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Recently, Terry Schurter described the BPM State of the Nation 2009. Terry touched an interesting subject – the disparity between BPM definitions in the marketplace, especially where it concerns BPM software. The BPM software market is very diffuse, a phenomenon which I encounter almost daily in my line of work when talking to prospects or customers. Analysts have tried to categorize the different types of software but many organizations find it hard to figure out the differences. We are all familiar with the two-, three- and four-letter abbreviations: BPA, ECM, BPMS, ERP, SOA and BI. All support business processes one way or another. Which does what? I will look into two of these abbreviations causing plenty of Babylonian confusion. <!--more-->

First and foremost, is BPM a management discipline or a technology? Depending on the context it can be both. When we define BPM as an approach to methodically design, implement, execute, control and improve business processes than we can argue it is a management discipline. In addition, there is technology to support this discipline in all of its stages. Due to their modeling capabilities, two types of technology are often confused:

The primary purpose of Business Process Analysis (BPA) tools is to visualize, analyze and improve business processes. BPA tools help translate every day business complexity into structured models (scope: from business to model). They provide insight into an enterprise's structure – i.e. how strategy, products and services, processes, roles, information and systems are related and influence one another. By creating a single point of truth, BPA tools strive to improve the communication between various stakeholders in a company, safeguard corporate knowledge and support decision-making and change management. Most notable user groups are business managers, process owners, quality managers, business analysts, risk & compliance officers and enterprise architects. BPA tools have rich semantics in order to fulfill a broad information need. They enable users to visualize and analyze the enterprise from different point of views, e.g. from a performance-, risk & compliance- or architecture perspective.

Business Process Management Suites (BPMS) on the other hand serve a different purpose and target a different audience. While they do offer modeling capabilities, their primary purpose is to automate, execute and monitor business processes based on technical models (scope: from model to execution). Notable user groups are business- and information analysts, process engineers, software developers and system administrators. BPMS do not offer such rich semantics as BPA tools in the sense that their metamodel does not comprise concepts for performance management, risk & compliance management or architecture management. Then again, these concepts are not required to automate processes. 

Business BPM- Business to Model

In my opinion, BPA tools and BPMS cover two different aspects of the wide BPM spectrum and therefore complement one another perfectly – as illustrated by the enclosed figure. As the market matures, their worlds converge more and more. However, to date, BPA and BPMS remain two separate worlds. Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges.