Since the blue-washing of Lombardi, IBM has introduced three variations on the core BPM product in order to provide different entry level costs to customers based on the how they intend to use the product suite.
These levels are defined as
Broadly speaking Express and Standard differ in how the customer is allowed to use the technology where Advanced edition differs in that it allows customers to use WebSphere Process Server (WPS) capabilities which have now been integrated into the technology suite (this includes Integration Designer which is the new WebSphere design too and also Business Spaces)
Update: IBM is introducing additional changes to BPM Advanced edition that will result in a further divergence of the Advanced edition from Standard and Express and have advanced their Cloud offering significantly. More on this later.
WPS has previously been known for strong integration capabilities and Lombardi has been known for strong human centric capabilities so the combination makes sense in larger more complex environments (barring a solution that meets both needs) Purchasing Advanced Edition would be a consideration for anyone wanting those advanced integration capabilities.
From experience I would not recommend Advanced edition for BPM 7.5.x as they were still issues ironing out the blue-washing of the product for full compatibility with the Lombardi Process Center and model. With version 8.x there are a number of improvements with each release but still some gaps leaving it not quite integrated the way it should have been. Version 8.1.x and 8.5.x have improved significantly from the other code streams but I'd recommend a full proof of concept to be conducted before investing the additional cash in Advanced Edition even with the current 8.5.x releases. I'd also call out that Advanced has a number of limitations around integration that many integration specialists would unlikely be satisfied with.
Deciding between Express and Standard is more about licensing restrictions. Express carries restrictions on both authors that can write processes (typically a maximum of 3) and on the number of users that can use the system (typically 200 users) Express is not licensed for use with a scalable architecture so unless your operator base is under 200 people (or 200 logins not concurrent users) and your existing systems don’t need scaling its unlikely Express would serve you. Express seems to be more targeted to proof of concept / first time projects, SMBs and systems for internal use (i.e. HR systems, internal processes that have non-critical SLA’s). Some clients may go Express edition as a form of production trial system then upgrade to Standard if they find the BPM solution can add value in additional areas.
If Express happens to meet your needs the other advantage is its easier to install because it doesn’t support complex advanced configuration options (clusters). Also if your worried about three process authors don’t be. A medium scale project can be completed by three BPM specialists as long as process specialists have a way of capturing requirements in BPMN format or similar. There are plenty of free BPMN tools around and a great cloud based tool called Blueworks live that allows for design of processes at a business level. The bulk of the analysis can therefore be done without using the Process Designer which is more geared towards technical implementation in any case.
Breakdown of features
So in summary, Standard Edition is probably going to be the key version that most customers will be happy with as it covers scalability, provides all the key BPM features without adding the burden of having trained WPS staff on hand but still has the ability to integrate with anything using custom developed code. On the sales front I suspect IBM will still get customers to buy into Advanced Edition for “future proofing” or longer term integration with mainly existing WPS customers buying into the offering for reasons founded on technical needs.
Going forward I suspected IBM would direct more features into Advanced Edition to get premiums on licensing from larger customers and this view certainly has recently been proven with the appearance of a basic case management capability available in the Advanced edition of v8.5.5 even though it was originally considered for inclusion for standard edition.