Nobody Cares About BPM?

My own experience as a regular speaker at BPM conferences and as a BPM industry analyst leads me to a different conclusion: Interest in BPM is on the rise, both among users - who still aren't quite sure what it is - and larger middleware vendors like IBM, BEA, Oracle, and webMethods, who are now looking to BPM to serve as the business face of SOA. The smaller BPMS pureplays, generally not BPEL-based and whose technology Ismael unfairly characterizes as 1990s architecture, have I think done reasonably well in the past year. That's not to say things couldn't be better, but I have a different assessment and prescription for the industry.

First of all, let's look at the technology maturity. We're just on the threshold of doing it right! How can you be bailing now? We've been going for a year now on beta software and standards. BPEL 2.0? Due this summer. BPEL4People and BPEL-SPE (subprocess extension)? Probably Q4. The BPMN metamodel (BPDM from OMG) and schema? Not out yet -- hopefully soon. Integrated modeling and simulation in BPMS from BEA, Oracle, and others? Still 6-12 months away. BPMN as a front end to BPEL? Just coming out now - Intalio (beta), Cordys (beta), eClarus (GA this month), IDS Scheer, Telelogic.... BPMN-BPEL roundtripping? Just beginning, about a year away.

Second, completeness of the BPMS offering. It's a lot to put together: modeling and simulation, rich human workflow, integration middleware, business rules, BAM and process analytics... but that's what the BPMS vendors have been doing for the last year. The platform offerings are just beginning to match the vision, and we have another year or so to go before the tools are really integrated and process analyst-friendly.

Third, marketing. As an industry, an unmitigated disaster. BPMS vendors fund conferences where the overwhelming message is that BPM is really a management discipline, has nothing to do with technology, you should be suspicious of vendors, etc. Unbelievable! I was at one such event a couple years ago, where after one such bloviating keynote by the conference chairman, Howard Smith stood up from the audience and said "if you're not using a BPMS you're not really doing BPM." Brass balls! I love it -- if only the industry as a whole would latch on to this message. Vendors, however, spend more energy bashing each other than speaking with one voice to educate the market about the value of BPMS.

In my experience at Brainstorm, attendees have a big interest in "how to do BPM," documenting current processes, modeling process improvement, and cataloguing business rules, but relatively low interest in the technology of BPMS. I admit I don't completely understand why that is. Part of it, I think, is that BPMS technology acquisition has been delegated by the business to IT, and BPMS is at heart threatening to IT. Unlike the composite app style of SOA, BPM is top-down, business-driven. Letting business analysts anywhere close to executable design? Surely you jest. BPM vendors haven't addressed this issue at all.

Another thing they haven't addressed: the enterprise architect problem. EA thinks in terms of stacks interconnected through open standards. A BPMS is not a stack, but an integrated suite of tools and runtime engines that only works if it all comes from one vendor. Playing well with others? It's hard enough for BPMS to play with itself.

In spite of these woes, I'm optimistic. What Ismael and I have both described as BPM 2.0 is just being released. The marketing thing is fixable, and it costs a lot less than product development. A trade association might not be a bad idea. I've talked to John Mancini of AIIM about it. (Vendors - if you have any interest in this, please contact me.) Except for Gartner, there really are no major vendor-neutral IT-oriented BPM events.

Keep the faith. A lot of people still care about BPM.