Programmers: I love ’em. In fact, I was one, many years ago, when the Internet was a friendly place where everybody knew your hostname. In those days, if you needed a computer to do something, you hired a programmer. Off-the-shelf software was limited to the most very basic commodity tools, such as word processing. Not only was locally developed software the default choice, companies viewed their home-grown apps as a competitive advantage. I recall one very large firm in the early 90s that even wrote its own programming language because, well, I guess none of the dozens of existing languages quite fit the bill.

But, as my (remaining) gray hair can attest, things change. Companies today regard expense reduction as a key driver, and most CIOs recognize that custom code should be the exception rather than the rule. Programmers still have an important contribution to make, but on the vendor side, creating solutions that can be leveraged by more than just one company.

Business process management (BPM) is an important part of this fundamental trend, because there can still be a mismatch between the features of off-the-shelf applications and the very specific needs of a given business. BPM solutions act as the glue that fills these gaps, taking data from one or more systems, pushing that data through a process, and updating other systems as appropriate.

Thus, the real leverage of BPM software is found in its ability to combine proprietary processes and data with off-the-shelf applications. However, that leverage is weakened considerably if the BPM solution itself requires custom programming, and all the overhead that goes along with it. That is no doubt why virtually every RFP or requirements list I see specifies that little or no programming should be needed to implement any proposed BPM solution.

Happily, there’s one industry that still needs programmers, and is likely to continue to need them for quite some time to come. Of course, I’m referring to the software industry, and that’s one reason I’m so glad to be a part of it.