Cloud Computing is changing the fundamental way in which information technology services are being delivered. It is also spawning a whole new series of terms and acronyms like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Business Operations Platform (BOP), Public Cloud and Private Cloud. It seems as though new terms are being coined every day. As both established and emerging vendors move into the Cloud Computing marketplace the definition of Cloud Computing continues to morph. But one thing seems to remain rather constant and that is the delivery of “services.” The Cloud services concept centers around the idea that information technology applications are being delivered to the face of a web browser from an amorphous “cloud” – generally referring to the Internet – outside the typical data-driven, on-premise computing architectures in common use today. This emphasis on services delivery targets the commodity (a service) being delivered, and de-emphasizes the method or infrastructure behind how that service is delivered.
Three Forces Converge
There are three major market forces converging to drive the nascent Cloud Computing revolution into a full-fledged information technology model change. The first force is the rapidly growing acceptance of SaaS IT applications. SaaS applications provide an unprecedented level of user affordability and accessibility leading to new mass-market opportunities for software providers. The second force is the emergence of utility computing. Virtualization technologies allow secure, high-performance shared data-center resources to be provided by hosting companies on a pay-by-use basis. This, in turn, provides entirely new levels of computing power and connectivity at never before seen price points resulting in vendor affordability. The final major force, just beginning to appear in the Cloud marketplace, is Business Process Management (BPM) software.
The purpose of BPM software is to allow the subscriber to create or buy targeted, custom applications specifically suited to their unique business processes and policies. Even when starting from a pre-defined application template it is quick and easy to change the look and feel, process flow logic, data captured and stored, and the rules or policies embodied in that template. This ability to modify the application to match the needs of a particular organization is one of the great powers of BPM software. With BPM software you can make your screens and processes look and feel exactly the way your organization works. You can customize layouts, contents, navigation controls, just about anything…
BPM - the Operating System of the Cloud
The Internet is still in many ways like the “wild West” of American folklore. It can be a dangerous place with unexpected surprises around every corner, local laws, and mob justice. “Lawmen” who can keep the peace are few and far between. We must bring order to this chaotic environment if we are to make it safe and easy for organizations to do business in the Cloud. The likely natural evolution of Cloud Computing is the formation of safe and efficient Cloud “ecosystems” where applications and services can be created and exchanged in a known, secure, high-performance computing environment. Cloud-enabled Business Process Management systems are the perfect tool for hosting these ecosystems and as such will become the de facto “operating systems” of Cloud Computing. BPM Suites (BPMS) can orchestrate web services – major building blocks for Cloud applications, allow collaboration between workers, systems and information across organizations and geographies, administer business rules, provide real-time feedback about work-in-progress, monitor business outcomes against performance targets and continuously refine and adjust process flows to optimize performance. A BPM system running on the appropriate Cloud-connected hardware configuration makes the ideal Platform-as-a-Service ecosystem because the BPM system itself provides structure, security and consistent rules across process, user, geographic and organizational boundaries. Less wild West and more civilization.
Both Cordys and Intalio, two major BPMS system vendors, have now adopted a new term to describe their Platform-as-a-Service offerings – Business Operations Platform (BOP). BOPs, and their logical equivalents such as the Appian Anywhere BPMS are the first general-purpose unified Cloud-process development and execution platforms for creating sophisticated composite applications in the Cloud. These BPMS systems actually deliver on the earlier promise of generalized cloud platforms such as salesforce.com’s Force.com AppExchange. By subscribing to a Cloud Computing BOP an organization can buy, create or contract for nearly any IT application. These applications can be customized and branded for an organization’s particular needs, often from previously built template applications, by line-of-business personnel with a minimum of assistance from IT resources.
The Economics of Cloud-Delivered BPM
Today, most organizations are increasingly concerned with the costs of creating and maintaining applications in traditional ways. Long expensive application development cycles along with maintaining existing applications quickly drains available budget resources. This seriously erodes the ability of many organizations to change and innovate as rapidly as their marketplaces demand. Smaller organizations, with their business agility enhanced by new technologies, are often able to rapidly command a considerable market share when entering a new market against established organizations. Nevertheless, these smaller companies often struggle to fund the hardware and human capital such as hard-to-find programming and systems personnel they need.
Cloud-delivered BPM with minimal or non-existent start-up costs coupled with low monthly subscription pricing and libraries of pre-built applications will make the power of Business Process Management available and affordable to every organization. It will also allow organizations and individuals to begin learning about and working with process modeling and process discovery in an inexpensive, risk-free and productive environment.
Unlike traditional SaaS applications such as ecommerce, customer relationship management (CRM) and workforce performance management (WPM), BPM software enables organizations of any size to build or buy, execute, manage, and evolve their own process-oriented business applications of any type. Combining SaaS BPM software with a Cloud delivery mechanism provides a flexible and affordable environment for modern enterprise composite application development. With Cloud-delivered BPM software and applications, organizations receive all the benefits of a typical subscription Internet application together with the power and flexibility of a BPM software ecosystem. BPM as a SaaS offering in the Cloud will forever change the way businesses view the cost structure of application creation and maintenance.
George Barlow is the CEO of Cloud Harbor, Inc. a cloud computing software and services company that enables any business to transform its core DNA from data-driven proprietary systems and cultures to a fusion of collaborative and process-centric computing. Prior to founding Cloud Harbor Mr. Barlow spent seven years at Appian Corporation, a leading BPMS vendor where he was VP & General Manager of Appian Anywhere, the first complete Business Process Management Suite to be delivered as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering. Mr. Barlow also holds both the Business and Technical Professional Advanced OMG Certified Expert in BPM certifications.