Business Process Management: MOSS and Biztalk

As the MOSS story unfolds I continue to get a number of questions about our BPM story.  Customers want to know how MOSS, Biztalk and WinWF work together or alone to deliver business process management.  Well, the short answer is that there is a good story today that is only going to get better.  For a good primer, please dig in here.  A business process is basically a set of synchronous or asynchronous steps that are linked together.  These steps or activities collectively are the process.  When I get asked for an example of a business process I usually say, duh, everything is a process.  No, I don't actually say that even though I may want to.  Therefore, workflow plays a critical role in business processes.

For SharePoint 2007, WSSv3 supports workflow OOTB on libraries and lists.  The workflows are built using the SharePoint Designer tool.  MOSS provides a set of workflow activities and the browser can be used to build and configure the workflow.  VS2005 can be used to create new activities and build custom, more advanced workflows.  For a good brief introduction to SharePoint workflow, check out Eilenes's blog post.  For a more comprehensive white paper, check out the document from David Chappell that is referenced here.  Another good introduction focused toward the developer was written by Andrew May.

Now for those in to total immersion, and for those that are swallowing water trying to figure these out, I strongly encourage you to check the ECM Starter Kit.  The kit contains code samples, white papers, and VS2005 project templates for MOSS workflow.  If you want more info re: WinWF you can find it here.

The MS BPM story provides a comprehensive solution using Office 2007 and MOSS, Biztalk and SQL2005 (there are other components to the overall solution but I want to focus on these three).  Key parts of this process are the user(s) that launch and interact with the process, the BPM "servers" that automate and manage the process and the backend data storage and analysis capability.

USERs - The user(s) will interact with the BPM solution via the familiar Office system suite of desktop applications, Word, Excel, InfoPath.  The familiar interface and seamless integration provide a very effective environment.

BPM SERVERS - Two "BPM servers" represent the middle-tier architecture and work complementarily to deliver the the enterprise solution.  MOSS provides workflow and process management for team collaboration and information sharing while BizTalk 2006 delivers core capability for workflow and process management across an organization (or applications within an organization) and between organizations.  MOSS functions as the host for the WinWF technology and Biztalk will utilize the WinWF technology in a future release.  So expect this integration story to only get better.

DATA & ANALYSIS - SQL Server is tightly integrated with MOSS and BizTalk Server, serving as the native repository for data storage and process tracking.  However, the excellent business intelligence capability augment the data storage and tracking capability to open up many new opportunities for BPM.

So the good news is that you have a number of workflow options for your specific BPM scenario: 1) utilize MOSS OOTB capability, 2) build and/or extend via VS2005 and .NET development or 3) use Biztalk.  Ok, if these don't work, then yes there is another option.  A number of independent software vendors have developed excellent solutions that work with SharePoint (Captaris, SourceCode, Nintex, KnowledgeLake to name only a few).

Oh, so much to learn so little time........