In Focus: BPM Merger Could Reduce Process Mayhem

May 24, 2005 (12:05 PM EDT)

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The old saw about technology standards is that they're great because there are so many from which to choose. That's one reason why last week's announcement of merger talks between the Business Process Management Initiative ( and the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) came as welcome news. The merger could reduce overlapping standards, and the consolidation would mirror a thinning of vendor ranks in the last year that is a healthy sign of a maturing BPM market.

Founded in 2000, led the development of XML-based standards, including Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) and Business Process Modeling Language (BPML). Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), a standard put forward by IBM, Microsoft and BEA and then adopted as a standard by OASIS, has eclipsed BPML. BPMN, on the other hand, continues to gain support as a common set of graphics used in process modeling.

"We have work to do to unify a process stack from the highest level modeling to the lowest level of execution," stated Jeanne Baker, chairman and vice president, technology at Sterling Commerce. "WfMC shares our passion; we both believe in process, BPMN and the work ahead."

Founded in 1993, WfMC has a long history of developing standards for human-to-human workflow. The group developed Workflow XML (Wf-XML) for interoperability between BPM engines, and it has advocated XML Process Definition Language (XPDL) as an interoperable standard between modeling tools, though this standard, too, could be overtaken by BPEL.

"There is a huge reservoir of process knowledge within the WfMC community, such as XPDL and Wf-XML, that can be leveraged with a merged organization," said Jon Pyke, chairman of WfMC and CEO of The Process Factory. Pyke added that both groups support royalty-free standards.

Since both groups rely heavily on industry support, the potential consolidation was welcomed by Mark McGregor, a principle of Business Process Management Group, a 12,000-plus-member club dedicated to process-oriented education. "Given that both groups rely on volunteers to create and develop the standards, this has to be good news for the employers of these volunteers," opined McGregor in an editorial on "To fund such 'spare time activity' is not cheap and so to only spend money in one place has to be a good thing."

Even with a consolidation of WfMC and BPMI, process management will still involve industry- and technology-centered standards from groups including OASIS, W3C, RosettaNet, ISO and others. Overlaps and competing interests won't be eliminated, but one strong group could advance the interests of stable, mature process development.


a. Workflow Research Forums

b. Business Process Management Initiative

c. WfMC's Workflow Handbook 2005

d. WfMC's Global Excellence in Workflow Awards