Around a year back, when we were evaluating BPM & Content Management system for our organization, I was attending a presentation from one of the leading ECM vendors, who also offered a very good BPM system (BPMS). During the presentation I asked the marketing manager making the presentation, what in his opinion offered more value BPM & ECM. “BPM” he answered in a flash! Not surprised by his answer, my following question was, why then the vendor positioned their BPM solution as a subset of ECM? Wall Street he said likes us being an ECM vendor than being a BPM vendor. That was interesting. BPM system around then was gaining ground but was certainly not big enough to impress Wall Street and hence the market cap. Even today the vendor continues to position itself as an ECM software provider!!!
In my opinion ECM systems and BPMS are mutually exclusive. ECM systems offer wide range of functionality such as Content (Document) indexing, Content Storage, Content Retrieval, Content Publishing (as part of Web Content Management), Content Personalization, Version Control, Check-in / Check-out, Annotation, Workflow, etc. If used as a pure content management system, ECM can be compared to the RDBMS. If RDBMS facilitates storage & retrieval of structured data, Content Management system facilitates storage & retrieval of indexed content such as documents, e-mails, audio, video, etc. ECM falls in the infrastructure software category and doesn’t support any specific business process or transaction just like the RDBMS. However, it can be used to supplement transactions executed manually or using any of the enterprise applications.
Most of the ECM solutions from vendors such as Filenet, Documentum, Hummingbird, Livelink, Newgen, etc have evolved from document management systems. These document management system supported document indexing, storage and retrieval along with basic collaboration or workflow capabilities. The workflow provided by them was embedded into the document management system and could not be used to automate a business process that did not require document to be passed from one user to another. The workflow capabilities offered by these systems were very primitive as they lacked sophisticated process definition, simulation, integration, and management (including BAM) capabilities. Having said so, many of these vendors are now either BPM ready or are getting there.
Typical Enterprise Systems Architecture would have 4 logical layers. The bottom most layer would consist of enterprise applications such as ERP or Transaction Processing Systems, SCM, CRM, ECM, etc. The layer above that would be integration layer consisting of integration software based on EAI, MoM, SOA, etc. Second from the top would be BPMS layer comprising of process templates spanning across enterprise systems. And the topmost would be B2B integration layer facilitating execution of business processes beyond the boundary of the enterprise.
In my opinion, BPMS is the Central Nervous System orchestrating all the business processes spanning within and across the enterprise. With the advent of SOA, application & infrastructure vendors are making every effort to take BPM to a totally different scale. As a result BPMS decision needs to be thought through carefully and strategically.