BPM is Doing Just Fine, Thankyou

Scott Francis
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There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth about the state of BPM vendors, and the BPM segment, ever since IBM announced its acquisition of Lombardi (and followed quickly by Progress’ acquisition of Savvion).  Even before then, there was much discussion over whether BPM really was a bright spot in the enterprise software space – could it really be growing when everyone else was struggling to tread water? And since these acquisitions, the attention has often turned to case management (or, the nom du jour, “Adaptive” Case Management), and some have argued that “BPM” as imagined by advocates of BPMN is in trouble.   Of course, as with many things, one way to measure “success” is by whether the businesses advocating a particular approach are doing well – and doing well is typically defined as increasing revenue (and/or profit).  Ironically, if such a firm makes money, critics will say this only proves that the firms are good at making money, not that the software or approach to BPM is adding value for customers.  But we have to accept that in the long run, averaged over *many* decisions, the market assesses value by assigning dollars (or euros, etc.) to the products that are perceived to add value, and starving the products that don’t add value by not making purchasing decisions. Dennis Byron says the big enterprise software firms are well-positioned to take advantage of the BPM “explosion.”  Meanwhile the independents don’t appear to be suffering.  The latest report from MWD summarizes results from Appian and Active Endpoints, two vendors who wholeheartedly support BPMN (Appian with a SaaS model, and Active Endpoints with a BPMN-up-front and BPEL-in-the-back approach). Key data points:
Appian highlighted the growth of customer orders by 58% from Q4 2009 to Q1 2010 (and this isn’t a seasonal thing with Appian; in 2008 its Q4 was its largest quarter). Active Endpoints highlighted revenue from new customers: it tripled in Q1 2010 over the same quarter in 2009 – contributing to an overall doubling in revenue against the same period a year earlier.
Bigger firms like Pega are doing just fine as well, according to their quarterly reports.  So this is a good indicator of increasing demand for BPM software.  The increased demand for BPM skills, education, and even consulting is sure to follow.  It is an exciting time to be in the BPM market. Congratulations to these firms for having good Q1 results.
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  • Scott, I started writing a response, and it turned into a blog post. :-)

    Is BPM Dead?
    http://kswenson.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/is-bpm

  • sfrancis

    It just came in my reader rss feed, love the article, Keith, spot on. Except for one issue: when you write “it does not mean the end of BPM as we know it, but instead the beginning of a new space which BPM will not address.” – I disagree because “BPM” is high level enough to encompass unpredictable processes, though I think you could make this same statement replacing BPM with “BPMS” and I'd have trouble arguing with it. Any “business process” that you want to manage will get encompassed in BPM offerings, in my opinion. We may call the space ACM or Dynamic BPM or Resource-Driven or whatever, but conceptually we're still managing business processes and I would still argue that that's what it boils down to.

    From a technical perspective, adding the capabilities to support ACM is not as hard as software vendors (who sell these products) are making it out to be. And probably not quite as easy as I think it should be… :)

  • I understand this position, and among the contributors to the “Mastering the Unpredictable” we had long debates on whether ACM was part of BPM, or disjoint. I even started with you position, but after much thought, I am convinced that ACM and BPM are separate and distinct categories.

    Obvious, we are debating terminology here, but what persuaded me in the end is that BPM MUST BE centered on “process”. IT is “management of process”. In fact, most of the literature is oriented around mass producing work based on a well defined process. This is actually fine and good. As you have pointed out, there is a vibrant demand for this which is not going away.

    But, ACM is NOT about process — not at the core. The core is a definition of a situation, a case. Yes, precess plays a role, but not a defining one. It is perfectly reasonable to have a case template which has no process in it at all, but this is NOT POSSIBLE with BPM.

    So who cares? There hundreds of different definitions of BPM, and nobody truly can define it with any authority. So I am willing to accept that you see ACM as a part of BPM, if you can accept that I don't.

    However, you must realize that the statistics about BPM being successful in traditional realms says nothing about those products being successful in a knowledge worker space. All the success you cite is about “routine processes”. I believe ACM is a disruptive trend, which will catch some vendors unawares … but most of the agile vendors will jump ont he bandwagon soon enough.

  • sfrancis

    I can accept that you don't agree with me :) I was just pointing out my one area of disagreement with your blog post – the rest of it I was in full agreement with.

    Of course I realize that the statistics about BPM in traditional process says nothing about “knowledge worker space”… except for one thing: some of us in the “BPM” space have been modeling knowledge worker “processes” all along, so I know that BPM applies to this space (at least the way we practice it at bp3). Also, if ACM is truly new, then we have no statistics to back it up, no? :) (I'm not seriously making this argument, just pointing out that when you impugn one data set, you are setting a bar that your own data set may not live up to).

    I think ACM is therefore not as likely to capture the software dollars needed to be its own category – caught inbetween the likes of Sharepoint, Email, and Google Wave on the one side, and BPM suites on the other. I'm certainly willing to be proven wrong by the many software vendors pursuing BPM and ACM. And I'll be happy to use ACM tools with our customers (and case management approaches for their processes).

    I think the “ACM” vendors have not (yet) sufficiently explained what technical details or business features actually make their product better at addressing case management than traditional BPM – there is a lot of focus in the explanations on what “BPM software cannot do” (which for the most part isn't very accurate in my opinion) and not much attention paid to what makes ACM interesting, unique, special – someone needs to make the positive case for what features are in an ACM product that cause it to address CM better.

    Task lists? I hope its better than that :)
    (I know it is, I'm being facetious)
    But seriously, I'd like to see someone write about ACM without even mentioning BPM – and explain what it does at a technical level, and then what it does for the business. Then people can argue ACM vs. BPM vs. sharepoint vs. google wave in the comment section ;)

    for example, from wfmc description: “In BPM, the process is primary, and so normally the process is predetermined and static, while the data flow through it. With ACM, it is the data that is primary, which tends to remain persistent for a long time, possibly forever, but it is processes which are brought to it. In many cases with ACM the processes are not even fully predefined, but can be defined on the fly. ” This is a bit bland. It describes philosophical difference but doesn't explain what ACM really purports to bring to the table. Let's put the cards out there. Kind of like BPM vs. SOA arguments in the past (BPM puts process first, SOA doesn't. Well, sure. But while that accurately portrays a philosophical difference that has real meaning, it doesn't explain what features and aspects of BPM make that interesting and useful independent of a comparison to SOA).

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