IBM Impact: BPM Makes Way for Smarter Process

Process innovation was a central theme of last week's IBM Impact conference - it took center stage in the Day 2 Main Tent - but the term BPM has seemingly been banished at IBM, replaced by "Smarter Process". Now BPM is just the name of one product in the larger Smarter Process marketecture, shown below.

The Smarter Process "suite" is the white block in the middle, where BPM, together with Operational Decision Manager and Case Manager, are being extended to integrate with mobile, social, cloud, and big data, as well as with each other. That's presumably the "smarter" part. There is also something at the bottom called Operational Intelligence, which doesn't seem to exist yet but I think is the next incarnation of IBM Business Monitor.

BPM used to be mostly about doing work faster, more efficiently and effectively, with a bit more "business agility". The focus was on the internal workings of the organization and improving the bottom line. Smarter process seems to be more about raising the top line, leveraging continuous engagement with the customer in the age of mobile, social, cloud, and big data. In fact, the breathless customer engagement messaging harkens back to the late 1990s and the rise of e-commerce and CRM, if you just substitute "mobile device" for "web". I doubt that will really be the sweet spot for BPM going forward, but it has replaced SOA as the new central organizing principle of IBM's middleware business, formerly known as Websphere.

Middleware now is about "Systems of Interaction" - the stuff that connects Systems of Engagement, like mobile devices, to Systems of Record. There's also cloud in there and "internet of things" - hey, middleware is a broad concept. So how does Smarter Process fit in? Here is what Websphere CTO Jerry Cuomo described as the formula for systems of interaction: Detect (monitor events from the systems of engagement), Enrich (use big data to respond with useful information), Perceive (listen for the customer request), and Act (do something). BPM has always had the Perceive-Act piece. The other part is new.

It's an interesting story, and one that IBM can tell better than anyone else. At Impact, they showed that they have many of the components already. But today, assembling them into true Smarter Processes would seem to require a substantial investment in a myriad of disconnected platforms and tools, highly skilled specialist programmers, plus a massive dose of professional services. There is something in IBM's DNA that is always drawn to that. But that is exactly what puts it at odds with IBM's very successful BPM story for the past three years. That Lombardi-driven revolution was based on:

  • Model-driven development, not a lot of special code
  • Common graphical models shared by business and IT
  • Business-IT collaboration throughout the implementation cycle, featuring playback and iterative enhancement
  • Business-oriented governance to stimulate growth from project to program to business transformation
Many of the customer success stories at Impact, such as Banco Espirito Santo, hinged exactly on these attributes. It's too early to expect much of that kind of tooling ready for the larger Smarter Process story, but it was a little troubling that there was no roadmap for it at Impact, or even a statement that Smarter Process would try to preserve those values. Here is a report card for the current state of affairs.

Decision management (fka business rules) now plays a key role in IBM's BPM story, and IBM has brought to it all those BPM values of simplified tooling, improved governance, standards-based modeling (DMN), and business-oriented "discovery" in Blueworks Live. Grade: A

Mobile enablement. A developer license for Worklight is now inside the BPM box, along with sample code, simplifying development of mobile apps and coaches integrated with BPM. In the Solution Center, BP3's mobile toolkit looked even better, with less development effort. The Perceive and Act part of the mobile Smarter Process appears to be well on its way. Grade: A-

Insight to action. BPM 8.5 replaces the old Lombardi BAM ScoreBoards with customizable dashboard widgets based on Coach Views technology, so they can be incorporated more flexibly into coaches (task UI) and the Process Portal. I particularly like the new Gantt chart views of average completion time and instance history with projected future completion, annotated by the process activity stream. Really nice. But the full feedback loop from runtime performance to real-time remediation is mostly outside the Lombardi cocoon, involving Monitor and ODM and message broker, Integration Designer and Business Space. I would say this is the part of the platform most in need of BPM-ification. Grade: B

Integration bus. A new IBM Integration Bus unifies the functionality of ESB and Message Broker. Geeky yes, but a good first step. The way that all that Detect and Perceive business connects to Smarter Process is via ODM integrated with the bus. Eventually it would be nice to be able to model those interactions in Process Designer. Grade: B+

Donut hole. I've been complaining for a couple years now about IBM's lack of modeling/analysis tools for process analysts that do more than generate business requirements on paper, i.e., the replacement for WebSphere Modeler. When I asked about this last year, the answer was "Please go away." This year I didn't have to ask. At one of the BPM sessions, customers - all Modeler users - were asking the same thing, and the answer was, "We're starting to hear this; what are your requirements?" The prior BPM team at IBM did not want to ruin Blueworks Live with features for business analysts, business architects, or other professional modelers. The idea was that business users would simply create conceptual "discovery" models in Blueworks Live and then developers would use those to create physical models (i.e., implementations) in Process Designer. There was no notion of logical models - of process flows, data, decisions, KPIs, etc. - that could be exported to Process Designer. Now Blueworks Live provides multi-level decision modeling using DMN, and is talking about enhancing the BPMN tool to better match best modeling style (e.g., indicating message flows to external entities). There is even the first hint of proper model interchange between Blueworks Live and Process Designer. These are all hopeful signs. Hint to IBM: Logical models for data (entity relationship diagrams), forms, and KPIs would be a good start. Grade: Incomplete

Case management. Everyone - IBMers included, I think - expected some kind of merging of BPM and case management to be announced. It still didn't happen; lingering warlord bickering over revenue recognition is the rumor. Unlike last year, none of the BPM analysts had the heart to ask IBM about it publicly. The IBMers seemed just as miserable about it as we were. Grade: Inexcusable