IBM Announces a BPM Suite

You're probably saying, wait a minute, didn't they already have one? Yes, I admit, they were in the 2006 BPMS Report series, in which they agreed (reluctantly, I hear) to let the combination of WebSphere Modeler, Monitor, WID, and Process Server be described as a BPM Suite. But today at Impact here in Las Vegas they actually announced it as an orderable thing. Sort of...

One of the problems for BPMS at Big Blue has always been that the required components cut across IBM brands, which appear to resist integration with each other. So WebSphere had its BPM story, FileNet (Information On Demand) had its own, and I suppose so did Lotus and Rational, as well. Last year IBM marketing decreed WebSphere and FileNet would be presented as a single BPM story, but they never succeeded in getting an analyst to tell it... including me. Because there wasn't a single story to tell. (That's what has delayed IBM's inclusion in the current BPMS Report series, and I met another BPM analyst here who told me his own IBM BPMS report is currently stuck in the mud on the same issue.)

So what is the new offering announced today? It's called the "IBM BPM Suite" (look ma, no branding!) and it includes both WebSphere and FileNet (with some Rational and Lotus, as well). Does that mean they've finally integrated the components? Not really. The new suite "includes a choice of two foundational 'Starter Sets' that make it easier for customers to get started with BPM." One of those starter sets is WebSphere Modeler, Monitor, and Fabric (which includes parts of WID and Process Server). The other is FileNet. Other suite components, including the model repository (Rational Asset Manager), some Lotus collaboration stuff, a new Business Event Processing tool based on another recent acquisition, are labeled "extended value offerings."

Clearly IBM is interpreting the word "suite" to mean a portfolio rather than an integrated platform. So I doubt the new marketing spin by itself is going to do anything. But the mini-briefing I got on this suggests there might actually be something new here, with Fabric playing a more central role. One of my biggest complaints about the WebSphere BPM story has been the jarring discontinuity between Modeler and WID - different process metamodels, different data models, different programming models, no roundtripping. The new story is that Fabric, formerly known as Webify, is a business-friendlier front end that enables "policy-based service composition" and hides the developer-centric guts of WID and Process Server. I am going to need an actual briefing on this before it makes sense, but here is the marketecture diagram from the keynote:


IBM also throws a small bone to BPMN, saying Modeler will support a new "BPMN visualization format." Somehow that is not quite saying Modeler will support BPMN. I suspect a bit of BPMN hand-waving like BEA does with AquaLogic BPM today. But IBM is a major player shaping BPMN 2.0, and there is no doubt that standard will play a key role when it emerges in 2009 (or later). The WebSphere piece of the new BPMS is a tweak of v6.1. It should be available later this quarter.

***Correction added April 9: I got a demo of Fabric today and, to correct the post, it does not replace WID and Process Server. It adds a new Service Composition perspective to WID, and it will be linked in to Modeler as well. Fabric allows service endpoints to be selected dynamically at runtime based on policies, and allows business users to tweak policy parameters at runtime (similar to rule maintenance applications in the business rules arena). You still need to go into WID to edit the BPEL, SCA assembly diagrams, and other things that make IBM's BPM development so foreign to the business side. In the future I think IBM is shooting for direct deployment from Modeler (including the Fabric Service Composer) without dealing with WID... but I don't think 6.1.2 is promising that.