BPM Futures

IBM Cloud steals Lombardi thunder

Another IBM Agility seminar at the Shangri-La Hotel, and some BPM announcements. And in contrast with the sunny spring skies warming Sydney’s harbour (for those of you in the northern hemisphere :cool: ) the best bit in here was the cloud.

But first …. Websphere Lombardi Edition is to have drag and drop integration with both FileNet P8 Content Server and Content Manager 8. The extent of the functionality involved wasn’t clear to me – presumably IBM will start with search/retrieval and later move on to others like metadata update and new document insertion? Anyway, further integration will be with Websphere Service Registry and Repository – useful for orchestration purposes – and with iLog, where it will be possible to browse and select an existing Ruleset on a predefined iLog JRules Execution Server.

In the meantime Websphere iLog itself is to be coupled with Websphere Business Events to become Webspher Decision Server, extending IBM’s business events capability, whilst the iLog BRMS SupportPac is to provide Websphere Business Monitoring and predictive analytics integration

All very worthy, but much less interesting than the next piece of news, which was the launch of Blueworks Live. This combines three elements – the Blueworks BPM collaboration community (blogs, wikis); the highly successful (Lombardi) Blueprint process discovery and definition environment; and a new workflow execution engine. All running in the Cloud and, apparently, available through your browser for a test drive from November 20th. (Yes, that’s this Saturday – perhaps one of the software world’s most specific launch dates ever…!).

Now, Cloud-based BPM is hardly new. Cordys was one of the first to offer it globally, and there are niche players too, such as Australian company OpenSoft, which uses open source products to provide integrated Cloud-based BPM to the burgeoning Australian energy and resources sectors. However, Cloud-based BPM from IBM is something else entirely. IBM’s existing mindshare in the global BPM market and its credibility as a corporate Cloud (and FM) provider mean that the interest in this product will be enormous, and as a result it could well be a game-changer for all BPM stakeholders.

The PowerPoint-based demo that followed included a marketing manager setting up a new process for her latest marketing initiative. Yes, that’s one process for one case/process instance. And if the Powerpoint is to be believed, it only took her a few minutes.

How can this fail? The CIO’s happy because it’s SaaS; the Board because it’s IBM; the Ops Manager is comfortable because its running in an IBM Datacentre; the process improvement people have Blueprint to play with; the IT teams can focus on integrated, production BPM system work; and best of all the Business can replace its endless email trails with easy to access, auditable business processes.

So what next? Well, here’s a prediction –  Blueworks Live will do for business processes what Microsoft Sharepoint did for enterprise content – it will get everywhere. That means a step change in awareness regarding BPM (how many business – or even IT – people knew of ECM before Sharepoint?) and huge opportunities for BPM professionals to sort out all of those ‘home grown’ processes. Bring it on!

BPM with IBM Websphere

I attended an IBM ‘Business Agility’ workshop at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel yesterday – the first IBM event to feature BPM that I’ve managed to get to since the Lombardi purchase. It was a Websphere event, which meant that it included Lombardi and excluded FileNet, so I was a little concerned that the BPM section might be dominated by talk of process orchestration and middleware layers, rather than end-to-end processes.

I needn’t have worried. The Websphere team has embraced IBM Lombardi (as we must now know Teamworks) with great enthusiasm, and started a day of real (yes, live) demonstrations with several that showed off Lombardi to good effect. Point and click SLA setup; process stats (such as wait or execution times) displayed through a mouse-over in the unified process model-define-simulate view; colourful monitoring views populated with whatever defined field you required – just click that checkbox on the field definition dialogue; and so on.

There were also Websphere Dynamic Process Edition (Process Server, as was) demos. The emphasis there was on architecture, integration and transactional integrity. The latter featured a high-wire demo, with 100 updates to two databases on separate servers, interrupted by the speaker who pulled out the connecting cable to the second (Oracle, as it happened) with a flourish. 56 updates had been processed successfully and, to the relief of all, the other 44 were in a ‘failed’ queue, from which they were dispatched – to a successful completion – by a single click on the ‘resume’ button once the cable was re-connected. We were told that the product was unique amongst BPMS’s in fully supporting two-phase commits, with resume, restart and ‘compensate’ options for system administrators.

All of which provided – to this viewer – a pretty clear, if unspoken, message. For the human side of BPM (the typical financial services back office, perhaps), Lombardi is IBM’s answer, packed with business-friendly features. Alternatively, if the business depends on multiple integration points that require sophisticated sequencing, error handling and recovery options – bullet proof delivery, in other words, WDPE does the job (telco provisioning comes to mind). And for the business that needs both, well, integration between the two is currently available through web services, with work under way to convert Lombardi to IBM’s Service Component Architecture, the basis of the Websphere product range.

One other demonstrated feature of WDPE that I liked, by the way, is the easy way in which routing rules can be changed without re-deploying (or even opening for editing) the process itself. This seems like an obvious feature, but by no means all BPMS’s share it. Isolating the change eliminates the need for system and regression testing and even (depending upon the process design and one’s perception of risk) UAT. Now there’s something that offers Business Agility.

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.

A Big Blue bird

I’ve been tweeted by IBM – via the BPM Network, admittedly – announcing the latest news on IBM’s community for BPM process fiends, BPM BlueWorks (beta). I’m glad I caught it because BPM BlueWorks looks like it could add real value – and it’s only 3 weeks old (always nice to catch innovation early).

The idea seems to be that companies are encouraged to join the community, each operating within its own private area, with employees defining and sharing process strategies, capabilities and definitions with fellow employees. At the same time employees can break out into communal areas, to blog and discuss issues that they – most likely – have in common with other similar groups. A great deal of relevant content (including white papers, process maps, case studies) has already been made available by IBM itself, and a partnership with APQC has added more.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops. Perhaps it will particularly appeal to BPM champions within smaller organizations that lack an existing, coherent process repository. The tools, combined with the community, should be attractive. I can also imagine it being useful to BPM specialists within larger organizations, such as those already participating in a BPM Centre of Excellence, though more as one information source amongst many.

I’d write more, but although I could register for the site, logging on – to access full functionality – proved impossible due to ‘temporary capacity problems’. Looks like the marketing tweeters are slightly ahead of the rest of the big blue bird. Never mind, I’ll try again later….