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BPM and SOA insight from Mathias Kirchmer

Q&A: IDS Scheer's Mathias Kirchmer discusses some of the themes from ProcessWorld, including open business process management, SOA and SAP.

On the heels of the ARIS ProcessWorld conference in Amelia Island, Fla., sat down with Mathias Kirchmer, chief innovation and marketing officer for Saarbrücken, Germany-based IDS Scheer to discuss the business process management (BPM) topics that came out of the conference. Kirchmer dissects some trends he's seeing in the BPM market, gives an update on the company's partnerships with SAP and Oracle and offers some advice for BPM projects. What were a couple of key topics users at ProcessWorld were talking about?

Kirchmer: The first topic that was touched on in almost every presentation was SOA [service-oriented architecture]. At the conference, implementations around SAP NetWeaver, and also Oracle Fusion and smaller vendors, were all popular. SOA is such a key topic, and attendees were interested in how to really drive SOA from the business side -- basically the process management -- and that means all topics around enterprise architecture. One thing many presentations also touched on was this idea of BPM moving away from being strictly an IT issue and into the hands of business users.

Kirchmer: For many years, IDS Scheer has distinguished between technical BPM and more business-related BPM. Technical BPM is really the IT side of things -- so execution engines and all the work around configuration. The business-related BPM is where you define business processes and scenarios, do cost-time analysis and come up with a blueprint for your organization.

That blueprint is then loaded down into different execution environments in the technical layer. Then, back on the business layer, you measure certain KPIs [key performance indicators], monitor processes and see where processes can still be improved.

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Kirchmer: Basically there are two main areas. In the SAP community, people have a real interest in SOA and how you can use the concept to drive business value. We see this as a longer-term trend in general -- how to drive business value out of the SAP SOA approach around NetWeaver.

Secondly, there's interest in some of the functionality that SAP offers, especially focused on the value chain like supply chain functionality and CRM [customer relationship management]. Often in the past people would say, "Let's wait to address that, let's think about it." Now with a stronger process approach, it's becoming clear that these are areas that need to be addressed. I would say that many SAP clients who have already acquired the software but don't really use it, or only use parts of it, are starting to implement it in a business-driven way to improve and optimize their processes. Can you name a couple ways you've seen customers getting definite business value through BPM and SOA?

Kirchmer: I have to say that SOA is heavily discussed, but there are very few organizations out there that actually do it. Most of the companies are just now examining the situation.

There are some straightforward examples on the cost side. For example, if you don't need to maintain thousands of interfaces between existing programs and can hook them into an SOA environment, then that of course saves a lot of costs and frees up budgets for more innovative solutions. Do you have any advice for companies just starting down the SOA BPM road?

Kirchmer: There is a heavy trend that companies like new technology and start implementing those technologies in an IT sense. But if you just implement SOA technologies, you really don't get any value at all. In order to get any business results based on SOA, you have to know your processes in detail. If you don't know how you want to organize your processes, you can't use the flexibility an SOA provides.

I recommend that before any organization starts with any technology implementation, make sure you have your processes well-documented and -designed so you can use that design to drive the implementation and configuration of the SOA. So, first focus on the business side of things, on the business processes themselves, and then transfer that to the SOA. What topics do you expect to be big at ProcessWorld 2008?

Kirchmer: I really think that the SOA topic will keep on keeping us busy. So I would be very surprised if it isn't a huge topic again next year.

Another area we will hear a lot about is around "real-time," around business activity monitoring (BAM), which can be combined, of course, around the SOA topic.

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