A Little Known Company Charts the BPM-SOA Future

Can you name a company that’s a player at the Microsoft-SAP level for business process modeling, but is also a darling of the SMB market?
It’s quiz time: Name a company that has strategic agreements with arch-rivals SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. A company that leads the charge for business-process modeling, service-oriented architectures, and, in a nutshell, the future of enterprise software. Oh, and by the way, name the company that does all this while producing software that you can find at major multi-nationals as well as at SMBs you’ve probably never heard of.

Give up? One of the better kept secrets in the enterprise software industry is a not-so-small company called IDS Scheer. Its Aris business process modeling is used by SAP, Oracle, and shortly, as part of a recent announcement, Microsoft customers, to model their business processes and deploy them on their favorite enterprise software platform. And Aris isn’t just found among these top tier vendors’ customers either: I ran into Aris while talking BPM to a Ramco ERP customer recently, among others.

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It’s hard to know what is more impressive about this company and its product: that Aris is being used by Fortune 500 and SMB company alike to further their business process modeling strategies, or that Aris has managed to swim comfortably as an emerging standard in an enterprise software sea rife with Darwinian competitors.

Let’s start with the latter issue first. IDS Scheer’s latest news, that it has been selected to be part of Microsoft’s Business Process Alliance, is part of a larger strategy to allow business analysts, regardless of the applications and technology platforms their companies use, to work within a single modeling environment that can be deployed, and re-deployed, anywhere. This is essentially what SAP customers have been able to do for years, and what Oracle customers have been able to do since last summer: treat business modeling as a business problem divorced from technology deployment.

To be fair, the Microsoft deal is not truly equivalent to the company’s deals with SAP and Oracle: The Business Process Alliance comes out of Microsoft’s Connected Systems Division, and is therefore more about Microsoft’s platform technology than it is about the company’s Dynamics enterprise applications. So far, at least.

But the idea that one company can navigate between these competing companies and their conflicting agendas is testimony to both the promise of “universal” business process modeling tools and these vendors’ understanding that, at least in this case, customer requirements for standard tools trump the usual cut-throat competitive posturing. Almost too good to be true, no?

The other way that Aris excels – as a modeling tool for companies of any size – may be the best part of the whole story. Everyone knows that the Fortune 500 are looking deeply at BPM and SOA and building complex strategies around the adoption of these technologies. It’s a little more dramatic, in my opinion, to find a similar mindset at a less-than $50 million company: That Aris makes it possible for SMBs to use business process modeling as a competitive weapon against larger, global companies is truly a revolution in the marriage of technology and business.

As that mid-sized Ramco/Aris customer told me, business process excellence is how this company is going to compete against the big dogs and open up new markets. And Aris, in the hands of its business process experts, is one of the ways in which this competitive position is already succeeding.

Does this latest move with Microsoft truly cement Aris’ position as the de facto business process modeling standard? It’s still a little early to say – lots of other customers use lots of other enterprise software products from vendors that haven’t cut a deal with IDS Scheer. But it’s amazing – heartening – to see how easy it can be for business processes to be maintained separately from some of the largest and most heavily deployed IT environments around.

I’d like to see Aris succeed mostly because I believe that business process, not technology, is the best competitive weapon a company can harness in a globally competitive economy. And having process live independent of platform is precisely how process innovation can thrive. There may be better products than Aris, but so far there’s none that really bridge the vast technology chasms that characterize our industry. And that alone is reason enough to be impressed.






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