BPM Futures

IBM to buy Lombardi

A few thoughts to add to those already covered by other BPM bloggers such as Sandy Kemsley, Bruce Silver, and Neil Ward-Dutton (who gets the prize for the best title so far) …

Lombardi’s particular strengths in relation to other IBM BPM products are its fully built-in process simulation function – including use of historic ‘live’ data – and the genuine business agility that arises from the 360° functionality (integration, rules, process, user interface) that is managed from a single development environment. Whilst it shares one or both of these with other ‘pure play’ BPM vendors, Lombardi has won enough gongs from industry analysts and others in recent years to regard themselves as leaders in the ‘pure play’ pack – no doubt a reason for IBM’s buy decision.

IBM says that it will be targeting Lombardi at ‘departmental’ and ‘human-centric’ solutions; it references speed of build (‘fast start for immediate value’), and, intriguingly, is looking in 2010 to ‘leverage Lombardi to expand BPM offerings in emerging markets’.

All of which suggests that IBM’s selling price for Lombardi products is likely to become the epicentre of activity for IBM’s BPM strategists over the coming vacation. Departmental and emerging markets – both great targets for Lombardi’s technology – are not known for big spending. Competition in these markets from still-independent (and local) BPM vendors will be intense, putting downward pressure on prices. Meanwhile technical differentiation with Websphere BPM and FileNet (in particular – if ‘content-centric’ BPM isn’t meant for humans, who is it for?) may well be less than IBM’s initial positioning suggests. As a user of the Websphere stack, or of FileNet content management, considering moving on to BPM and wanting to stay with IBM, why wouldn’t you buy Lombardi, particularly if the price is attractive?

IBM’s internal product management challenges aside, this purchase is likely to produce more winners than losers. Those who have invested in Lombardi already (an elite club here in Australia to date) and those considering doing so will be pleased to have their decision underwritten by IBM, with the prospect of improvements in support and service options to come; similarly, this is good news for Websphere and FileNet customers who have yet to invest heavily in BPM – it expands their choices too. And with what should be a significant boost to their market, some of the biggest winners could be Lombardi service providers. Watch out for skills shortages.

No doubt FileNet customers who have already invested in BPM will be looking for reassurance that their product roadmap will not be adversely influenced by the Lombardi purchase. In particular users of the Business Process Framework, FileNet’s equivalent of Lombardi’s forms builder, will be asking questions of IBM regarding future BPM forms developments; questions that may also interest some Lombardi customers. Does Lombardi’s ‘human-centricity’ imply that one day all IBM BPM users will use their forms? Or will an entirely new forms paradigm be available to all FileNet, Websphere and Lombardi users? My bet is on the latter.

And whilst IBM technologists ponder the future of enterprise BPM forms, where business rules (iLog?) drive super-flexible UI components (why do BPM vendors so readily refer to ‘orchestrating’ SOA components but never ‘orchestrating’ the user interface?), perhaps their thoughts will turn to the product that will really change the market. One that IBM is prepared to position as both enterprise level and – like Lombardi – truly agile.

btw if you want to read the IBM announcement, you can find it here. Onward links are top right – the ‘FAQ’ document expands considerably on the press release.