Business processes are in place everywhere. In essence, they are what make businesses run. And while the concept of business processes has been around a long time, today’s technology offers organizations a needed new way to address them.

Over the past several years, business complexity has increased faster than value. With implementation costs on the rise and enterprises facing ever more mergers and acquisitions, the ability to use business processes as a tool to ease integration is becoming far more prevalent. Smart companies recognize that they can model their business processes with software and capitalize on them.

That customer thinking served as the impetus for a sharpened focus on business process management (BPM) in Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004—the latest release of its integration solution, launched today. BPM addresses the lack of end-to-end visibility into business processes that’s a sore point for many companies. Consider a typical procurement process: A company gets a purchase order from a customer, the PO gets sent to its accounting application, then to someone who needs to stamp it for approval, and from there to its manufacturing systems, until eventually the product is delivered to the customer. As a rule, the information workers at such a company know these steps occur, but they have no real insight into the process as a whole. Plus, the process often features little automation, leading to inefficiency between steps.

Scott Woodgate, lead product manager for the E-Business Server team at Microsoft, explains that BPM can fill that gap by efficiently connecting people, data and trading partners.

“With BPM technology, you get the ability to automate your business processes as well as visibility into the running processes,” Woodgate says. “What’s more, you more easily change the business processes you’ve captured so you’re more flexible in responding to competitive pressures or embracing new opportunities.”

BizTalk Server 2004 is designed to take integration technology to the next level by supporting enhanced business process orchestration. The new version helps companies better manage and automate their business processes to make those processes smarter and more effective.

“Our key investment in this release of BizTalk Server has been the dramatic innovations we’ve made in BPM functionality, in exposing that functionality through new business activity monitoring capabilities, and in providing a new mechanism for specifying business rules to further enhance flexibility,” says Ted Kummert, corporate vice president, E-Business Servers at Microsoft. “By building these core BPM technologies into our solution, we can offer customers a powerful BPM experience that fits the way they do business today.”

Kummert notes that the ability to orchestrate interactions in a highly flexible and automated way builds on the solid enterprise application integration (EAI) and business-to-business functionality that BizTalk Server customers already rely on.

For added business value, solutions built with BizTalk Server 2004 work easily with familiar tools in the Microsoft Office System to give information workers effective control over business process design and monitoring. For example, integration with the Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 program (included with BizTalk Server 2004) enables information users to input rich, dynamic XML-based form data into business processes. Similarly, business analysts can model business processes using the popular Microsoft Office Visio diagramming and data visualization tool. And, information workers can monitor and analyze running business processes from within a Microsoft Office Excel 2003 spreadsheet, then make decisions about those processes.