What it will take to deliver BPM as SaaS?

An increasing number of BPM vendors are starting to talk about offering BPM software-as-a-service (BPM SaaS). These include Appian, Lombardi, Savvion and Ultimus. Given the buzz around SaaS, this is understandable as these vendors are trying to position themselves for a growing opportunity despite the fact that the SaaS model has serious challenges from a business perspective. So the question for users of BPM is what does it really means to have BPM SaaS?

Let us first make clear what BPM SaaS is not. First, the ability to run a hosted version of one aspect of BPM is not BPM SaaS. BPM is a combination of applications used by different stakeholders. Offering only one of these in a hosted, subscription-based model is not SaaS. For example, offering process modeling tools in a subscription-based hosted model is “process modeling software-as-a-service”; it is not “BPM software-as-a-service.” However this would be a very good first step towards BPM SaaS which can offer customers as well as vendors not only the benefits of SaaS but also the experience necessary to move towards full-fledged BPM SaaS. Second, creating customer-specific automated processes and then enabling the end-users of the customer to participate in the process using a browser/Internet is also not BPM SaaS. There is nothing new about this and customers and vendors have been doing this ever since the early days of the Internet.

In my judgment BPM SaaS has to have the following characteristics as a minimum. First, it must have the ability to model and modify executable processes in a hosted application. The ability to design executable processes, in contrast to simple flow diagram, is pretty challenging. Many vendors will start by offering pre-designed process templates and then allowing users to modify them in a hosted model. This is a good way to start and over time an increasing number of parameters (rules, flows, user interfaces and integrations) can be exposed to modification by users. Second, BPM SaaS must have the ability to allow customers to integrate with their inside-the-firewall data and other applications. This is crucial because BPM deals with company’s data and interacts with other applications. Without effective integration only the very simplistic BPM processes are candidates for SaaS, and CxOs are reluctant to invest money or mindshare on simplistic processes. Integration is the Achille’s heel of BPM SaaS and solutions for this will evolve only gradually. Perhaps the best approach for BPM vendors is the emerging class of “application appliances” that leverage virtualization technology to deliver inside-the-firewall solutions on a SaaS basis. This has the potential of solving the integration problem. I will discuss it in another blog as this is a topic on its own. Third, and easiest, is the ability for end-users to participate in business processes using a browser. This is easily accomplished by most vendors and the growing using of AJAX and Rich Internet Application (RIA) technologies will make it even easier and richer for end-users. Fourth, BPM SaaS must provide a means for customers to monitor and administer their processes over the Internet. Again, with the emergence of AJAX and RIAs, this is not a challenging obstacle. And fifth, BPM SaaS must provide some web-based reporting, BI and BAM capabilities.


With these five capabilities, BPM SaaS can empower customers to design, integrate, deploy, use, administer, monitor and measure their business processes. It provides the full value-proposition of BPM in a SaaS model. Vendors will move towards this in small steps and the more agile ones, who adopt SaaS and new technologies such as RIAs and application appliances, will have the competitive and time-to-market advantage. The key challenges are modeling/design of executable processes and integration. I will use other blog posts to elaborate on likely approaches to tackle these challenges.


8 comments so far

  1. […] What it will take to deliver BPM as SaaS? « Leadership BPM – Rashid Khan, founder of Ultimus, is out on his own, doing some BPM consulting and blogging. Here, he talks about what's required in order to be a BPM SaaS offering. […]

  2. Sebastian on


    nice summary, but you should mention that you are focusing on business process automation. However, BPM is more than just automating processes. It is about simulation of processes, aligning business and IT, cost analysis, etc. You can achieve all of that even without having process execution. Therefore, I don’t think that you really need the execution part to be fully BPM SaaS.

  3. Rashid Khan on

    I use the definition of BPM provided by Gartner and Forrester and generally agreed. Yes BPM is more than automating processes. I 100% agree. But in my opinion, and in the opinion of Gartner and Forrester, a product that does not include process execution is not BPM. That is why Gartner/Forrester do not include BPA vendors in theior BPM Magic Quadrants/market reports. As I said in the blog post, a process modeling/optimation solution offered as SaaS, is a great offering. It is “process modeling as SaaS”; it is a good step towards BPM SaaS, but it is not BPM SaaS.

  4. Johannes on

    Thanks for the great insight. I have a couple of comments. You say users should be given “The ability to design executable processes”, my opinion is that this might lead to undesirable outcomes as users are not in a position to fully understand the implications of any design decisions they make. Another comment is that I only have a limited experience with Pegasystems’ PRPC, however my general impression is that all the five characteristics you’ve mentioned are already there in their latest release. Again, I might have misunderstood your point and if so please correct me. Thanks.

  5. Rashid Khan on

    Thanks Johannes. To clarify, when I say “users” I mean that there will be differnt types of “users” for the various components of a BPM SaaS. There will be users who simply do the work, others who design/model, others who administer, others who extract metrics/reports from, etc. I am not proposing that every user be empowered to design/change executable processes. Or to extract reports. Or to administer. BPM SaaS users, like the users of other enterprise applications, must have access rights/privileges that determine what they can or cannot do. I should have made this clear in my post, but I wanted to keep it short.

    As to your second question about Pegasystems’ PRPC, honestly I do not know this product. If it does offer the five characteristcis then it certianly will be a pioneer in this market. One day I will investigate it in-depth and maybe publish a post about it.

  6. abhishek on

    Thanks Rashid, The points you have mentioned are of great insight. I have a doubts ragarding few points you have mentioned in article “BPM as SaaS: The Next BPM Frontier”. It talks about “extract and abstract”. Can you throw some more light on how the components can be extracted from BPM Suit ?

  7. Rashid Khan on

    I think you are referring to my article in BP Trends on the same topic. The components that can be extracted from a BPM Suite (by extraction I mean they are still a part of the Suite but have their own user interface which is not burdened with everything else in the Suite) are roles/relationship, and rules (which basically means that the flow definition is extracted). If someone really wants to push the envelope then I would say extract the user interface definition and the integrations. Integrations can be extracted through proper architecture and use of Web Services/SOA. Extracting user interface definition is more challanging but can be done. If these components of a process definition are extracted and abstracted (made easier for users), then it is possible for users with administrative rights to change the business process in a hosted environment.

    As to how it is done, I think it is simply a question of the proper design architecture of the BPM Suite and using modern technologies such as AJAX, Silverlight and Adbobe Flex to provide a rich interface in a browser. Companies are already doing some of this; they will need to do more to get to BPM SaaS.

  8. […] to be left behind. As I pointed out in another blog “What it will take to deliver BPM SaaS?” (https://leadershipbpm.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/bpm_saas/), if BPM SaaS is to be widely adopted some key components of BPM have to be exposed in browsers so […]

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