Phase 4: What Is Business Process Management?


As explored in an earlier chapter, the term business process modeling was coined in the field of systems engineering by S. Williams in his 1967 article entitled, “Business Process Modeling Improves Administrative Control.” However, it was not until the 1990s that the term became popular2  and the term process  became a new productivity paradigm. Companies were encouraged to think in terms of processes instead of functions and procedures. Today, there are multiple books, white papers, articles, blogs, and even entire conferences on the subject of business process management (BPM). However, many people still struggle to find a precise definition of BPM. As we will show, viewpoints vary wildly, making people unclear whether BPM is a process, technology, or management discipline.

The answer depends upon whom you ask. If the question is asked of a technology company, most likely the definition of BPM will be centered more on technology than business. Going into this analysis, we believed that there was a strong bias toward technology within the industry, as indicated by the way that software companies refer to BPM in the context of the capabilities of their particular technology, such as SAP to describe the BPM Netweaver engine or Oracle to describe their BPM collaboration platform. We are greatly concerned by the way that the BPM acronym is used loosely, with its meaning depending upon the context. The lack of a widely accepted definition has arguably had the single most harmful effect on the industry.