Where are the Clouds in BPM?

Scott Francis
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Late to the Cloud

BPM, as a software category, is relatively late to the game in Cloud computing.  In fact, some of the earliest cloud BPM vendors have since gone out of business, putting customers’ investments in models and data at risk.  The most successful BPM vendors have been among the slowest to tackle cloud computing in their core BPM offering. But this makes sense – it is rarely the most successful or largest firms that pioneer new deployment models or business models – it is the upstarts.  The more historically successful vendors attacked the cloud with different functionality – focused more on collaboration and discovery, rather than execution. IBM (and the assets it acquired from Lombardi) is no exception with its dual strategy of BlueworksLive and IBM BPM. But the primary reason doesn’t appear to be a technical barrier or an inability of BPM vendors to see the writing on the wall.

Why BPM is Late to the Party

No, the primary reason BPM has been late to the Cloud is that customer demand wasn’t pulling BPM vendors that way very quickly.  Customers worried about storing their critical processes in the cloud, let alone running them in the cloud.  Customers were pulling for more integration functionality, more BPMN support (up to a point), more powerful development environments with easier-to-consume authoring environments. And there was demand for business intelligence, rules, events… In short, demand was pulling in a lot of different directions, but not that much pull for the cloud. But there were a few other minor factors…
  1. Cloud computing was still immature.  APIs didn’t always exist, or weren’t stable.  They certainly weren’t very consistent.
  2. There weren’t a lot of choices for cloud computing vendors, or server locations
  3. The generally accepted definition of “cloud computing” was pretty narrow – a multi-tenant architecture with a per-user license fee.  Many customers just weren’t interested in paying per user per month, or weren’t interested in commingling their data or apps with others (multi-tenancy).
Everyone could see the tide would come in, but it looked to be a long gradual transition…

Indeed, Something has Changed

That transition is proceeding apace.  And a few things have changed to reduce the friction of going to the Cloud with BPM:
  1. New companies have been formed in the last 10 years that have always used the cloud for critical systems and processes.  Some of these companies are big enough to need BPM software support for their processes, and to be able to pay commercial licensing fees.  But they want their BPM in the cloud.
  2. Existing companies have moved certain core functions to the cloud – from email to customer relationship data to sales data.  The movement to the cloud has had a gradual cumulative effect.
  3. Companies can still see the cost savings of running software in the cloud.  If anything, these economics are only getting better vis-a-vis on-premise sytems.
  4. New service providers and hosting providers have entered the Cloud services market, providing tools that allow for more robust scripting and management of hosted cloud environments.
  5. More standardized APIs and tools allow for self-serve maintenance and provisioning, or automated provisioning.
  6. Virtual Private Networks and Virtual Private Clouds are now in reach of the mere mortal, and not just the security specialists.  We can interact with assets in the Cloud as though they were inside our network, or vice versa.
  7. (Some of the) BPM vendors are making BPM in the cloud a priority.
We’re going to see more BPM in the Cloud.  Late to the party, but not too late to join in.