The term BPM is highly overloaded and used for many different things resulting in a lot of confusion. These use cases give concrete descriptions for the different interpretations of the term BPM.
The individual nature of these use cases is important. BPM software vendors often take a mix of different aspects and concerns into account when developing their products. That often results into BPM products that are suitable only for a specific purpose in a specific environment. This is in my opinion the reason why there are so many different BPM products which only serve a small niche market. It also explains why new products and standards in this space keep appearing, don't get enough momentum and then get pushed aside by yet another new product or standard.
When evaluating a BPM products, it should be done with specific use cases in mind.
What is JBoss jBPM
JBoss jBPM is a flexible and powerful BPM engine. In essence, BPM systems allow for execution flows to be specified graphically. As an example, here is a process diagram for a business trip:
A key capability of BPM systems is that processes steps can be wait states. For example in the business trip process above, nodes 'manager evaluation' and 'ticket purchase' are human tasks. When the execution of the process arrives in those nodes, the system executing the process should wait till the assigned user completes the task.
From a software technical point of view that capability is a big deal. As the alternative is a bunch of methods that are linked by HTTP requests, Message Driven Beans (MDB), database triggers, task forms, etc. Even when using the most applicable architectural components available in Java today, it is still very easy to end up in a bunch of unmaintainable hooks and eyes. Using an overall business process makes it a lot easier to see and maintain the overall execution flow, even from a software technical perspective.
JBoss jBPM does exactly that and it differentiates itself from other BPM projects in the following topics:
Easily embeddable into a Java project. Traditional BPM Systems typically require a separate server to be installed which makes it hard to integrate into the Java software development cycle. One of the deployments that JBoss jBPM supports is just adding the jBPM library to the classpath. The jBPM tables can be hosted in any database next to the application's tables. Using JBoss jBPM really fits with the normal way of developing Java software.
Support for multiple process languages. The view on what BPM actually is has not yet been stabilized. There are currently many different interpretations of what BPM is, resulting in big fragmentation in the market. In fact, the body of this article tries to identify 6 distinct concepts that all are associated to BPM.
Very flexible transaction management. If your application just uses a JDBC connection in a standard Java environment, then jBPM can use that very JDBC connection to perform its work. If your application uses hibernate in a standard environment, then jBPM can use the same hibernate session factory. If your application runs in an enterprise environment, then jBPM can bind to the surrounding JTA transaction.
Readable jPDL process language. For developers it is very convenient if the process language is compact and readable. Not all developers want to keep using the graphical editor. Most hard core programmers start to hand code the processes after a while. Then jBPM's jPDL process language is the most readable, compact and complete.