If a business is the sum of its processes, the orchestration and refinement of those processes is critical to an enterprise's continued viability in the marketplace. Businesses whose processes are agile and flexible will be able to adapt rapidly to and exploit new market conditions, while those businesses whose processes are poorly managed and inflexible will fall by the wayside.
In this chapter we examine the fundamentals of business process management, and show how workflow systems that automate business processes can be a valuable enterprise tool. Following the discussion on the theoretical aspects of workflow, we cover in depth the likely standard for Web services-based workflow: Business Process Execution Language for Web Services or BPEL. We discuss BPEL's roots in proprietary workflow systems and examine other Web services workflow proposals (like WSCI), which will serve to highlight other possible approaches. We also spend some time on BPEL examples and show how it can be readily applied to typical supply chain/value network scenarios. But before we drill down into the details of BPEL, we need to first understand a little background on business process management.