IBM "Gets" BPM Now

At Impact three weeks ago I just got the drive-by version, but now that I've gotten the full analyst deep dive, I have to say that IBM now really does seem to have its act together on BPM. The current v6.1 offering has a lot of the improvement built in already, and the July v6.1.2 has more. We'll be adding IBM to the BPMS Report series and Ratings in Q3, and they should do fairly well.

One of the strong points is something rarely linked to IBM: user experience. The new offering features a unified business user workspace for viewing tasks, instances, performance metrics, and alerts. It features a large palette of prebuilt Web 2.0 widgets that let business users customize their own workspace and mash up the data. The monitoring components seem especially nice.

Another outstanding feature is the repository for modeling artifacts based on Rational Asset Manager, now federated with WebSphere Registry and Repository, which holds executable artifacts. How many presentations have you seen that talk about business users finding business services in a repository and binding them to their process models? Hundreds, I'm sure. And how many BPM/SOA suites provide the federated repositories, business-oriented metadata and query tools that you would need to do it? Probably none. But IBM now does, and lets business users search for related modeling assets - processes, services, policies, KPIs - and reuse them in their own processes.

One of my long-standing complaints about IBM's approach has been the jarring discontinuity between modeling and process design, and the lack of round-tripping. They have clearly put a lot of work into this aspect of BPM, and while WebSphere Modeler and WebSphere Integration Developer are still very different tools, they share many artifacts - schemas, forms, KPIs - and IBM provides an elaborate mechanism for round-tripping based on propagating changes between the two environments. The software does not automatically make the changes required, but lists the changes required to keep the model and WID design in sync. It's a lot better than before, and I suspect will be simpler once BPMN 2.0 comes out.

My other long-time complaint about IBM's BPM approach as been the whole WebSphere-FileNet dichotomy. While pure content lifecycle processes and document workflow processes are "special cases" in BPM, in reality any BPM process may involve content attachments that should be organized, managed, and securely retained in a true content repository. You shouldn't have to use a special content-centric process engine to secure process attachments. And now, says IBM, you don't. While I would still go further, IBM now can tell a single "story" that brings process and content together. Essentially, the steps that involve content operations (e.g. adding/revising/securing documents) are done by a FileNet P8 process, which is invoked via WSDL as a subprocess in the end-to-end WebSphere process. Both the FileNet and WebSphere processes are modeled in WebSphere Business Modeler. Not truly seamless, but the seams don't show too much. IBM hasn't told this story very well, possibly for fear of freaking out the FileNet base, but I actually think this gives that base a more comfortable (and plausible) way forward.

Look for the IBM BPMS Report around July.