Vendors Eye Slice of $1B BPM Pie


While many programmers and IT managers talk about Web services
and service-oriented architectures , the
technologies aren’t nearly as valuable as when they can be tied to business
processes to help loosely coupled applications conduct transactions.


That is why a nascent niche known as business process management (BPM) is
holding increasingly more sway over a number of vendors looking to solve
customers’ software integration problems. Vendors realize it’s not enough to
be able to allow Web services applications to talk to one another. They need to
coordinate disparate applications with their businesses, too.


Vendors and analysts discuss the BPM market in optimistic tones because
there is a lot of money to be made. Recent IDC research pegged the
market as somewhere in the vicinity of $750 million in 2003 and expects it
to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25 percent, reaching $1 billion
by the end of 2004.


Microsoft , IBM , BEA Systems and Oracle are among the active players
trying to manage or accelerate business processes. There are also pure-plays
like HandySoft, Intalio and Active Endpoints, hungry to cover the bases
their giant rivals don’t.

Who will prosper and who won’t is anyone’s guess, but there is some
considerable momentum happening in the BPM space.


BPEL or Bust


BPM is like any other programming model in that it is unlikely to see
significant traction in the market without interoperable standards that
vendors can use. That’s why Microsoft, IBM, BEA Systems and
others have written a specification that addresses the idea of tying
technologies to processes.


Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) is a language
for specifying business-process behavior based on Web services. Amidst
controversy,
its authors submitted version 1.1 to standards body OASIS,
confident that the spec is advanced enough to use even though it’s not officially
part of the standards canon.


“Our vision remains to help customers realize the potential of leveraging
our technologies to improve business processes, such as by moving towards a
service oriented architecture,” said John Evdemon, Microsoft architect and
co-chair of the OASIS Web Services BPEL technical committee. “A core theme
of service orientation is that the services replicate the business
capabilities of the company.”


OASIS expects to ratify BPEL some time this year. BEA and IBM are hashing out
BPELJ, a Java-based version of the spec.


Some vendors believe BPEL 1.1 is as ripe for use as it’s going to get, going
so far as to build or acquire technology based on it. For example, IBM
recently cast aside
its proprietary business process modeling technology in favor of BPEL.


Rob Cheng, product marketing director of Oracle’s application server and tools division, said
BPEL and BPM can flourish now that core Web services components SOAP
, WSDL and UDDI are in place.


“BPEL has not fallen out the end of the OASIS process, but it’s essentially a
finished standard,” Cheng said. “Web services just gave you ways to connect
things in a point-to-point fashion. BPEL is the Java of SOA because it gives
you a portable, interoperable layer for business process definition.”


That’s part of the reason why Oracle acquired
standalone BPM provider Collaxa and incorporated its BPEL Server into its
own product suite, renaming it the Oracle BPEL Process Manager.


The match appears to be a perfect fit. Like Oracle, Collaxa’s software was
designed to run on any J2EE server. Moreover, former Collaxa
CEO Edwin Khodabakchian and current Oracle vice president said it was
important that Collaxa team with a company that had both a strong
application server and database server on which to rest the BPEL Server.


Start Your Endpoints


BPM up-start Active Endpoints doesn’t enjoy the luxury Oracle does of having a
lot of cash to spend. Nor has it been, like Collaxa, on the market to get
picked up by a larger company. That’s just fine with CEO Fred Holahan.


Holahan, a veteran of acquired companies like GemLogic and SilverStream,
likes the idea of just starting out in the market. Active Endpoints is only
a year and a half or so old, but it recently made noise by concurrently
releasing its Active WebFlow software engine and open-sourcing
it under the GPL .


“There is a rising tide in the marketplace around BPEL,” Holahan said. “The
BPEL 1.1 spec is good. It’s very functional and [OASIS BPEL technical committee members]
understand where the deltas will be. There have been a lot of competing
specs around process management, but when IBM and Microsoft get behind a
spec, you can be pretty sure it will be a winner.”


Holahan is talking about Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) and the
Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI), neither of which have the
traction or support BPEL does. By open-sourcing its BPEL software,
Active Endpoints believes it can stand out in a crowded market. Some analysts agree.


David Kelly, founder of Upside Research, a firm dedicated to studying BPM,
said Active Endpoints will likely raise awareness of BPEL by putting its
code under the GPL.


“To really make this an important development, though, ActiveBPEL will need
to generate broader industry support through additional partnerships or
contributors,” Kelly said.


BPM’s Best of Breed?


Intalio’s Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder Ismael Ghalimi knows the market
as well as anyone. He considers the open-source efforts of Active Endpoints
and others more or less cop outs for failed approaches.


“It is one of desperation, similar to what Oak Grove Systems did two or
three years ago when reselling their source
code for $50K a pop (royalty-free),” Ghalimi said. “I know five to 10 pure
BPM players that are contemplating similar moves today.”


Instead, Ghalimi said Intalio’s ambitious goal is to become the leading
independent BPM systems vendor in the sea of larger companies. To get there,
Intalio has embarked on a BPM platform called Application Process Extension
(APEX), which the company will unveil in September.


By many accounts, APEX is very different. It advocates “zero code
development.” Code has traditionally been one of the hobgoblins of
consistent integration, tripping up programmers and setting consolidation
projects back.


With APEX, Intalio aims to let process designers automate business processes
without having to write code, allowing them to handle large, legacy ERP
or SCM applications from Oracle, SAP or
PeopleSoft. By taking the coding out of their hands, Intalio hopes to help
the enterprise save time and money.


Analysts’ Final Word


IDC analyst Dennis Byron studies BPM, but he knows it is business process
automation or software that speeds the delivery of business processes.
Byron said the roots of BPA lie in the dot-com era of business-to-business
integration but never really took off for lack of investment in technology
and standards.


“The stuff we talked about during the dot-com era, which has left a bad
taste in many peoples’ mouths, is actually beginning to happen,” Byron said.
“Suppliers, customers, primarily through extranets and public exchanges are
finally beginning to connect.”


Clients are using single brands to do integration from one application set,
writing products on a point-to-point basis, or buying from several vendors.
Byron believes that people would prefer to have fewer components to deal
with when putting together their infrastructure, making Oracle, BEA and IBM
attractive.


Upside Research’s Kelly agrees, but feels pure-plays have a leg up on larger
rivals.


“Large infrastructure vendors such as Oracle and Microsoft are simply not
yet providing real, focused BPM solutions,” Kelly said. “I would certainly
expect to see them move in that direction over time, but for the moment, the
most interesting products are coming from the vendors focused specifically
in the BPM space, such as Fuego, Savvion, Metastorm, and Handysoft.”


Byron, who is currently looking at roughly 75 vendors in the space, said the
industry has hardly reached a maturation point and that consolidation is a
foregone conclusion.


“This is a brand new industry; you typically don’t see it so early in the
process,” Byron said, adding that BEA grew its integration basis over
100 percent last year, which demonstrates great promise for BPM. “And let’s not
forget about the 8,000-pound gorilla in the room — Microsoft.”


Released in March, Microsoft BizTalk 2004 integration server is teeming with
BPM capabilities. The company doesn’t break out market share for the group,
and analyst firms generally focus on pure-plays in the BPM space so it is
difficult to know how BizTalk is doing.


Really, who wants to bet against Microsoft here? As Microsoft Architect
Evdemon said: “BizTalk Server 2004 supports BPEL so that customers can
integrate business processes more seamlessly. This is compelling for any
business that wants to increase efficiency through automation.”

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