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.