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Microsoft's BPM Play

Microsoft builds business process management community with new Business Process Alliance.

In an industry teeming with vendor-populated associations, the formation of a new "alliance" isn't earth-shaking news. Yet Microsoft's Business Process Alliance (BPA), formed in February, is likely to set off some real tremors in the market for business process management systems, analysts say.

On its own, Microsoft doesn't yet carry much weight in the business process management (BPM) market. But by doing one of the things it does best -- creating a partner ecosystem -- the company is set to "... redefine the BPM market landscape, bringing BPM to a wider audience," says Ovum analyst Laurent Lachal. BPM has tended to appeal primarily to larger enterprises because of the tools' cost and the complexity of modeling and managing processes unique to each business.

An Array of Partners
The BPA consists of 10 software vendors (11 counting Microsoft) whose products and services integrate with or rely on Microsoft technologies. They include IDS Scheer AG, Fair Isaac Corp., Global 360, Metastorm Inc., Ascentn Corp., SourceCode Technology Holdings Inc., AmberPoint Inc., InRule Technology Inc., PNMsoft and RuleBurst.

"This is a significant expansion of the work we've already done to partner with key contributors in this area," says Steven Martin, director of Microsoft's Connected Systems division. "We actually jumped into the BPM market with BizTalk 2004. ... One of the key things we've learned is that no two customer deployments look alike. Some need very deep modeling tools; some need rule technologies; others need better monitoring tools. The needs of the customers [vary] so much that [they] really [warrant] a high-touch partner ecosystem."

Microsoft already groups several of its own products under the BPM umbrella, including Windows SharePoint Services (for the human workflow component); BizTalk Server (for system workflow); the BizTalk business rules engine and business activity monitoring capabilities; and the venerable Visio as a process-description tool.

Office 2007, with its dominant market position, is an essential component in Microsoft's BPM offering, "especially for human-centric and collaborative activities," says Janelle Hill, vice president of the Business of IT Research Division at Gartner Inc. "Even Java enterprise BPM vendors are partnering for Office 2007."

Despite these efforts, the company doesn't have a complete BPM suite. "This alliance is about Microsoft filling holes, via partners, in its capabilities to address the needs of the BPM market opportunity," she says.

In the BPA, Microsoft has assembled a broad range of companies offering different sets of capabilities at different price points, Hill observes. IDS Scheer, for example, is the market-leading provider of tools that model, simulate and analyze process performance. Its offerings are pricey, complex and provide extremely rich business process analysis, but they don't actually execute processes.

In contrast, Global 360 -- which Gartner considers to have a full BPM suite -- provides tools that support the entire "process improvement lifecycle," from design, analysis and simulation through execution, monitoring and management.

SourceCode's K2.net is more of a rapid application development environment than a BPM, Hill says; AmberPoint bills itself as a provider of runtime governance solutions for Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).

From Coders to Composers
Microsoft's BPA announcement has implications for developers as well, according to Hill. "BPM is a huge, game-changing force," she says. "Application development roles are changing in response to that pressure, and developers had better wake up.

"There was a time when their value was measured by how many lines of code they wrote, and they were paid more if they produced more code and cleaner, innovative coding techniques," she continues. "In the new world, however, we believe that there will be far fewer developers but many more 'assemblers' or 'composers.' The numbers of people who write those cool algorithms and modules will be reduced, and their value will depend on how reusable those pieces are. And 'reuse' will be measured by how many composers take those pieces and include them in an end user-facing solution."

BPA membership requires a commitment to .NET development technologies, according to Microsoft's Martin.

"We wanted to make sure that the players we were partnering with in this market had made a strategic commitment to .NET, specifically around Workflow Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation."

Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) is Microsoft's programming model, engine and toolset for building workflow-enabled apps. It's designed to enhance a developer's ability to model and support business processes. Windows Communication Foundation is Microsoft's unified framework for building secure, reliable, transacted and interoperable distributed apps.

Along with the Alliance announcement, Microsoft unveiled several enhancements to its WF technology in the .NET Framework 3.0 that add support for the upcoming Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) 2.0 standard, as well as additional capabilities and tools for developers and independent software vendors building BPEL-enabled workflow applications.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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