion just seems to get worse!  This is certainly the case with BPM – which  usually standards for Business Process Management (although sometimes stands for Business Process Modelling which I will ignore for the moment).  As a term it can be considered from a pure business perspective or (almost) a pure technology perspective – and really fits somewhere in the middle.

Michael Dortch (a blogger at ebizq and analyst with The Robert Francis Group) had a good go at defining it from pure business perspective:

BPM is a set of human-centric business problems that often masquerade as or are confused for decisions and issues focused on IT solutions and systems. And vice-versa.”

While I think Michael is correct to drag the focus back to the business problem (particularly when addressing an IT audience), this applies equally to almost all enterprise IT issues.  I must admit that I found his argument confusing when after the statement above he gives as his first question to be answered by BPM: “What part or parts of the IT and/or business infrastructure are not working, and can they be fixed non-disruptively?”.

However, attempting to define BPM from a pure technology perspective is equally flawed.  Unfortunately, Business Process orchestration standards (such as BPEL) are sometimes presented as providing BPM.  This view is flawed in two ways:

  1. BPEL does not provide process monitoring, analysis or reporting capabilities (as such it is only a part of a technology platform for BPM).
  2. It is an implementation language for technology domain processes which in turn will correspond to Business domain processes. (Unfortunately, the colonisation of the term Business Process to mean an orchestration or sequencing of service invocations makes the previous sentence rather clumsy!)

Therefore, BPEL and any other business process execution languages can only be part of BPM.

Finally, I should admit that I don’t really disagree with what Michael says (taking the liberty of reading between the lines a little): BPM is a balance between the business domain and the technology domain – and its purpose is the optimise the buisness domain.  As such it is really not so different to most enterprise IT concepts.


Posted in BPM, Imported.