Evaluating a BPMS

27th of May 2019

A big part of an architect’s job is charting benefits and drawbacks of decisions that can be made in the transformation initiatives of any organization. Once the need for a certain capability has become apparent, the implementation of such a capability is put on the roadmap, and there are always several ways of tackling this need. The first step is to figure out how to bring about the change in the organization: what skills people need to know/possess, what processes need to be put in place or adapted, and which tools or components are needed to support these processes. At one of my recent projects the needs for a BPMS component was determined, so now comes the job of determining which BPMS is the most suited for the organization.

BPMS solutions rose to prominence at the beginning this century and were a tool take evolved from the ERP components that reigned supreme just a decade before. As Peter Fingar and Howard Smith described in their book “Business Process Management – The Third Wave”: Where ERPs are excellent tools to use for processes that are commonplace, those differentiating processes that are unique to your organization are more difficult to achieve in such solutions. Hence the need arose for automating these ever-changing processes, and BMS seemed to fit the bill. While they still are an important tool in the belt of process automation, nowadays alternative possibilities to handle these types of processes exist, for example in the form of business event-driven micro services architectures or deep learning intelligent automations.

Deciding on which technology to go for from the plethora of possible BPMS vendors is not an easy task. Gartner hands us their Business Process IQ Framework to rank the different solutions based on a list of capabilities:

  • Ease of Use; for both business users and developers to develop new processes and adapt existing ones.
  • Business Process Automation: Allows for the automation of the interactions within the process so that predictable tasks become more efficient, scalable, accountable, visible and accurate.
  • Human Task Management and Collaboration: All users should be able initiate tasks, processes or process segments on an hoc basis, as well as collaborate with others to work towards the desired business outcomes.
  • DigitalOps: The BPMS should allow for the planning, coordinating and monitoring the lifecycle of processes and physical and/or digital interactions with said processes in real time.
  • Business Rules and Decision Management: With the Decision Modeling Notation becomes more mainstream, the BPMS should allow for modeling and automating of business rules.
  • Real-Time Analytics: The BPMS should enable or allow for connections to components that handle predictive and prescriptive analytics in order to support the gathering of insights that lead to better decision making.
  • Interoperability: A host of adapters and SDKs to enable connecting to external applications, services and systems such as ERPs, custom applications, databases… are a must.
  • Intelligent Mobility: Remote connections and teleworking are quickly becoming the new standard, so interactions with the component via mobile devices or smart hardware (Internet-of-Things) is needed.
  • Process Discovery and Optimization: Support for Process Mining and End-User Behavior Monitoring/Analytics to discover new possible avenues for process automation and monitoring can also be a useful addition to the BPMS capabilities.
  • Context and Behavioral History: Historical data about process context for instances of these processes can provide valuable data to place decisions and process executions in context.
  • System Setup and Administration: The system should allow for the setup of new environments and/or instances and should accelerate/facilitate this setup as much as possible.

This results in the Gartner quadrant dividing up these vendors into the Niche Player, Challenger, Leader and Visionary categories, as shown below in the Gartner Quadrant for December 2018.

iBPMS Quadrant (Gartner December 2018)

While Gartner makes an evaluation based on a list of vendors that offer solutions that offer these capabilities, it is not clear whether or not they consider these capabilities equivalent, or whether there is an importance ranking to them. They also consider commercial vendors only. The mission I received was to look at those solutions on the market that were open source and free to use (as the build vs buy debate on this system has already been waged), but could be upgraded to a supported system by services offered through the creations or third parties. Another restriction on the choice was that it should be a Java-based solution as this is the weapon of choice for custom development at this organization. This led to the evaluation of three solutions: jBPM, Flowable and Camunda.

jBPM Logo             Flowable Logo             Camunda Logo

Starting from the Business Process IQ Framework capabilities, the first point of order was to divide these capabilities into measurable items and assigning them a score from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Once I had scored all three technologies in these items, I put my findings to the deciding organ, which in this case was the architecture board, and we collectively added a weight (=level of importance) to each of these items. This calculation gave us a final choice, although the final scores of each of these were pretty close to each other. If this proximity would give room for hesitation, the evaluation can always be extended with new items that might cause a larger differentiation. I have added the excel file in this article as a reference of which items we used, and how we ranked them.

An afterthought: The choice for the organization fell on Flowable. Now that it has been in use, a slight preference could be given to Camunda, as they do have better documentation than Flowable. To counter this, since both Flowable and Camunda are forks from the Activity BPMS, and the creators of the original system are part of the very active forum for Flowable, the less elaborated documentation shouldn’t pose too much of a drawback.

Thought BPM