"The boxes and arrows of outrageous fortune ...." When a business analyst stands at a whiteboard, sketches the flowchart of a business process as a cluster of boxes linked by arrows (apologies to Shakespeare), and asks the software team to make it run, Business Process Modeling (BPM)--sometimes known as Business Process Management--comes to the rescue.
BPM is a set of technologies and standards for the design, execution, administration, and monitoring of business processes. A business process is the flow or progression of activities (the "boxes")--each of which represents the work of a person, an internal system, or the process of a partner company--toward some business goal.
Over the years, the scope of business processes and BPM has broadened. Less than a decade ago, BPM, known then as "workflow," was a groupware technology that helped manage and drive largely human-based, paper-driven processes within a corporate department. For example, to handle a claim, an insurance claims process, taking as input a scanned image of a paper claims form, would pass the form electronically from the mailbox (or worklist) of one claims specialist to that of another, mimicking the traditional movement of interoffice mail from desk to desk.
BPM today is an enterprise integration technology complementing Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), and Enterprise Service Bus (ESB).
The contemporary process orchestrates complex system interactions, and is itself a service capable of communicating and conversing with the processes of other companies according to well-defined technical contracts. A retailer's process to handle a purchase order, for example, is a service that uses XML messages to converse with the service-based processes of consumers and warehouses.