Penny for Your Thoughts (IBM BPM 7.5)

Scott Francis
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Much has now been written about IBM BPM 7.5.  We’ve blogged about it before Impact, and we’ve obliquely referenced it since Impact.  And we’ve enjoyed reading all the other reviews out there. So we won’t rehash the feature by feature, blow-by-blow nature of product reviews (we’ll save that for another post!).  Let’s just take a big step back and look at the big picture, and I’ll tell you how we, at BP3, really feel about it.

I’m a Lombardi Customer… Now What?

First, for Lombardi customers.  There’s no doubt that this is A Good Thing.  The Lombardi Way has prevailed within IBM in a sense – the experience of IBM BPM is going to feel a lot like Lombardi – and yet a lot of time and effort is going into things Lombardi could never afford to invest in (configuration management, integration).  ILOG baked into the product line means no more guessing how best to handle rules issues in your processes.  There’s a clear migration path up to 7.5, and clear software entitlements. But most of all, IBM BPM makes Websphere manageable for the customers who really wanted BPM rather than Websphere (in other words, the app server is behind the curtain, not in front of it). Most of all, Lombardi Customers can breathe a sigh of relief that IBM is not throwing out the golden goose that lays the eggs. From a Lombardi point of view, it is going to look like lots of extra goodies in the bag, with very few downsides from a feature-function point of view.

But I’m a WPS Customer… Now What?

WPS Customers should also be in good shape.  While the migration to 7.5 does not automatically convey the Process Designer, they’re existing WPS efforts should migrate up just fine (the WPS engine is intact).  If you add Process Designer to the mix, you’ll find you now have a great BPM tooling for addressing use cases that might have been more challenging in the WPS environment.  The new tooling should be more accessible to your team, and make it easier to address a broader set of use cases.  Most WPS customers won’t breathe a sigh of relief because (a) they always assumed WPS would dominate the ultimate BPM solution, or (b) because they are happy to have access to the Lombardi-style version of BPM.

I was about to Buy IBM WPS or Lombardi… Now What?

Just buy IBM BPM.  Your choices got simpler.  If you need to design integration flows with clear atomicity and transactional semantics, go for the advanced version of IBM BPM.  Otherwise, you’ll probably want to start out on the Standard version if you’re a larger company, and express if you’re running a pilot or smaller organization.  You no longer have to worry about betting on the wrong horse.  This is something we can give IBM credit for – their product strategy didn’t involve abandoning either of their main BPM product lines or leaving behind either set of customers.

I Work for IBM… Is This a Good Thing?

You bet it is.  Now you can sell and deliver on one value proposition with conceptually minor permutations.  No more product conflict.  The WPS heritage assets are now defined toward a different use case (automated workflows and integrations) than the heritage Lombardi assets (Human-centric BPM, if you will).  Build your processes in process designer, and build integration flows and lights-out processing in the Integration Designer.  And integrate the two in the Process Designer.

I’m an Analyst Covering BPM… Now What?

Well, I guess your job got a little easier.  IBM really has one BPM offering you need to analyze, rather than 2-3.  And it seems to capture the best attributes of Lombardi, WPS, and ILOG.  As Phil Gilbert said to us at bpmCamp shortly after the acquisition: “IBM clearly has the assets and technology to put together the best BPM offering in the market.”  The only question was: would they?  Would they actually put those assets front and center and create the offering? Well they have.  Adjust those magic quadrants, waves, and rankings.

I’m a Lombardi Consultant or Consulting Firm… Now What?

This is nothing but good news as far as BP3 is concerned.  We couldn’t be happier with the direction IBM took with BPM 7.5.  Including dropping all the awkward naming of previous versions.  We believe we are the best Lombardi BPM services provider, and we aim to continue that record by aiming to be the best IBM BPM services provider.  We think IBM put the right horse (Process Designer) in front of the cart (Integration Designer), and we’re really looking forward to leveraging all the new features of 7.5 (to review: ILOG rules, Integration Designer, Profile Manager, Business Monitor, etc.).  We’re incredibly relieved that they didn’t EOL Lombardi. And I think there will be a lot of WPS customers who will want to understand, better, what this whole Lombardi point-of-view is all about.  We think they’ll want to talk to someone like BP3.

It’s All About the Experience

Importantly, this release keeps the focus on the things that matter in BPM deployments – time to market, ease of use for the 80% case, ability to go as deep as need be in the 20% case, and a focus on the “business” view of BPM, not just the IT view. But most importantly, this release signals that the engine(s) don’t matter… What matters is the EXPERIENCE. IBM (and specifically Phil Gilbert) is planting the flag and saying the experience around BPM matters more than which specific technologies are behind it, it even matters more than the Websphere branding in front of the old names.  In the future, if IBM resolves the offering down to a single engine, it would likely be transparent to us because that engine would be running off of the repository we have today, and running behind the user experience we have today (or, an improved version of the same).  Do I really care if the code running my Process Designer-authored process is Lombardi heritage or WPS heritage?  I don’t really care, so long as it still behaves the same way.  In other words, so long as it implements the “interface” and gives me that “WYSIWYG” feel, I’m happy. Much has been made by Clay Richardson and others about “multiple BPM engines.”  But trust me when I say that these engines consist of a relatively small percentage of the total lines of code involved in these products.  It is like the algorithmic core of a bigger software entity.  No one is suggesting that the ILOG engine has to be consolidated with the BPM engines to save cost.  It doesn’t make any sense to do that, does it?  So why consolidate the BPEL and BPMN engines? (Again, it may just not make sense to merge these two entities in a meaningful way).  IBM feels that it has already merged them in the two ways that matter most:
  1. the BPM “engines” install, run, and operate as one software process or entity, inside a single JVM.
  2. the BPM “engines” are unified behind common UI treatment, and common data models, reporting infrastructure, and rules interactions.  In a sense, they “behave the same”.  Users of IBM BPM won’t think of these things as separate engines. They might think of the modeling as separate user cases, but they won’t need to care, nor will they care, about what kind of “engine” is processing the model.  The diagram and details attached to it will define all the behavioral semantics.
I also had another takeaway from Impact, on the BPM front.  ACM is going to be a subset of the BPM offering, from a product point of view.  I saw two customer presentations that covered case management style dynamic processes that were home grown on top of their Lombardi implementations.  They were very interesting, and not that complicated.  And if these scenarios can be built on top of the platform, by customers… Certainly these are use cases that IBM could include in their BPM product offering – either as part of the IBM BPM offering or as part of the BlueworksLive offering.  Or both.  That’s the thing with IBM – they don’t have to choose, they can leverage the genius of the ‘and’. And if IBM doesn’t do it, someone like BP3 will.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Nothing has validated our investment in Lombardi more than the release of IBM BPM 7.5.  I think John Reynold’s post on the subject captures how I feel as well.  This is important. As pivotal as finding out last year at Impact that IBM was truly getting behind its new Lombardi BPM software.  This year it is pivotal in that we’re finding out that the last year has been one of real investment in the platform and real results.  This isn’t just window dressing, it is substance. I understand why people unfamiliar with the workings of Lombardi and WPS might feel differently, but with respect, they’re wrong.  If you know how it works under the hood, this is significant.

…and Thanks!

Given that this is the culmination of hard work from so many people that I hold in high regard, it seems appropriate to say thanks.  I was recruited to Lombardi by Toby Cappello, Scott Bonneau,  and Phil Gilbert – not to mention Rainer Ribback and Brian Witherly.  And Lombardi allowed me to meet Lance Gibbs, and Flournoy Henry, among others.  We built the services team I wanted to build at Lombardi – geographically dispersed (localized), highly skilled, and very experienced consultants.  It was completely counter to the prevailing trends at the time: off-shore (remote), commoditized/cheap (lower skill level), and inexperienced consultants.  The results:
  • a much more successful, and mature, customer base
  • a better feedback loop into the product development team
  • a great talent pool for pulling into other senior or leadership roles in the company
  • lower financial risk to the company, at the price of somewhat lower margins on services.
Our competitors that relied on the prevailing strategies ended up with smaller companies, fewer referenceable and less mature customers.  I think the Lombardi brand, in consulting circles within BPM, will continue to be strong for years to come.  I want to thank Lombardi for giving me that opportunity to put my best ideas to work for the business.  And learning from round 1, we’re applying these ideas to BP3 as well – and earning the rewards of this long-term view. Everyone who was a part of Lombardi, if they’re still paying attention, should feel a greater sense of accomplishment with this release, than they likely did with the original sale of the company to IBM.   Kudos as well to IBM, you have truly figured out how to leverage a fine asset on the product side, and I have no doubt about the dividends it will pay in the years to come. OK folks. Back to work.  
  • This is a great move, integrating the various BPM offerings that IBM bought and built.

    Where does this leave IBM Blueworks Live?

    • I think from the other posts (even on this blog) it is clear BlueworksLive is IBM’s SaaS “long-tail” process offering (as well as process mapping/etc.). From one session:
      * Social Application, which helps scale process talk across the business
      * Doc and discovery tool that is easy to use
      * Automate simple processes
      (http://www.bp-3.com/blogs/2011/04/caterpillar-on-stage-for-ibm-at-ibmimpact-day-1/)

      And they continue to update BlueworksLive every 6 weeks or so, as evidenced by the last update, in April.
      And another post on the latest update of BlueworksLive:
      http://www.bp-3.com/blogs/2011/04/blueworks-live-update-april-2011/

      • I guess my question is where does it fit into the larger IBM BPM strategy. It should logically be connected to the core BPM stack

      • should it? or should it be let free to experiment and innovate in a space the rest of the IBM BPM stack doesn’t play in at the moment? Because BlueworksLive isn’t focused on enterprise deployment (in the traditional, on-premises fashion), I’m not sure there’s an urgency to make it “fit in” with the core BPM stack. There are a few touch points, and it rolls up under Phil Gilbert at IBM. But I think they’ve decided not to saddle BlueworksLive with much of the IBM “stack” tax.

        The first big reconciliation was between Blueworks and Blueprint – that’s completed. Makes sense to consolidate and invest in the new thing before trying to marry it up with the core offering. The right way to marry it up will become clear in time, and by observing how people are using the two tools. In a sense, BlueworksLive is that lean startup within Big Blue.

      • You both should’ve been there when we were debating where the Blueworks Live ped should be located in the Solution Center at Impact: should it be in the BPM zone or in the cloud zone? Is Blueworks Live more cloud than it is BPM or vice-versa? :) Fun times.

        I think the more interesting question is where does Blueworks Live fit into any organization’s (rather than IBM’s) BPM strategy. We see it as being an enabler for scaling BPM from the few to the many. It fits just as well at the point where you’re just getting started with thinking about process improvement just as it does when you realize process improvement is not a point in time activity but a way of running/thinking about your business. So where does Blueworks Live fit? Everywhere. Doesn’t matter how big or small you are or how big or small your initiative is, we believe there’s a role for documenting, talking about and automating your processes in a standardized way across your organization.

        To that extent you’ll hear/read us talk about Blueworks Live as a great complement to whatever you choose as your on-premise solution for automating complex processes (of course we’d love it if you chose our own IBM Business Process Manager which, as Scott mentioned, has built in hooks into Blueworks Live ).