Posted by: Adam Deane | 29/09/2010

Open Source BPM

Open Source BPMNot a simple topic for me.
I had to overcome my obvious bias of commercial BPM software.
So I spent some time researching the topic and I’d like to share my observations.
Please take anything I say here with a pinch of salt (a healthy handful would probably be better)

I’ll start off with a quick definition:
In a nutshell: “Open Source” refers to any program whose source code is made available for use and modification. Open source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and made freely available.

Source of Revenue
So, if the software is free, where do the vendors make their money?
Like in commercial BPM software: Professional Services.
The customers pay for the development, customisation, add features, training, technical support, installation, process templates and consulting.

Open Source BPM – Strong Points
* Lower total cost of ownership
* Less dependence on software vendors
* Easier to customize
* Built by the community, for the community
* Innovative

BPM Open Source Vendors
I must admit that I was surprised by the number of vendors that I found. (I found at least 10 Open Source BPM solutions but I’m sure there are more..)

Active Endpoints

I couldn’t find any mention of vendor differentiators, revenue, market penetration. etc, (I leave that to the industry analysts to enjoy…)
but it does show that the Open Source industry is growing, has moved into the mainstream, and seems to have a profitable business model.

Culture Correlation
The government in countries like France, Spain, Germany and Brazil are actively pushing the Open Source concept through policies and high-profile projects.
France is currently the most fertile ground for open source development in the world. (source)
Technical universities in France have made open source their top priority, and some offer advanced degrees.
UK is not high in the open source adoption list, but last week the UK Deputy Government CIO, Bill McCluggage, outlined his plans for the government to make greater use of open source tools.

Selling the BPM Open Source concept in countries that have government support should be easier. But what about countries like Canada, India, Austria and South Africa that haven’t fully embraced Open Source. Convincing people to buy BPM is hard enough. Trying to sell BPM Open Source there seems to me a tough hill to climb.

Governance, or the lack of it, was the No. 1 challenge for OSS users in the Gartner survey (source), followed by conflicting terms and conditions and the availability of too many license types and forms.

Myth #1 – Open Source is for programmers
Generally open source tools are made for the programmers, so for the ordinary users it is not user friendly and therefore have a heavy learning curve
That said, most of the Open Source BPM tools are like most of the commercial BPM suites: wizards, drag and drop, user-friendly interfaces.

Myth #2 – Voluntary Support (stuck up a creek without a paddle)
Open Source community programmers usually fix bugs.
If you find a bug in an Open Source application that you need help with, the community will gladly raise to the challenge, but you may not always get the support you need without paying someone to fix it.
Using commercial software, the vendor has an obligation to support you in a timely manner, but you are paying for the support there as well.

The principles of Open Source Software
Free redistribution , Source code must be included , Must allow modifications and derived works , Integrity of the author’s source code , No discrimination Against Persons or Groups , No discrimination against fields of endeavour , A single license must apply to all users , License must Be technology-neutral

Claims that a Open Source BPM vendor isn’t Open Source
Open letter to the jBPM community

Other resources
Gartner’s Open Source Predictions for 2010
Vendor Lock-in
Task Analysis


  1. Are you planning to look at any of these products as solutions? Will you post any reviews?

    • Hi Alec,

      I follow the products, but I don’t do reviews.


  2. Did you have a look at ruote ( during your investigations ? We’ve been using it extensively in automating various business processes for ourselves and our clients.

    • MeeGo is a significant project and is open source through and through. Driven by Nokia and Intel and backed by a range of organisations it aims to provide a common technology base for phone, mobile, in-house and in-car systems.

      We are trialling the Ruote system Kenneth mentioned as the basis for our process oriented orchestration in QA. It sits at the pragmatic framework level rather than in the gui-design box but has well designed internals and it delivers. After a decade as an telco solutions architect I can say that it is certainly worth looking at if you have a competent and flexible development team and want to get something into production rather than just into a design document 🙂

    • Thanks Kenneth.
      I’ve updated the post with RubyForge.

      I enjoy writing about different BPM topics each week. This week it was about BPM Open Source. (next week it’s about BPA…)

      The Open Source is a growing industry. The interest in my posts this week was quite high, so it’s probably safe to say that I will be following up on the topic later on in the year.


      • Adam,

        “Rubyforge” itself is at, it’s a “forge”, in the open source sense, a facility for bootstrapping open source / free source projects. The most popular of the “forges” is

        Rubyforge is a forge dedicated for open source projects written in the Ruby programming language. Each project registered there gets a ‘website’ under http://{project_name}, so Rubyforge itself isn’t an open source BPM project. is the home of “ruote” an open source workflow engine written in Ruby.

        Ruote is only an open source workflow engine. It’s licensed under the MIT license. Like most workflow engines, it can be used in BPM endeavours.

        Open source isn’t limited to “open source vendors”, and vendors are not limiting open source.

      • Hi John,

        Thanks, but now I’m even more muddled up…
        The reason I put the links there was to enable potential customers to hook up with the Open Source BPM vendors.
        If an organisation is looking to implement BPM, it will check out commercial BPM vendors. Another option is to check out open source BPM vendors. (No noble cause here, I’m just want to supply readers with as much information that I can…)
        I need the link to go to a page with contact details.
        This will enable the customer to ring up or email and ask for more information.
        What would be the correct link be?


      • The correct link is entitled “ruote” and its URI is, but it’s not an “open source vendor”, it’s simply an open source project.

        So if you only list open source vendors, feel free to remove that link. I understand your target audience is “buyers” and incidentally people who are victim of the decisions. It’s understandable that you should list only vendors.

        Best regards,

  3. Loved the Open Source Safari Trip! Kept waiting for a rhino to poke his nose through Charles’ window. The BPM rhino is our mascot here at BonitaSoft.

    And I’d like to add a few words of my own regarding Myth #1 and #2. My examples, like me, are from BonitaSoft, but I invite other Open Source vendors to add their observations.

    Myth #1 – Open Source is for programmers

    Some Open Source software is quite user-friendly and much of it is getting more so. Many programmers dedicated to Open Source are also quite good at user interface design. I can point to the differences between Bonita 4 and Bonita Open Solution 5 here ( (Hint: For a non-programmer, gets Bonita 4.1.1 up and running might be a bit of a challenge. Just about anyone can, however download BOS 5.2 and run it on a laptop.) My belief is that this specific example illustrates a current trend in Open Source. And those of us in Open Source BPM fully understand the need for user-friendly design.

    Bonita Open Solution is not a simple program, but I would say it has a moderate rather than heavy learning curve. I’m an aerospace systems engineer, not a java programmer – yet I have been able to fairly quickly learn and use BOS up to the point where I need to call on the IT team to implement external connectors and the trickier capabilities like multi-instantiation. As far as I can tell, that is not a genuine difference between open source and commercial BPM.

    Myth #2 – Voluntary Support (stuck up a creek without a paddle)

    In the case of Bonita Open Solution, BonitaSoft programmers fix bugs, period. The volunteer community around our software is generally helpful with advice to users who are stuck or confronting problems, and they add coded “extensions” which other users can freely integrate into their software (and in BOS, just about anyone who can run the software can upload an extension).

    When BonitaSoft is a vendor – when we have a client who is paying for support – we, like the commercial software providers, have an obligation to support that client in a timely manner, and we do. Here I would say there is no appreciable difference between Open Source and Commercial. This too is the upward trend in Open Source in general.

    • Thanks Mickey, excellent response!
      I had a lot of people reading the “BPM open source” posts this week, which shows a growing interest in the subject.

      Bottom line: The proof is in the pudding.
      Like all of us, open source vendors still have to show successful projects, customer references (and not just number of downloads), growing revenue…
      If people can overcome the traditional commercial mindset and embrace open source – we will see a platform change in the industry.
      My gut feeling is that it all depends on the quality and experience of the people in the field, and less on the platform..

      Thanks for your response, and be careful of the rhino…

  4. “Like all of us, open source vendors still have to show successful projects, customer references”

    Exactly. Forrester Research and Accenture are revealing promising projection on the adoption of open source software in enterprise environment. However, still a journey for open source vendors to cast successful implementations. Future projection is bright, but must be proven!

    One important benefit of open source software that often overlooked, is the quality of source codes. Besides the software itself, and the documentation, source code is also one of the deliverables of OSS. Thus, serious OSS players are usually putting more efforts to make sure that the quality of source code is something not embarrassing to be discussed about, in terms of complexity, testability, changeability and etc.

    • Well said Tien Soon, “Future projection is bright, but must be proven”.

      The ball is in the court of the OS vendors. They have an interesting (and steep) mountain to climb..


  5. Adam —

    Here’s another one for you – jSonic.

    • Just browsing the site, looks promising but the web site seems dead. There is no developer activities or guide how to get started on evaluation

  6. […] Open Source BPM « Adam Deane (tags: bpm opensource) […]

  7. […] Deane wrote an interesting article about the state of BPM Open Source in 2010 and it’s well worth a look to appraise the pros and cons of buying the solution and […]

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