Forming the Platform

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If a vendor tries to sell you a business process platform (BPP), what should you do? Be very wary, suggests Gene Phifer, managing vice president with industry research firm Gartner. �Right now, it�s a user-adopted model and not a market,� Phifer says. But we�re getting ahead of ourselves. First, what is a BPP? Simply put, it�s an enterprise�s attempt to wrangle all of its complex workflows and activities in one place.

�The technology is not easy, but it�s not rocket science,� Phifer says. �The stuff that is rocket science is [changing] a mindset of people that have been raised to develop things a certain way.� The real challenge lies in showing enterprises that it�s possible to combine disparate data, integrate on-premise and Web-based solutions, and to sync information in order to provide real-time value to users.

�We think [services-oriented architecture] is difficult, but it would be impossible without a BPP,� Phifer says. So who has a BPP and where does it come from? Reiterating that a BPP is a user-adopted model, Phifer says that some enterprises might have a BPP and not even know it: �I think we�re going to see serendipity drive a lot of BPP.� However, he says, there are perceptible signs of an enterprise that needs a central platform:

�    The organization is experiencing growing pains but doesn�t have the agility to deal with new and added complexities.
�    The value of customer relationships has decreased.
�    The number of customer transactions has increased more than the value of the collective customer experience.
�    The enterprise strategy has become foggy.
�    The business cycle is slowing down due to the state of the economy.
�    System requirements are changing and the rate of adoption is increasing.

Phifer highlights the megavendor offerings of BPP�or similar platform-like solutions. He calls SAP the �poster child of BPP,� giving the company credit for being out there early and providing a well-rounded suite. He says SAP�s only issue is with plugability. As for Microsoft, Phifer says the organization has parts of a BPP, but lacks an enterprise-class offering. He says IBM has the most complete infrastructure of all the providers, but doesn�t sell applications and only sells to infrastructure providers. As for Oracle�s newly acquired BEA Systems, Phifer questioned what Oracle is going to do with the BEA technologies. He fears that Oracle will focus on providing merely a level of support, rather than true enhancement to the technology.

According to Gartner, only 10 percent of organizations have a BPP in place�a figure that�s expected to double within the next two years. Betsy Burton, a Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst, notes that the diversity of IT systems is only increasing over time. �The challenge is that Web and cloud computing is making this much more complex,� she says, pointing out that users won�t stop looking for an application or tool that fits their needs�whether that tool comes from within the enterprise or not. Many enterprises may see this as a risk, but Burton disagrees: �Don�t think of enterprise architecture standards or �crowd standards� as a contradiction, but as a continuum.� 

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