Following its release in 2004, BPMN quickly become the de-facto standard for business process modeling because it had a clear objective – to provide a standardized notation, understood by all participants. This, of course, did not change with the introduction of the BPMN 2.0.2 specification, released in December 2013.

The introduction of BPMN semantics as well as native model execution helped further enhance the goals of the standard.

As noted in research [1], by 2008 the notation had already been adopted by more than thirty countries worldwide. With such popularity, many academic and industry studies were conducted to clarify the actual state of affairs regarding BPMN usage in industries.

In this article, we will firstly address how popular BPMN really is, by analyzing some of these studies. Secondly, we will define who uses the notation and thirdly, to what end.

A lack of adequately trained BPMN modelers can produce errors in models and establish anti-patterns for modeling.

The Popularity of BPMN in Industry

The popularity of BPMN keeps rising from year-to-year. In “State of BPM market – 2014” the report highlights the growing importance of BPMN (see Figure 1), which, as they have put it, “continues to dominate the process standards space”.BPMN Popularity

Figure 1: Standards Used by Organizations [2]

As can be seen from the results of the survey, BPMN, released in 2004, was already adopted by 22% of surveyed companies the following year. The notation’s popularity has continued each year, peaking at 60% adoption in 2011 in response to the release of BPMN v 2.0. Its popularity has continued in the years that have followed. In contrast, BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) adoption is declining.

BPEL is short for Web Services Business Process Execution Language (WS-BPEL) and is an OASIS standard for assembling a set of services into an end-to-end process flow. It is usually tightly coupled with BPMN, because many BPMN processes can be translated to BPEL for their execution.

However, such translation has a lot of shortcomings, most notably that BPMN concepts and elements cannot be directly mapped to BPEL. The popularity of BPEL has dramatically declined over the years, displaying its lowest support in 2013 at merely 10% (peak at 26% in 2007). This downward trend can partially be attributed to BPMN, which became a direct competitor to BPEL when it introduced execution semantics in version 2.0

BPMN is not without its shortcomings however. The latest version BPMN 2.0.2 provides 100+ different symbols. On one hand, this enables modelers to express their models to a desired degree, but on the other hand, the notation is perceived as complex by many users in the industry.

While some have expressed their concerns (discussion topics, such as “Is BPMN 2.0 overkill for process modeling?” are not uncommon), the results of studies show that most business processes make use of only 5 – 20 different elements. Besides, many tools have adopted the different conformance classes provided by the notation, enabling users to choose from different palettes.

Still, taking this into the consideration, the level of errors in BPMN modeling is still very high [1]. The primary cause of syntactically incorrect models were partially identified in a world-wide study, conducted in 2010 [3]. The results showed that only 13.6% of respondents received formal training, that is by means of a licensed professional or as part of university studies.

On the contrary, the majority of respondents were self-educated in BPMN process modeling. The Authors concluded that the level of training is arguably low, with the reported average amount of experience in process modeling being 6.4 years with a median of 5. Consequentially, this can result in incorrect models and applied anti-patterns.

Who, where and why

The aforementioned study also examined where and to what end the BPMN standard is mostly used. As results showed, the majority of modelers are from Europe, North America and Oceania. 60% are working in private sector companies, mainly in large organizations (more than 1,000 employees), followed by middle and small sized organizations.

Regarding the purpose of BPMN modeling, Figure 2 represents thez analysis of responses from the industry.BPMN Popularity

Figure 2: Application areas of BPMN [3]

As can be seen from the figure above, the most common process management applications (documentation, redesign, knowledge management and continuous process management) are predominant in areas of BPMN usage.

More technical application areas (software development, workflow management, process simulation, etc.) are not as popular in the industry. However, as already stated, the results were published in 2010, a year before BPMN 2.0 was released.

A similar study, which was conducted a year later [4], produced slightly different results.

Whilst majority of BPMN users in industry still reported that the notation was mainly used for documenting purposes (as reported by 52% of participants), the execution of processes had gained in popularity (37% of participants). Although the study was conducted the same year that BPMN 2.0 was released, interviewees were already executing BPMN processes on their own by using tools with BPMN 2.0 execution support. The remainder of interviewees merely executed processes to perform different kinds of automatic and repetitive procedures.The simulation of BPMN models was mainly used in order to discover bottlenecks, deadlocks and for exception handling. The remainder used simulation for estimating times and costs as well as to understand the behavior of the processes.

Conclusion

Summarizing the facts from past studies, it can be concluded that the popularity of BPMN in industry is currently at an all-time high and looks set to continue its position as the de-facto standard for business process modeling. The majority of modelers use BPMN for documenting purposes, although the execution of such models is gaining in popularity.

However, a lack of proper training and a small proportion of adequately trained BPMN modelers has been observed by several researchers. This can produce errors in models and establish modeling anti-patterns. This presents a risk to any organization and industry that has adopted BPMN, and is one of the main reasons for the huge demand for BPMN training.

Sources used

  • [1] Recker, Jan C. (2012) BPMN research: what we know and what we don’t know. In Mendling, Jan & Weidlich, Matthias (Eds.) Business Process Model and Notation : Business Process Model and Notation Business Process Model and Notation. Springer, Vienna, pp. 1-7.
  • [2] Paul Harmon, Celia Wolf, The State of Business Process Management 2014, 2014
  • [3] Jan Recker, (2010) “Opportunities and constraints: the current struggle with BPMN”, Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 16 Iss: 1, pp.181 – 201
  • [4] Michele Chinosi, Alberto Trombetta, BPMN: An introduction to the standard, Computer Standards & Interfaces, Volume 34, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 124-134, ISSN 0920-5489, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.csi.2011.06.002.

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Gregor received his PhD in 2008 in the fields of software engineering and information systems and has nearly a decade of experience in BPMN, starting to investigate and actively use BPMN since its introduction in 2004. In addition, he has participated in the development of one of the first BPMN modeling utilities - a package of plugins for Visio, which were introduced early in 2005 and is the main author of the first BPMN poster (bpmn.itposter.net), which has been translated into several languages and already exceeded 50.000 downloads.