For IT professionals, it is an important question: does service-oriented architecture (SOA) include business process management (BPM), or is BPM an architectural approach in its own right?

Many BPM vendors talk about SOA, suggesting a clear link between both strategies. SOA is an approach for making best use of existing resources in new and loosely coupled arrangements.

BPM, on the other hand, aims for continual improvement through the integration of technology. Proponents of both approaches stress the use of terms such as flexibility, innovation and optimisation.

In fact, some experts – such as research group Forrester (see further reading, below) – believe a new and combined category of SOA and BPM software products is emerging, a category that creates business process capabilities using the service-oriented approach. In my opinion, such characterisations are false.

Vendors might be keen to talk about the integration of SOA and BPM; they might also be keen to highlight how their product suites provide the benefits of service orientation and process control.

But what many vendors do not talk about is how using a specific BPM supplier can create tie-in. And what is service-oriented about a strategy that means you can’t pick and choose resources?

Remember that BPM is a product, rather than an approach. Choosing BPM creates an attachment to a number of specialist tools, many of which overlap with an SOA approach.

For roles management in BPM, which defines specific positions for people involved in the process chain, think of identity management in SOA, where rights can be modified flexibly in-line with changing project demands.

Integration is another area of concern. A BPM suite will help provide a workflow link between people, applications and services. Sounds good, but an enterprise service bus (ESB) abstraction layer will allow you to integrate components in a service-oriented fashion – without the tie-in often required by BPM platforms.

In BPM analytics are provided by a Business Activity Monitoring and in SOA this is the role of Business Intelligence tools. Whilst some BPM tools allow you to use third party rules engines (Business Rules Management Systems – BRMS), generally they will have their own.

Finally, most BPM implementations include a form builder that captures business data in a viewable form. In the case of SOA, firms can make use of an open presentation platform – like edgeConnect – that allows firms to create all their user interface requirementrs (e.g. Rich Internet, Portal, Offline, Accessible, Pure HTML and Mobile) not just basic HTML workflow screens.

So your choice is simple: take all the elements from a BPM specialist that might require you to stay wedded to a specific platform. Or aim for a service-oriented approach that allows you to pick required layers from a real specialist.

If you’re really aiming for flexibility and optimisation, the choice shouldn’t be too difficult.