The genius of well-designed software is that it bores in on a specific type of problem and delivers an effective solution that is unique to that problem. For the IT buyer, there’s a lot of work and responsibility that goes into identifying then evaluating the right solution. Sometimes it can appear that there are only minor differences among the vendors— and investigating feature sets becomes tedious very quickly. It’s easy to see where decision fatigue can set in. This is where some buyers are inclined to just select a product that’s “close enough” or to re-use a tool that has already been deployed in the organization for some other purpose.
We see this frequently with prospective customers who have implemented Microsoft SharePoint BPM. We are the first to recognize SharePoint as an excellent portal and document library. The fact that it is so widely used to manage corporate intranets and content-rich Web sites attests to its ease-of-use and broad capabilities. It is repeatedly cited as a valuable enterprise tool, used to address a variety of intranet-related issues.
SharePoint BPM certainly has some workflow software capabilities; for organizations that operate with very linear processes, it may suit their needs. We’re surprised, however, at how frequently SharePoint BPM is considered an overall BPM software solution. Our customers tell us that the complex workflows they need to run their businesses (complex in some cases means more than two steps) require a tool that can intelligently handle decision-making, enterprise document management, and business rules. Trying to make SharePoint work this way is a perfect example of a great solution being used for something beyond its original capabilities. Even with the modeling and process functionality in SharePoint, what is required to help an organization manage business processes and adapt to business needs is a constantly evolving endeavor. SharePoint BPM is not the ideal workflow tool to handle these requirements.
It has become evident that even though most SharePoint deployments have been done in an effort to address basic internal portal/intranet operations, many enterprises are, or are considering, using it to manage document workflows and/or to support business processes. We understand why this would be a direction that might interest an organization. Microsoft Office is so pervasive that it would seem logical to leverage the enterprise’s existing investment and try to extend it. But for enterprises that do this, it means sacrificing valuable data, IP and human capital for the expediency of what’s available. They will likely not miss what they don’t have, but their business will suffer.
Forrester agrees that there are BPM capabilities inherent in SharePoint. As noted in its report, SharePoint and BPM, to actually make SharePoint-created processes usable, a third-party product needs to be implemented. Forrester goes on to note that much of the problem is lack of flexibility, resulting from the fact that SharePoint’s underlying architecture uses Windows Workflow Foundation, “…which supports only two process patterns: sequence and machine state. This results in SharePoint working best on the procedural end of the process spectrum, while most SharePoint deployments are focused on the opposite end.”
The challenge with SharePoint workflow usually comes down to the fact that, while it is a good repository for content and data, it cannot adequately apply business rules, supply adequate governance capabilities and, most importantly, requires the work of dedicated developers and administrators to manage it. This is why we hear about multiple instances of SharePoint BPM being used within a company. SharePoint BPM is often customized and deployed for different (and specific) needs around the organization— because it is most functional when customized. Creating all these instances, however, basically negates the reason for deploying BPM solutions in the first place.
It is also worth noting that SharePoint BPM relies on the expertise of developers to build usable solutions. Yet it is our belief that business owners need to be the ones who design, develop and make changes to their processes. They know their goals and what drives the business. Having to translate business needs to a team of developers extends the time it takes to deliver a better process — and ends up costing more in time, money and resources.
Though Process Director is a SharePoint alternative BPM solution, our goal is to provide an efficient way to deliver BPM solutions through rapid, zero-coding implementations. We support SharePoint and help customers leverage their existing SharePoint investments by seamlessly linking lists and document libraries into advanced, process-driven applications. Through integration of eForms, the SharePoint Portal, lists, task assignments and data pre-population, we are helping customers enhance their SharePoint BPM experience by providing workflow management software capabilities, forms and decision-making capabilities that facilitate BPM across the enterprise.