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Business process management newest SaaS deliverable

A growing number of Software as a Service (SaaS) providers are using business process management system (BPMS) platforms to make changes to their products more efficiently. CIOs can take advantage of this trend to get more customized, configurable apps.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If you're still thinking about Software as a Service (SaaS) applications as isolated business processes -- an exotic getaway for a select few of your business users -- it's time to make an attitude adjustment.

Large-enterprise deployments of SaaS will not only touch internal business processes at multiple points in a few short years, according to Gartner Inc., but they will also be deeply intertwined with business process management systems (BPMS) in ways you might not expect.

SaaS providers are starting to build their applications atop business process management system platforms, said Gartner analyst Michele Cantara, a featured speaker at last week's Gartner BPM Summit. Using a BPMS platform allows SaaS vendors to make changes to their products more efficiently.

The business process management suite is the underlying software infrastructure. On top of that is a set of common code, common process definitions and common data definitions, Cantara said. "Using BPMS tooling, the SaaS vendor can configure the solution for each individual client."

If you know enough to ask.

"Most customers haven't figured out that BPM is being used in some of these particular Software as a Service applications" as the infrastructure layer, Cantara said. "So they don't know they can ask for more configurability."

This is a mistake.

In 2010, 75% of large-enterprise SaaS deployments will feature "at least five integration points" to on-premise software, according to Gartner research. By 2011, the worldwide market for SaaS will total close to $12 billion, up from approximately $4 billion in 2005, the Stamford, Conn.-based company reports. Offerings for customer relationship management, human resources, the supply chain and, increasingly, content collaboration software are pushing revenue. SaaS office suite sales, which accounted for $145 million in 2005, will metastasize to $1.4 billion by 2011, meaning offerings like Google Apps will affect your company's end-to-end business processes, Cantara said.

"If you're going to attempt to tackle business process improvement for an end-to-end process, you've got to look at your at stuff on-premise and off-premise," she said.

The 'one to many' model

The session "Is SaaS a Viable Option for Process Improvement Projects" eventually got around to its main topic. But the bottom line seems to be that there is of yet no big clamoring for BPMS delivered as a service, whether in the plain-vanilla variety or highly configured. Indeed, the model is in the "embryonic" stage, Cantara said.

"A couple of vendors can do BPMS as a service," she said, notably Appian Corp., with Appian Anywhere, and Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., with Interstage-enabled SaaS.

There is also disagreement even within Gartner as to whether the BPMS solutions delivered as a service can even be called SaaS, Cantara said.

If you're going to attempt to tackle business process improvement for an end-to-end process, you've got to look at your at stuff on-premise and off-premise.

Michelle Cantara, analyst, Gartner Inc.

Under the SaaS model, similar to the application service provider model, the software is owned, delivered and managed remotely by a third party. Payment is per use or by subscription.

So SaaS is a form of outsourcing, but all outsourcing is not SaaS. In a business process outsourcing (BPO) engagement for a contact center, for example, the provider takes over a company's applications, infrastructure and, in many cases, its people. The environment is dedicated to the particular client, and payment is on an annualized basis. The hallmark of a SaaS deployment is that it uses the "one to many" model -- a common concept code used by many companies at the same time.

The question is: How many constitutes many? Skeptics say current BPMS SaaS offerings don't meet the multitenancy aspect of SaaS. But semantics are not the point, Cantara said.

End-to-end business processes will increasingly include both on- and off-premise applications. CIOs should analyze their application portfolios, identify business processes that can be supported by BPMS and SaaS and factor both into their strategy, Cantara said.

Most of the audience wanted to know which vendors used BPMS as their middle layer. The list includes business process modeling tools like Blueprint from Lombardi Software Inc., ProVision SaaS from Metastorm Inc. and Appian Process Modeler from Appian. Expense Management, a process-based application from SaaS provider Concur Technologies Inc., uses BPMS tooling from Appian.

"Over the next 12 months as you talk to both BPMS and SaaS vendors, understand how each plans to leverage this technology to improve the flexibility of offerings in SaaS offerings, so you can potentially change processes on the fly," Cantara said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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