IBM BPM Update

This week IBM hosted a special analyst event in San Francisco focused on their BPM/ODM portfolio. ODM is the unification of IBM's acquisitions in business rule and business event technology, and was given equal billing with BPM at the event. That was surprising given the near-complete absence of information about case management, which seems significantly more in need of unification with BPM than does decision management. There were not many new feature/function announcements - most of that occurred last spring at Impact - but with a new executive team in place for the portfolio, there was a definite change in the air. The core values instilled by the Lombardi takeover of IBM BPM - simplified portfolio, business-user focus, unified look and feel, team collaboration, social computing, "playback"-oriented iterative design, process-to-program, and large-scale BPM governance - remain firmly rooted, but some of the Cultural Revolution rigidity has dissipated. The new team was there in abundance - basically all of the senior engineering and product managers across the portfolio were there and accessible in small roundtable and one-on-one discussions - and openly engaging with the analysts.

A few impressions...

BlueworksLive seems to be achieving its objective of introducing a culture of BPM to business users. IBM is introducing new low-priced Viewer licenses in units of 1000 seats to serve the need for large-scale deployment. The tool now supports modeling of policies and rules, along with other process details. And, at long last, IBM is at least open to the idea of expanding the tool into the "donut hole" between business users and developers created by deprecating WebSphere Modeler and the Rational toolset for BPM implementations. Hooray for that, a nonstarter under the old regime.

Through a technical initiative they call "coaches everywhere," the technology behind BPM human tasks is being leveraged to BPM-enable other IBM products, such as MDM and ODM "decision apps", as well as other parts of the BPM offering, such as the process portal and Process Designer. It was a little sketchy, but it appears to be in the form of UI widgets that embody not just a single coach form but an entire model-driven screenflow combining forms and automated button-click integration actions.

BPM is expanding its access to content stored in any CMIS repository, including FileNet, Documentum, and SharePoint, and in the future will be able to respond to content lifecycle events, starting with FileNet. Once you have that, remind me again why I need a separate platform for content-centric BPM?

There is a new integration with SAP Solution Manager, now in public beta, that introspects the Business Suite and exposes ERP activities for orchestration using BPMN. As I discuss in my recent SAP report, this is an area SAP has staked out for themselves, but IBM aims to compete head to head there.

There was surprisingly little in the sense-and-respond "i" features central to the new Gartner iBPMS Magic Quadrant. As I reported back at Impact, even the magnified role of business rule technology appears to be limited to decision tasks in a BPMN model rather than the more Pega-like embedding of rules inside every activity in the process. I guess I expected more there.

Cloud deployment of BPM is picking up, but only under the Bring-Your-Own-License business model. Under the alternative PaaS subscription model, IBM does not appear to have figured out yet how to price it or motivate account reps to sell it.

IBM is putting a lot of effort behind the process-to-program-to-transformation initiative, including a new methodology called ISIS available for free to IBM partners. This appears to be more of a professional services sales methodology than a BPM methodology for end user organizations, but it has all the earmarks of a vendor that aims to remain the Big Dog in BPM for a long long time.

Overall, I give IBM top marks for the event, particularly in the access provided to key people in development, product management, and marketing, and their willingness to talk openly about what they are doing. Unlike their competitors, IBM seems to be focusing less on gee-whiz bells and whistles and more on capabilities to make BPM a central part of their customers' enterprise business fabric.