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A Personal History of "BPM, the Term"

by David McCoy  |  July 6, 2009  |  3 Comments

The folks at ebizQ have picked up my debate introduced in this post.  Here, I repost the message that I left for Dennis Byron.  It’s a nerdy little history of “how Gartner began using the BPM term” from my very personal viewpoint.

Hi Dennis

Great summary and analysis of the debate! Here’s some personal history on this. At Gartner in 1999/2000, I made the switch from talking about workflow-brokers (a term coined by Regina Casonato) as the next generation of ‘process engine’ and riffed on a term that Roy Schulte and the application integration team (which I managed) used. They had written one big tome that included a tiny section with the term “Business Process MANAGERS.” This was used to define a class of emerging software that correlated to Vitria’s Business Process Automation term. I took the “MANAGER” term and morphed it to Business Process Management, certainly not claiming to be the first to do that. However, I do lay claim to describing how the workflow and application integration worlds would merge to create BPM capabilities and how those legacy markets would transform. I went around the world a few times with that message and it played out exactly as expected.

At the time (2000), I refused to talk about a single BPM market, as BPM was also emerging as a feature (or layer) of ERP, CRM, application servers, etc. I even wrote a research note in December of 2000 called “Business Process Management: The Hot Non-Market.” I was right in 2000, but over time, I relented to market forces (ironically) and we began talking of the “BPM market” under Jim Sinur’s leadership of BPM. I had passed the baton to him as I was working with Roy to drive BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) into the market. That term, of course, is all Roy’s.

Now, we at Gartner talk of BPM as a management discipline, BPMT (T for technology) as the software component of that market, and BPMS (Business Process Management Suite) as the leading example of BPMT. The world has changed a lot since the days when I was trying to explain that BPM was NOT Business Process MODELING. But in the process (ha!), I think we as an industry have muddled some of our terms. BPM is best described as a discipline, even more so than CRM, etc. So with that shift, I think we will see more linguistic confusion, even if a lot of it is academic hand wringing.

Net, net. I support your assertion that the market will define the term. Been there, and accepted that before :> In 1999/2000 the market was trying to digest terms such as E-process, E-workflow, and as I used to say, EGADS! However, as we move BPM more and more to mean the discipline, then using BPM to also mean a class of technology is more problematic. Since BPA (automation) was hanging around with nothing to do, I was wondering if there was any linguistic power to use it, hence the call for debate. But even there we are vexed! BPA also means Business Process ANALYSIS. So we have more overloading than a bad programming language.

Thanks for taking this up and who knows where it will go. What I do know is that I was with a client who was struggling with BPM work. When I determined that they were really just talking the automation portion of the puzzle, their efforts became a lot clearer to them and to me. BPM is a rather broad term. We may have to live with that at this point, but that is why I started the debate.


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Category: business-process-management-bpm  

David W. McCoy
Managing VPt
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

David McCoy manages the analysts on the IT Procurement and Asset Management team. David started Gartner's BPM research and is credited with defining the market that emerged ...Read Full Bio

Thoughts on A Personal History of "BPM, the Term"

  1. Roger Burlton says:

    This is indeed a problem for many people, since communication starts with the definition and a common understanding of the terms used. I agree that the BPM acronym now is one that is (should be) a management perspective and not a technical one. At Process Renweal Group we ran our first BPM (Management that is) seminar in 1994 under that banner and have done so ever since. It was and still is emphasized as a management capability possibly enabled by BPTechnology when a technology change is needed. Since that time in collaboration with Paul Harmon at BPTrends, where I am now a partner, we have been pushing very hard on a common semantic so that BPMS vendors do not hijack BPM as a technology-first point of view as did the CRM vendors to the point that CRM is almost exclusively thought of as a technology – led initiative rather than actually improving customer relationships.

    Without common understanding, there can be no common sense and that’s what we need to detangle our own web of jargon. Without common sense there will be no common ground and no common practice.

  2. […] to David McCoy of Gartner BPM can be defined as “… a structured approach employing methods, policies, […]

  3. […] handling complex tasks the distinction between the two needs to be further sharpened. According to David McCoy of Gartner BPM can be defined as “… a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management […]

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