The Value of Business Process Fusion

A profound discontinuity is about to occur in the way application software is used to support business activities. Business Process Fusion builds on the maturing of systems integration and portal technology, plus newer ingredients such as Web Services, Service Oriented Architectures, and Process Management. It creates new compound processes which provide coherent control of activities which have previously only been loosely linked. This can enable new degrees of both business optimization and business flexibility.

Business Process Fusion can be a major contributor to achievement of Real-Time enterprise goals. It can exploit Real-Time Infrastructure to deliver flexible systems at all levels from business process modification to computing hardware utilization. The focus on business process definition and optimization also creates a framework for substantive decisions about Business Process Outsourcing.

Business Process Fusion is a culmination of changes in the way business applications can be developed and delivered, and then deployed to achieve business value. It represents a significant discontinuity in IT and the value it can deliver to the business. Enterprises that recognize this discontinuity will be positioned to achieve a different order of value from their IT investments.

"Business Process Fusion will become a key driver for IT investment in a majority of Global 2000 by 2007 (probability 0.7)."

Why now?

What makes Business Process Fusion achievable is a combination of two factors. First is the investment made, to date, within enterprises to establish a foundation of operational systems delivering pervasive connectivity and capture of core transactional data. A precondition for Fusion is the existence of systems which support the component processes. Fusion cannot start from nothing. Second is the emergence of software platforms and architectures that span the traditional application silos.

What makes Business Process Fusion necessary is the risk, and in some cases the pressing reality, of competitive annihilation from an industry player that has successfully transformed its core processes. Most IT organizations have lived with the reality of cost containment in recent budget cycles. They would prefer a comfort zone of evolutionary change. A few enterprises, however, opt for revolutionary change. Other enterprises are then forced to attempt emulation - where cost becomes no object since survival is at stake. Business Process Fusion has transformational potential - early adopters will take the risk and may reap the rewards of its potential. Those that cannot or will not take the risk should at least prepare to take action, so they are positioned to follow fast.

Examples of Business Process Fusion

Examples can be found in fusing processes which are internal to a single enterprise, or that span multiple enterprises. One important characteristic of Business Process Fusion is that it reduces the impact of the ownership of component processes - thereby retaining, or even enabling, flexibility in outsourcing or insourcing constituent processes.

The focus of a Business Process Fusion project will be to enable unified management of activities which previously had largely autonomous control.

Impact of Business Process Fusion on the IT market

Application vendors: Major vendors including SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel, and Oracle are moving towards supporting Business Process Fusion. This is most obvious in the incorporation of portal and integration broker technology within the application platforms. The vendors vary in the relative strengths of each of the features and the extent to which they are creating this technology base themselves. At one extreme SAP is looking to deliver the full infrastructure stack (NetWeaver), at the other Siebel is building partnerships (UAN).

Infrastructure Vendors: IBM and BEA are delivering platforms relevant for Business Process Fusion and assuming others will build the applications. Oracle and Microsoft are delivering platforms but also applications.

Services Vendors: Business Process Fusion, potentially in combination with Business Process Outsourcing, provides a major opportunity for services vendors since it can be viewed as just the next stage in supporting system integration requirements for clients that do not have the requisite skills internally. However the shift in the technology base that enables Business Process Fusion also changes the economics of delivering these solutions - potentially dramatically reducing costs and increasing capabilities. Service providers will have to follow this change or will be left with outmoded cost structures.

New niches and opportunities: Business Process Fusion will play to the strengths of larger vendors that can offer at minimum a comprehensive application infrastructure platform, and maybe applications, outsourcing and hardware infrastructure as well. However, as with any technology advance, it opens up new market niches. One of these will be the provision of software and services which combine some pre-built application functionality, some hosting services, tools for application composition, and tools for management oversight spanning both new and old, insourced and outsourced functions.

The Business Value

Business Process Fusion will create a composite of activities which were previously supported by independent systems. It will provide visibility and control of that composite at the operational level and for management purposes including monitoring, analytics, ad hoc communication and control in response to unforeseen events, modification of the process without disruptive modification of the supporting IT systems.

So, is Business Process Fusion new? Doubtless examples of Business Process Fusion can be found which predate the technology foundations described above. However such cases have typically required heroic efforts to achieve, with very large investments and results lacking flexibility for future business change. The current opportunity for Business Process Fusion arises from the maturing of technology to the point where such capabilities become cost effective on a widespread basis and the Fusion achieved is a contributor to ongoing business agility, not a constraint on it.

For more information on Business Process Fusion and to view the Gartner Special Report, visit www.gartner.com/fusion.

Simon Hayward is vice president of Research and Research Fellow with Gartner, Inc. Mr. Hayward is a graduate of Oxford University and a member of the British Computer Society.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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