SharePoint Can Be Starting Point for BPM, but Not Much More

Ann All

I once compared Microsoft SharePoint to Shimmer Floor Wax, the product pitched as a floor wax and a dessert topping on a fake "Saturday Night Live" advertisement, because of its many possible uses in the enterprise. One of its uses that appears to be growing is business process management. In my post from last summer, 63 percent of CIOs surveyed by IDG said they planned to use SharePoint for BPM in the coming year.


Plenty of them seem to be moving in that direction. A recent survey by Global 360, a provider of BPM solutions including ones that integrate with SharePoint, found that while most companies deployed SharePoint to as a portal technology or to use as a content repository, 67 percent of them now use it to manage document workflows and 56 precent use it to support business processes. Fifty-six percent said they are using or planning to use SharePoint for BPM, and 21 percent of respondents had already implemented a BPM suite leveraging SharePoint.


Yet while SharePoint is appropriate as a lightweight process modeling tool, on its own it isn't robust enough to serve as a full-featured BPM solution, according to a Forrester Research report published earlier this year. Two of the most common knocks against SharePoint, a lack of governance tools and a need for customization, make it less than ideal for BPM. The biggest problem, according to a CMS Wire piece about the report, is SharePoint's underlying architecture of Windows Workflow Foundation, which makes it tough to build in exception management.


Chris Adams, VP of product and technology for BPM provider Ultimus, wrote on the company blog that SharePoint can be a logical starting point for BPM because BPM "is a natural extension of workflow, and thus, a natural extension for anyone who has already invested in Microsoft SharePoint." Yet just as Forrester (and Microsoft itself) does, Adams advises folks interested in leveraging SharePoint for BPM to look for partners with BPM expertise and tools built specifically for BPM.


Similarly, The Global 360 report detailing its survey results notes 52 percent of respondents use native SharePoint workflow design tools, most often for remedial process tasks such as leave requests and budget approvals. When creating workflows associated with more complex processes, "many have been surprised at the cost of custom development to support them," leading 22 percent of organizations to add third-party software to supplement SharePoint's native workflow and BPM functionality.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 1, 2010 2:48 AM Taylor Leighton Taylor Leighton  says:

Great post... I am interesting in knowing the BPM needs of the CIOs using or planning to use SharePoint for BPM.  Hopefully, SharePoint is a catalyst that will leave organizations wanting to go further within the BPM space. Ultimus held an event on Wednesday in NYC that delved into the integration of SharePoint and BPM, topics discussed are listed here

Oct 1, 2010 3:03 AM Derek Miers Derek Miers  says:

As the author of that Forrester paper referenced above, the key point to understand is just because Microsoft mentions workflow and business process, doesn't make it a best approach to implementing effective BPM support.

The product falls down a hole when trying to support anything much more than the most simple administrative procedures. Enterprises looking for comprehensive support for BPM should look at add-on .NET products to supplement their Sharepoint investments (AgilePoint, Global 360, etc) or access SharePoint as a document repository and more explicitly manage the process in a more traditional BPM suite.

Feb 22, 2011 12:48 PM Ben Runkle Ben Runkle  says:

SharePoint 2010 could certainly become a great catalyst for opening the eyes of organizations to the productivity that can be gained from implementing a BPM solution. Extending SharePoint 2010 Workflow with add-ons such as those provided by K2 ( or Nintex ( could greatly improve your ROI when moving to a SharePoint 2010 platform where BPM is required. The BPM market is getting more and more competitive with some companies moving toward innovative solutions (such as Nintex's LazyApproval system which allows executives to approve tasks from their mobile) and other one-time leaders moving to irrelevance.


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