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BPI or Simple Integration? The Debate Rages On

Is business process integration worth the trouble? Over the past year, there's been a lot of industry buzz around the topic of business process integration, or – as it’s often referred to in its broader context – business process management.

Many EAI vendors have widened their offerings to include BPI functionality. Not to be left out of the action, Microsoft positions its BizTalk Server as a BPI server and modeling environment that employs Web services protocols to link application sets. However, many experts question the value of approaches being undertaken in the name of BPI.

BPI encompasses more than applications, and for that matter, extends well beyond IT. The goal of BPI is to unite, rather than automate, processes. Such processes can be performed by humans, machines, or both from throughout the organization. The challenge is that processes tend to naturally grow beyond the control of the IT or business managers that originally designed them.

“You end up with requirements for approvals from managers that no longer have anything to do with the process,” says Terryn Barill, a speaker and author on integration topics. “In most organizations, processes grow organically. Something has a need, and it gets filled."

As a result, applications are built without regard to the overall business processes they were supposed to support, Barill says. Large enterprise packages, such as ERP or data warehouses, are notorious for the havoc they create with established business processes. “It's sometimes easier to change how you do business than it is to find somebody to customize the program,” says Barill.

BPI tools can help manage these scenarios. The vendors most active in BPI include IBM, with MQSeries Workflow, and HP with HP Process Manager. EAI vendors in the market include Tibco, Vitria, and Propelis. “The recent explosion of growth in the demand for EAI tools is causing turmoil in this market segment. Larger vendors are acquiring many of the small vendors in the EAI space in an attempt to provide complete EAI suites offering message transport services, message brokers, business process managers, and B2B integration tools,.” according to Thomas Loukas, director of the AMS Center for Advanced Technologies

However, Loukas and others question whether it's worth implementing a BPI or BPM solution to change or join processes together. "Organizations with complex business processes that involve a number of separate applications should determine whether the management, optimization, and maintenance of those processes could be improved using BPM technology," Loukas says.

“BPI should occur only when you have any two processes, whether inside or outside a company, that you want to act as if they were one,” says Greg Grosh, co-founder and VP of strategy and marketing for Data Junction. “If you can't answer that yes, then you don't need integration. Interfacing and connectivity may provide all that you need. If you have a business process inside your company, and the very same business process in a supplier or someplace else, and you want both of those processes to act as if they were one, that's a very high requirement. It's very expensive to do. Most of the time, it's not necessary.”

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.