Should BPM be a part of ECM?

With all this consolidation happening and niche vendors going down under, this is something that a lot of people are considering. James McGovern had also asked this question sometime back.

Most content management implementations have some kind of workflow requirements. For web content management projects, it is mostly “create-edit-review-publish” paradigm whereas for document centric requirements, it is more involved. There are requirements like scanning,

integration with systems for applications like claims and loan processing. However, it is still a workflow and in my opinion, is different from Business Process Management (BPM). A BPM system needs much more than this. An example could be automating a process that interacts with multiple applications – a process that gets an employee’s travel information from an EIP, picks up employee eligibility data from an ERP, sends a request for approval to employee’s supervisor, sends a request for ticketing and accommodation and finally shows employee’s itinerary back in the portal.
Most ECM products actually have good workflow capabilities but many of them, maybe apart from Filenet also try to pass off as BPM products. If ECM products are used for such business process requirements, there is only limited functionality that they can achieve. Quite a few of these vendors are building BPM capabilities but I think it would be quite sometime before they can claim to be providing full fledged BPM capabilities.

So, if your requirements are more document centric, you can use your ECM products. However, if your requirements are more process or integration centric, I do not think that the current crop of ECM products will satisfy your needs . In the long run though, I think that the big players, as they have done in other areas, will either gobble up stand alone BPM products or will improve their current workflow capabilities to include BPM too. Emergence of open source products like jBPM or other low cost offerings will also give a boost to this trend.

7 thoughts on “Should BPM be a part of ECM?”

  1. Great post! And a very interesting topic.

    When I joined Ovum as an analyst in 1999 I was employed to cover Document Management & Workflow. The two things went hand in hand, and without workflow you have little more than a repository.

    To me there are two questions here – though I agree that BPM is more than workflow, do buyers understand that? I don’t think most do.

    Similarly just how complex does workflow or BPM need to be ? – though tools like Staffware, that can manage highly complex parallel processes etc have been around for years, they are still a minority in the market.

    I think an ECM tool is not an ECM tool without some powerful workflow – does it require full blown BPM? Probably not. But the the biggest problem of all in my experience is actually plotting and maintaining business processes in the first place.

    In other words, the tools are often more than capable of managing the clients needs. But unless we are talking of a one off simple approval route, then they are virtually unusable in the long term due to the difficulty in actually plotting and maintaining the flows – design tools such as Visio are inadequate, and tools such as Prof Scheers Aris are too complicated etc..

  2. One of the core ideas behind Magnolia 3.0’s [1] integration of openWFE [2] is exactly that – making Magnolia part of a potential enterprise wide process management system. This allows to create content as part of a wider process, possibly involving completely different systems and technologies (openWFE is the only open-source distributed cross-platform BPM I know of and includes options to talk to it via REST, .net, Java, perl, ruby and python (I probably missed a couple).

    Once you start looking at the processes that go on behind the scenes for e.g. a e-commerce based community platform including registrations to events (and creating the events in the first place) the power – and necessity – to provide these options becomes obvious.


  3. Generally speaking, I would call BPs part of transactional content (I might have read that here). So it would be natural to handle it somewhat in a CMS (even more so if the vendor claims to provide ECM). I guess the real hassle begins when integrating stand-alone CM with the up-gobbled BPM systems. Integration means standards must be used. I can guess where this is heading: BPM->BPEL->WS->SOA -> Service Oriented Content Management, anyone?

  4. Apoorv,

    It is not convergence of ECM and BPM but it is convergence of enterprise technologies. Soon we will see ECM, BPM, Portals, Security, BI etc. in one suite.

    — Punit

  5. Punit,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is a convergence of technologies as you’ve mentioned and we are already seeing APS (application platform suites) emerging with such features.

    However, my point was that should BPM, as a concept, be a part of ECM? Many a times, BPM is much more than content and workflow.


  6. From what i’ve seen, BPM suites exist primarily to improve processes. . From that standpoint, it must:
    1. Make it easy to help improve a process – either understand a process and provide opportunity for its improvement.
    2. Make it easy to visualize which parts of the process add value

    Implementing this will require a variety of technologies – ECM, Workflow Engines, Document Formats, Standarized System Interfaces, Security, Publishing, Document Acquisition etc.

    IMHO that’s the difference, definitely a big difference. Most times, it is the SIs and Consulting firms that love the chaos – BPM, BAM, etc.

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