BPM is often confused with Workflow and EAI. These terms are used interchangeably to describe anything from a relatively simple programmatic automation for collaborative sharing to Enterprise Application interfaces which are bridges for moving data between applications. While there are many products – Workflow, EAI and BPM that cater to different needs in this spectrum, it is BPM that spans the entire spectrum of Process automation, streamlining, content integration and collaboration.
EAI products offer application Integration capability, address system to system interfaces, whether these interfaces are between internal applications or with external applications. EAI is essentially middleware used to automate integration between existing applications. If business applications are viewed as silos, then EAI products can be viewed as the plumbing that help move data from one silo to another.
Workflow systems comprise of ways to specify steps and data in a process; i.e. operational aspects of a work procedure that encompasses how tasks are structured, how they are done, who performs them, in what order, how they are synchronized, and how information flows. Workflow is normally referred to in the context of systems or people. A workflow system refers to both human and system interfaces. Therefore Workflow systems may contain tasks that include displaying content to users, collecting information from users or other systems, performing calculations, and exchanging messages with external computer systems.
However, when it comes to filling gaps between already implemented software applications in an organization, EAI and workflow solutions leave much to be desired. A transaction in real life comprises of all these aspects plus more.
For example, a transaction may originate in one application, flow through multiple applications using EAI connectors and workflow systems, but it also picks up content – both structured and meta-data, gets routed and rerouted, transformed, processed, passing through human interfaces before it completes its entire life cycle.
These ‘missing’ aspects are addressed by BPM solutions.
The ABCD of a BPM solution
BPM provides the ‘glue’ that pulls together all the components required to orchestrate a transaction from end to end. As described above, during its life cycle a transaction moves through multiple systems, goes through transformations, picks up additional content, has various human touch points.
In order to be this glue, BPM solutions need a comprehensive set of capabilities Analyze-Build-Configure-Deploy – the ABCD of BPM.
A full fledged BPM solution has the capability to help organizations manage the full process lifecycle – specify and configure business processes and rules governing these processes; facilitating process improvement and optimization through simulation and historical metrics analysis; design human and system interfaces; ability to interface using various mechanisms like file transfer, database connectivity, web services; deployment and execution of these processes; process lifecycle management, access to process and metrics data; seamless round-tripping for easy maintenance.