How could anyone confuse BPM and event processing?

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.58.15 PMI know, right? How could anyone make that mistake?

The fact is that more than a few corners of the marketplace know very little about the difference between BPM (business process management) and what’s typically called CEP (complex event processing). These two concepts are very different and understanding those differences in today’s business climate will mean success or failure for many organizations.

Complex event processing

Starting with the lesser known of the two, CEP technology gives an organization the ability to know the discreet things that happen (and don’t happen) in both their customer’s environment and their own. These events happen in isolation or in combination and need to be identified, monitored and correlated as part of making the best decisions. The techniques and tools of CEP include analytics (for determining what’s important to know), listening software (to collect data from multiple sources of information), pattern matching software (to spot those events that have meaning) and a rules engine (to execute when events correlate and require action).

CEP technology is the ever-watchful eye of an organization that can track a constantly changing world to spot opportunity and risk. It pulls from streams of Big Data that are flying by as well as reaching into historical records to see past events that give context to the moment.

Business process management

BPM, on the other hand, is the coordination and orchestration of process flows that determine how an organization’s assets (man or machine) work together. The goal of great BPM is to have a governed way to drive efficiency up and operating costs down while balancing automation and the output of human beings. BPM governs this complex system while providing the ability to understand, measure and improve upon work and results.

Getting BPM right is the only way to undergo transformation activities, mergers and acquisitions, and to extend an organization’s work out to partners, suppliers and distribution channels.

How CEP and BPM are similar

Confusion between the two arrives from the fact that there are components in common, like business rules and decision management. Both require visibility and situational awareness and may both include business activity monitoring. Both are model-driven in their development in their most efficient form and both have loose coupling with backend systems, like supply chain or finance applications. At a superficial level, the confusion is understandable.

How they are very different

But at a deeper level, the similarities end. First and foremost, BPM involves managing sequential activities and is especially geared toward workflows and getting things done. The decisions that are made along those workflows are tightly coupled to the intended outcomes.

CEP, on the other hand, gives an ability for an organization to aggregate nearly any event and to create automated processes from those events, not the other way around. Rules aren’t used to determine workflows, but instead are a way to classify (and reclassify) what is being discovered through an event or series of events. CEP is more situational and less coupled to an order of activities. CEP is used to react more quickly to threats and opportunities and is more flexible than BPM for this purpose.

There you have it…a definition of the difference between two of the most important technologies any organization can deploy…especially in globalized business and especially in marketplaces that change frequently.


Tags: , , ,

Categories: BPM, Patterns / Rules / Events, Process Management

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

Subscribe to the blog

Subscribe and receive an email when new articles are published

6 Comments on “How could anyone confuse BPM and event processing?”

  1. July 22, 2013 at 2:44 am #


    Why is it that so many profess to understand all this, yet so few follow the philosophy of Sir Richard Branson:
    As John F. Kennedy also said:

    Showing me at *YOUR* expense and risk is the only ATTITUDE even worth listening to

    This requires parallel capabilities to those for flying an airplane:

    Belief in consultants is wearing thin.When’s the last time you were inspired by a consultant?

    Regards from Sweden
    Alias Sir George the Dragon Slayer
    Knighted in Canadian Dragons’ Den 2009.

  2. July 22, 2013 at 6:31 am #

    Swap out your to and from in the LOE. That was an interesting perspective for me to see. I have always seen the letter as coming from me to my SME/sponsor. You see it opposite; from them to you; interesting. Get a feel from the team in their perspective. I am curious now.

    If you have an understanding of what she wants from the engagement, offer it up by filling out that objective and Process Analyst Role fields for her in addition to what you know that Mo expects of you (especially coordinating the meetings as Annette advised you to do). I try to do as much as I can (unless I have the liberty and clarity of an Angus or Jeff Kobielush who know exactly what they want of this team). In your message, state that you started filling it out but that you need clarity of both fields or feel free to edit, I’m here to support you types of words, etc. The LOE serves to ‘train’ people to our work ways and deliverables in addition to setting the initial scope.

    Good job

  3. July 22, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    The pre-cursor to CEP (I had to look it up) surely is telemetry which was all about detecting events in data streams.

    “One of the first data-transmission circuits was developed in 1845 between the Russian Tsar’s Winter Palace and army headquarters” (Wikipedia)

    So, here we are today with BPM systems that supposedly background Case environments that accommodate a mix of unstructured and structured (BPM-like) work.

    The idea is to focus on setting/reaching goals, not reaching goals of end-to-end processes because we don’t have these any more except in highly automated areas. What we have are “process fragments”.

    The place to “park” goals is at the Case level (so we will know when we are “done”) and we have tasks that post from background BPM, ad hoc tasks that users invent and post.

    And then, on to of this we have CEP (not the “new”: CEP, just plain CEP).

    If you happen to have a rule set that tunes into a parser feeding off event data you can take note of a pop up and initiation action (more tasks). A robot can take not of a message and initiate action.

    The problem of course occurs when you do NOT have a rule set – the data stream typically just flows to a log (i.e. a black hole).

    All of this is quite structured (decide what to monitor, put in place monitoring, take note of monitored input and automatically or manually do nothing/something about it).

    None of this helps the CEO who walks in and says “whatever happened to competitor X -when did they fall under the radar?”.

    The solution?

    Do your CEP, but route what you think may be of potential future interest to a KBase instead of a log (keep the log as well if you wish) where you can invent on-the-fly free-form queries to potentially find answers to random questions. KBases with proper front ends support at-a-glance viewing (color highlighting, distinctive shapes, flashing).

    Makes you wonder why anyone still uses KPI dashboards that only report on what you thought would be important.

    It’s probably not practical to inventory all of the content of a data stream but the approach takes you far beyond any set of rules that you have managed to build.

    I suspect it’s time to redefine ACM to include BPM + ECM + CPM + CEP.

  4. July 22, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Modeled orchestration versus model-less discovery and reaction.

  5. July 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm #

    A lot of interesting questions are raised here. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    Further information and detail on this very topic can also be found in the book “The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Management” by Theodore Panagacos.

  6. July 23, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    CEP is more of a ACM/DCM requirement than in BPM. CEP (hence ACM/DCM) has different goals than a BPM.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: