Can Microsoft SharePoint deliver enterprise-level business process management?

Forrester Research report examines if enterprise IT departments can turn to their SharePoint collaboration platform for advanced BPM capabilities.

Microsoft’s collaboration platform SharePoint lands in the top spot for BPM tools among IT pros surveyed by Forrester Research, prompting the research firm to examine SharePoint’s viability as an enterprise BPM product.

Enterprise IT departments turn to Microsoft SharePoint for business process management tasks, according to a recent Forrester Research report, which details how the collaboration platform could require more oomph to take on enterprise-level BPM tasks.

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Nearly half (47%) of about 220 IT decision-makers polled by Forrester said that Microsoft SharePoint serves as the business process platform in their organization, ahead of competitive products from EMC, IBM and Oracle, as well as BPM providers Lombardi, MetaStorm and Savvion. While Microsoft positions its SharePoint platform as a collaboration tool, enterprise IT departments are putting it to work as their main BPM product, according to the March Forrester Research report “SharePoint and BPM: Finding the Sweet Spot.” 

“Despite Microsoft's best attempts to position the SharePoint platform for content and collaboration, many people still see it as a [BPM] platform. The process management features of SharePoint 2010 are better than MOSS 2007, but they're more limited than most modern BPM suites,” the report reads. “To use SharePoint 2010 as part of an enterprisewide BPM strategy, customers must add a comprehensive, SharePoint-oriented business process management suite (BPMS), which will raise vendor license costs, but lower overall [total cost of ownership] and risk.”

SharePoint is a successful product for Microsoft, bringing in 2008 sales around $1.3 billion and growing about 25% annually, according to Forrester, but Microsoft hadn’t intended to sell it as an enterprise BPM platform – yet customers are using it for just that. Forrester points to features such as SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio integration, among other capabilities, as reasons IT organizations might be putting the software to work to develop processes. Yet the software would be better used as a BPM suite if augmented with other tools, Forrester says, because some of the features can’t deliver on enterprise-level requirements.

For instance, SharePoint processes are best used for “simple tracking applications” and the software will require too much “custom code” for enterprise deployments, eliminating the benefits of using the platform for BPM. Essentially Forrester says SharePoint’s processes are simpler than what’s needed for enterprise BPM.

“SharePoint works best where the process scope is departmental in nature, or where applications rely on highly representative procedures. While it is also possible to link in external sources of enterprise data (such as a back-end SAP system), the issues arise when these processes span SharePoint site collections,” the Forrester report explains. “Assuming a top-down regime, plan on using the administrative features of SharePoint to control enterprisewide deployments.”

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