Traditional BPM vs. SharePoint: There’s Room for Both in the Enterprise

February 8, 2012 4 Comments

By David A. Kelly, Upside Research

BPM box Traditional BPM vs. SharePoint: There’s Room for Both in the EnterpriseToday’s organizations have plenty of options when it comes to managing business processes, from informal or manual methods to software-based collaboration and workflow solutions. The past decade has seen a rise in every type of business process management solution imaginable: vertically focused, task-focused, cloud-based, adapted to the mobile workforce.

The real challenge for IT and business managers is knowing what to use when, and how to find a business process management solution that will provide the most long-term agility and best business value without requiring huge investments of time, money, human capital or other resources. Some business processes lend themselves better to certain solutions; making this distinction upfront can save on development costs, lost productivity, and the negative impact on a business that can result from choosing the wrong technology.

With the pervasiveness of Microsoft and Windows in most enterprise environments today, many process managers are questioning how Microsoft’s BPM solution, SharePoint Server can be leveraged in their existing Microsoft-centric environments. I thought it worthwhile to consider how Microsoft SharePoint Server can work within the enterprise in conjunction with existing BPM solutions. Here are a few areas where organizations should consider using Microsoft SharePoint:

  • For content aggregation. Business users that need to create intranets, build business portals, manage content and enhance collaboration will find SharePoint to be a valuable tool.
  • For creating approval workflows. SharePoint document libraries can be configured to require approval before a document can be “published” and viewed by anyone other than the person trying to publish it or by site administrators.
  • For creating other basic workflows. Power users can create disposition approval workflows, collect feedback or signature workflows, or three-state workflows. In these instances, power users can work within SharePoint to create these flows using the out-of-box workflows available.

As soon as you start needing customization or integration with legacy or other enterprise platforms, it may make more sense to select an enterprise BPM solution instead of Microsoft SharePoint. These solutions typically come with business rules engines that can define and govern processes with logic that is independent of the workflow providing greater flexibility and faster change when needed. Also, many BPM solutions include integration capabilities in the form of API’s and out-of-box connectors to popular enterprise solutions found inside most large organizations. Additionally, enterprise BPM solutions provide the capability to more easily extend a complex business process across departments, and out to partners, customers, and other valued affiliates.

As you can see, there are time when Microsoft SharePoint is perfectly adequate for the business process task at hand. But, as soon as you step into customization or complex development to take SharePoint beyond its original functionality, many organizations are better off seeking an enterprise BPM solution to assist them. Selecting the right tool from the beginning can eliminate headaches down the road, control costs, avoid expensive custom development, and ultimately better serve the business processes that are being optimized.

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4 Comments to “Traditional BPM vs. SharePoint: There’s Room for Both in the Enterprise”
  1. Kerri Groves says:

    David, our company has been globally developing and deploying a configurable Relationship Management system used for CRM, Stakeholder & Issue Management, Customer Information Management and plenty more business management purposes.

    You equate customation and integration requirements with automatically requiring Enterprise BPM solutions. This could not be further from the truth. Today, even small companies of less than 10 people will require some level of Customization and Integration but they certainly do not need the headaches of deploying Enterprise software (or the associated costs).

    SharePoint creates a perfect platform for many business processes for all sizes of companies, depending on their specific requirements. SharePoint is easy to customize and it has realms of integration options that are both inexpensive and easy to deploy.

    In my estimation, your blog article has given the wrong impression of what SharePoint can offer to organizations of all sizes and types, by labelling it a narrow BPM software with minimal purposes.

    Additionally, 100s (if not 1000s) of companies globally are developing “connectors”, extensions and web parts for SharePoint that provide Enterprise-level functionality which are inexpensive and easily deployed.

    I agree that selecting the right tool at the outset will eliminate headaches down the road but by bridging this fact to an assumptive outcome that Enterprise software will eliminate this potential result is misleading.

  2. David says:

    Kerri–

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments and feedback. I do understand your point and I do agree with a number of your points, including the fact that many companies (of all sizes) need customization and integration. I also didn’t mean to project the impression that SharePoint isn’t appropriate for many companies, or that it can’t be easily customized. And perhaps saying “enterprise BPM” solution was a bit overkill–”BPM-focused” or simply BPM might have been better choices.

    The key point that I was trying to raise in the piece is that while SharePoint is customizable and can do a huge range of things, it may be a better idea for some companies to really evaluate what they want to do with it and compare its functionality to other software options, such as BPM solutions. Organizations may find that some BPM-oriented solutions will be easier to customize, and more closely designed for their needs. My other concern with SharePoint is the skill sets and requirements for any type of advanced customization.

    Thanks again for your comments, it sounds like you have a very interesting product….

    David Kelly

  3. James M says:

    I have to agree with the general premise of this article. Sharepoint is a very rich platform that offers a lot of foundational capabilities. But when it comes to complex workflows or rich process orchestration requirements, the native capabilities will often fall short.

    Organizations with Sharepoint as well as Microsoft-centric development capabilities should consider alternatives very carefully before taking on too much custom development in an attempt to fill the gaps in Sharepoint’s native workflow patterns. At some point, the longer term total cost of ownership for managing excessive Sharepoint customization will exceed the cost of operating a BPM platform, especially one that is geared towards business users and operated through a rules engine.

  4. Eli Stutz says:

    You’re right that in many cases a BPM suite is preferable to SharePoint alone. For companies that value SharePoint, that might be a tough pill to swallow. Some BPM suites, though, have tight integration with SharePoint (e.g. PNMsoft, K2) and that can help with a BPM solution that is hosted in, and makes use of, SharePoint.

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