Business Process Tools Take the Next Step

New BPM tools from a trio of vendors promise to end some of the hassle of integrating the myriad applications inside and between organizations.

New BPM tools from a trio of vendors promise to end some of the hassle of integrating the myriad applications inside and between organizations.

But while business process modeling tools, such as those from SeeBeyond Technology Corp., J.D. Edwards & Co. and PeopleSoft Inc., will enable applications to share and integrate data automatically, the variety of applications and business relationships that need to be accommodated in a modern e-business will leave BPM far short of a panacea.

"What true nirvana is [with BPM] is if you could get a program to write code for you," said Russell Walker, global information officer at Inc. "We are nowhere near that."

SeeBeyond, of Redwood Shores, Calif., is pumping up its eXchange Integrator BPM optimization offering to include a manual interface to its automated application-to-application integration software. It will deliver this fall "human touch points" that provide, for example, exception processing before a specific business process kicks in, officials said.

Denver-based J.D. Edwards this week will announce limited availability of its eXtended Business Processes, workflow technology that triggers applications in business processes for a variety of vertical markets. The technology, originally purchased from middleware vendor WebMethods Inc., will allow companies to define transactions that share data inside and outside firewalls.

And PeopleSoft will ship, in the fourth quarter, BPM functionality in its analytics modules. The BPM tools will sit on top of the Pleasanton, Calif., companys enterprise applications and allow businesses to simulate and forecast scenarios based on business rules.

IT managers like the idea of standardizing business processes, but there are 47 disparate applications within an average business that need to communicate with some standard for BPM to be truly effective, according to Walker. When an IT department takes that effort to the extended enterprise, the problem of creating a common set of business processes grows exponentially.

"The big problem is when you start dealing with external trading partners, you have no control of their environment," said Walker, in West Lake Village, Calif. "The complexity of the problem is enormous; its immense."

Jim DeMin, program manager for customer relationship management at InfoNet Services Ltd., implemented SeeBeyonds BPM application three months ago. DeMin is finding success in BPM as it is applied to InfoNets order processing applications. But he concedes taking the BPM deployment outside the firewall to multiple trading partners can cause trouble.

"A given company might have multiple touch points, and their trading partners have multiple touch points, and now theyre trying to hook up with customers," said DeMin, in El Segundo, Calif. "By doing that you geometrically increase the number of touch points and number of systems. Now all of a sudden you have hundreds of touch points."

As a result, scalability will be difficult to achieve. American Century Investments Inc. implemented PeopleSofts Balance Scorecard and Activity Based Management analytics applications because it could upgrade with PeopleSofts forecasting BPM tools later this year. The company has no intention of taking its BPM applications outside its firewalls, though.

"It will allow us to, in effect, execute on our [chief financial officers] grand dreams to be able to budget and forecast in multiple threads—the best case, worst case and most likely scenario," said Alan Beatty, enterprise performance management manager for American Century, in Kansas City, Mo.