BPM's uncertain role in modernizing legacy applications

Business process management experts disagree on how much BPM can accomplish against hard-coded systems.

Can business process management (BPM) play a role in legacy modernization efforts?

That's a debate point brought up by SearchSOA's James Denman, who got mixed reactions to this question.

On the pro side, Erik Marks, founder and CEO of AgilePath, says that "BPM and enterprise modernization "are related." says  The challenges in modernizing legacy applications come mostly from the fact that "the business process workflow is hardcoded and tightly coupled with other aspects of the legacy code. The trick is how to abstract business process from the hardcoded side and BPM enable it, which will allow you to BPM out that implied or hardcoded business process workflow." Scott Menter, vice president of business solutions at BP Logix Inc., says just do it: "Just get the processes online as quickly as possible, and then use the tools that are built into BPM to improve them as you go along."

On the con side, William Ulrich, president of TSG, Inc.,  sees "very little connection between BPM and application modernization.  The mapping between business architecture and IT architecture is multifold, and business processes play a relatively small role in that." Business capabilities take front and center, he says. "The business architecture and data architecture relationship is based on what's done in the business, not how."

Both sides in this argument are right, as Attachmate's Ronald Nunan says -- noting there is high-layer and lower-layer BPM tools -- it's the lower-layer BPM technologies that are needed in application modernization efforts.

"The people that expose legacy applications as services have to really understand the legacy application behind the service. This is true because legacy derived services are not truly free of dependencies from other parts of the legacy application. To allow these services to be useful, but safe, a simple low level BPM tool is a perfect solution. It is through this first layer of BPM that non-legacy indoctrinated developers and users can consume and freely use the services that come from the legacy applications."

Just to keep things in perspective, recall what Max Pucher said in a post a couple of years back: ultimately, it's about delivery of service to the customer of the business -- which should be free from overreliance on systems, which ultimately will be bloated and flawed. 

"Agility is a human property and not a system functionality," he says. "What stops current organizations from being agile? No, not software but small-minded resistance to true innovation in IT. SOA is being used to sell huge software stacks and agile BPM promises ‘puppet-on-a-string employees’. Agility will only come from executives being willing to innovate technology and empower their employees by doing away with rigid business processes and the straightjacket like impediments of BPM, CRM and ECM silos."

(Photo: Wikipedia.)