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Redmond Bolsters BPM Platform

Microsoft’s BP Alliance aims for mainstream business process management adoption.

On the eve of its one-year anniversary, the Microsoft-sponsored Business Process Alliance (BPA) is adding two members to its roster. Business rules systems provider ILOG Inc. and governance vendor SOA Software Inc. both joined in December, bringing BPA membership to an even dozen.

"Everyone is talking about business process management, and there's more or less a consensus on what the benefits should be, but most people don't know where to get started," says Burley Kawasaki, director of Microsoft's Connected Systems Division. "The key missing piece, from our perspective, was a general-purpose platform surrounded by a broad ecosystem to provide lots of choices for customers around different industries and specialized needs."

Kawasaki announced the BPA last February during a keynote presentation at Gartner Inc.'s Business Process Management (BPM) Summit. "We started with 10 members that we believed would help to jumpstart what I would call mainstream adoption of BPM."

Integrated Technologies
Making BPM accessible to small and midsize businesses is core to the group's mission, which is to "break down BPM deployment barriers, such as high cost, complexity and application-connectivity challenges by offering pre-integrated technology solutions."

"But let's keep in mind that most of those 'deployment barriers' are self-imposed," says Gartner analyst Janelle Hill. "Microsoft has separate server products working on separate product roadmaps and schedules. The degree of shared technologies across the servers -- particularly the Windows Workflow Foundation -- isn't 100 percent. That means that a Microsoft user who wants to deploy BPM has to figure out how to get all of those products and technologies to work effectively together."

Microsoft came late to the BPM party. Its BizTalk Server provided a more graphical user interface for drawing the relationships among systems, Hill notes, but drawing workflows between systems is process-integration, not business-level process management, which includes people and unstructured information. Combining BizTalk with other Microsoft products -- Windows SharePoint Services for the human workflow component; the BizTalk business rules engine (BRE) for rules and business activity monitoring (BAM) capabilities; and Visio to provide the process-description tool -- allows the company to offer ISVs more of a BPM platform.

In the Right Direction
"To be fair, Microsoft has made some dramatic strides forward in the last year," Hill says, "with Office 2007, SharePoint and the new version of BizTalk. Overlaying those products with its BPA partners for better process management at the business level and the logical-modeling level, not just the physical implementation, helps the end user a lot."

The BPA has been an effective strategy. "The presence of a funded Microsoft partnering program has brought many of the BPM alliance vendors to the attention of the Microsoft field sales force, so they now have a set of partners whose products they're supposed to encourage," she says. "That's good for the vendors, of course, but it's also good for the customers, because it provides them with a more focused approach to BPM."

Microsoft's BPM Partners
The founding membership of the Business Process Alliance includes vendors with business process management (BPM) products and/or services that integrate with, or rely on, Microsoft technologies. Along with ILOG Inc. and SOA Software Inc., the roster includes:
  • AmberPoint Inc., runtime SOA governance solution vendor
  • Ascentn Corp., which offers a BPM/SOA solution integrated tightly with Microsoft technologies
  • Fair Isaac Corp., which offers business intelligence and predictive modeling solutions
  • Global 360, best known for its G360 Enterprise BPM Suite
  • IDS Scheer, provider of ARIS Software BPM platform
  • InRule Technology Inc., provider of solutions for authoring, managing and verification of rules and decision logic driving .NET environments
  • Metastorm, provider of solutions for enterprise architecture, business-process analysis and modeling and BPM
  • PNMsoft, for its Web-based workflow and BPM apps
  • RuleBurst Ltd., which offers solutions for business rules, compliance, governance and risk management
  • SourceCode Technology Holdings Inc., with its K2.net workflow solutions
ILOG brings its Rules for .NET product to the alliance. The BRMS is designed to allow companies to author and manage "the rules that define business decisions" and to integrate them into their business applications.

SOA Software adds its Workbench and Service Manager products to the mix. Both are designed to integrate with Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006 R2 and Internet Information Services. -- J.K.W.

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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