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A Different Perspective on BPM

Ultimus introduced Adaptive Discovery, technology that lets users create rules for business process management (BPM) as needed, rather than ahead of automation.

The technology will work with Ultimus BPM Suite 7.0, letting users quickly deploy BPM without first building complicated maps of their processes.

There's interest among companies in the ability of business process management software, or BPM, to standardize their practices, reduce errors and streamline operations through automation. These applications let a company set rules about the personnel, steps and routes involved in each operation -- as well as all the exceptions to those rules. Then, the software automatically enables the processes, alerting staff, routing information and creating forms and documents.

While BPM applications offer tools for the company to map out the processes that need to be automated, it can be difficult for managers to describe and map out their work, said Hank Barnes, Ultimus vice president of marketing and product development.

"The biggest challenge for BPM tends to be the upfront effort to model and map the processes," Barnes said. "It's too hard -- and that's not a technical problem, it's a human one."

According to Eric Austvold, a research director for IT analyst firm AMR, human nature is indeed the biggest barrier to the technology's adoption. The essence of BPM is combining human actions, such as getting a supervisor's approval, with software systems.

"Human nature says, 'I don't want to let the software make decisions on my behalf.'"

AMR estimated the BPM market would have exceeded $1 billion by now; instead, Austvold estimated it at some $500 million.

The problem with BPM, he said, is that it's not really an application but more of a set of tools. Before BPM can be implemented, business users must set up the rules engine. "People are hesitant to buy toolboxes, because, at the end of the day, they don't want to build things," he said.

Adaptive Discovery technology lets business people integrate the business rules they know into the application, then add more as new situations arise. They can even get rolling without mapping out any business processes at all. When an action for which there is no established rule is necessary, the software flags a designated person and requests that person to make a decision. That decision can be saved into the system as a global rule or one to be used only within that particular process.

"After time," Barnes said, "less and less will need to be discovered."

The software has three components: Director, a .NET client application; a rules engine that uses Web services to evaluate rules and execute actions; and a rules repository.

Building Ultimus BPM Suite and Adaptive Discovery on the .NET platform will allow for more flexibility and for unforeseen uses, Barnes said.

Users of BPM Suite 7.0 can expose elements of their business processes as Web services, so that other applications can make calls to them. At the same time, BPM Suite can call other Web services to complete its own processes.

"Web services is becoming a general purpose integration technology," Barnes said, "and we're seeing people use it as often internally as externally."

The company believes that Web services will become the dominant integration mechanism for business.

"We think over time there will be a lot of other ways that people, including Ultimus, will want to use [Adaptive Discovery]. By starting today with it exposed as a Web services interface, if someone later wants to use the rules engine in a different way, they'll be able to do it."

AMR's Austvold said Adaptive Discovery could increase the adoption of BPM by enterprises, because the business users would not have to wait for IT to script out process scenarios.

He had seen only a demonstration of the technology, not the production software, but Austvold said all indications are that Ultimus would bring the product to market. Adaptive Discovery is slated for the first quarter of 2005 as a module within Ultimus BPM Suite 7.0.