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BPM expert Andre Truong speaks out

Q&A: SAP's BPM push has been well documented; Andre Truong answers some burning BPM questions for SAP users.

Andre Truong of Portland, Ore.-based Composite Consulting Inc. is a seasoned consultant with SAP experience from three continents. He's a resident member of the expert panel and a top contributor to the SAP Developer Network (SDN). Because this is our Business Process Management (BPM) theme month, we decided to pick his brain on the state of BPM in the SAP world. In a nutshell, what is BPM and why should SAP users care?

Truong: Most big corporations have spent a lot of money trying to fix the "IT mess" with ERP, CRM and the big back-end parts. With the applications and data integrated, the logical next step is to connect the business processes themselves. The issue ceases to be just "how to push a customer order through the system," but rather how to do it in the context of cohesive business rules. What are the exceptions that need to be managed? What are the rules that need to be enforced? Simply put, we're moving the issue out of the IT people's hands and into the business people's. SAP is pushing BPM and recently started a new BPX community (business process expert), but the majority of SAP shops don't actually use BPM yet. Why not?

Truong: This is primarily due to mass inertia. It takes a long time to move a huge customer base. And let's face it -- some SAP users are leaders, but many have no real need to behave as innovators. They're solving BPM problems with the old technology. So instead of getting a newfangled BPM product, they use workflow and ABAP, which they already know. Some experts say the XI adoption rate suffers from lack of skilled implementers. Is this a factor with BPM as well?

Truong: Yes, definitely. While the BPM concept isn't new, the toolset is. As mentioned earlier, there isn't a lot of motivation to learn about the new stuff when you have existing tools that get the job done. If there's not a compelling reason to change, most people won't embrace innovation for the sake of innovation. As a result, implementation skills and BPM experience aren't as widespread as would be ideal. Is there something SAP could do better?

Truong: I would like more emphasis on the human side, integrating processes and humans in the enterprise. Collaboration across departments, systems, functions…. Everything needs to come together outside traditional IT boundaries. There are plenty of BPM niche vendors with products that integrate well and come with bells and whistles. Why stick with SAP?

Truong: SAP has the advantage of being a one-stop shop. Staying within the known framework makes for easier architecture planning. It simplifies requirements, and you often have existing in-house skill sets that can be applied. You can also make the case against that kind of dependency on one vendor, so it's a decision each company will have to carefully weigh with their circumstances. Forrester Research recently bumped SAP from "leadership" status in the BPM space. Should SAP users be concerned?

Truong: Yes, but no investment in SAP will ever be a bad investment. You may wish they did a better job from a technical standpoint, but at the end of the day SAP usually succeeds at what they set out to accomplish. Even though Forrester downgraded SAP, they're not that far behind.

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Hear what the vice president of the SAP Developer Network and the Business Process Expert Community has to say about trends in BPM Which industries stand to gain the most from BPM?

Truong: Finance and others with compliance requirements are prime candidates for BPM. The same goes for the new technology companies that are jumping on the SOA bandwagon. Basically, anyone who needs to innovate on the process level stands to benefit from BPM. Conversely, those who are not under a lot of pressure, such as the public sector, are not good candidates. You're a seasoned consultant and also a resident site expert. What's the most common BPM challenge you see out there?

Truong: The biggest threat to SAP's BPM vision is actually SAP itself. The SAP world has a big ABAP camp that resists the new technology, even internally at SAP. There's a high degree of competition between the crusaders of the new vs. the old-school followers. It's the same as when Web Dynpro arrived – there was a lot of duplicate development going on to satisfy both camps, which of course is quite redundant. It's very hard for a sales rep to stand up to an entrenched ABAPer with home-field advantage who is arguing against a new product and a new way of doing things.

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