bpmNEXT Flashbacks and Highlights by

Nice view of the beach

I want to provide some insights from bpmNEXT but I don’t think I can cover every presenter and do them justice in this blog (However, I’ll post a couple more posts to highlight just a few of the presentations).  I highly recommend Sandy Kemsley’s blog for this – she took thorough notes on each presenter. However, I think I can add some color to the commentary, so to speak, in this blog.

The bpmNEXT Experience

First, bpmNEXT was quite an experience.  It was an experiment of sorts, and I couldn’t help but participate if possible.  I’m really grateful that Nathaniel and Bruce offered us the chance to speak, because I might have missed the conference otherwise – things are busy at BP3, and having a speaking slot made it easier to justify taking time out from a really busy business season!

The multi-vendor aspect of this conference is not unique – Gartner and Forrester (and on occasions, others) offer multi-vendor conferences. But most multi-vendor conferences simply stay too high level.  You never get to the tough questions, the vendors aren’t willing to share the warts, so to speak.  And so much is lost in the multi-vendor venue. In a single-vendor conference, you get the focus, you get the details. But by necessity it puts too much power in the hands of the vendor, who can control the messaging and is typically more interested in selling something than in giving other vendors and customers a chance to share content at a deeper level.

But at bpmNEXT, Bruce and Nathaniel got the right balance.  By asking vendors to show advance views of upcoming features and product, even large vendors could escape the BPM 101 trap of demoing their basic features and not spending any time on the cool stuff. At bpmNEXT, presenters were encouraged to present the bleeding edge.  And they did just that, showing as-yet-unreleased features or prototypes.

Collegiality and the Zero Sum Game

The other thing that stood out was the collegiality.  Most of the attendees know each other from efforts on standards for BPM, or from conferences, or from Twitter.  I met several people I had never before met in real life – Dave Duggal, Ashish Bhagwat, Keith Swenson, Nathaniel Palmer, Gero Decker, Jakob Freund, and others. So despite the introductions, it also felt like a reunion of sorts.  A few of my old Lombardi colleagues were there, and a few old Lombardi competitors as well – some of which I’m on quite good terms with in our new non-competitive roles in the ecosystem.  Honestly I view it as an honor to be in this group of deep BPM experts.  However, like Sandy, I noticed that not everyone was “in the spirit” :

For the vendors that didn’t attend, or who attended but didn’t participate because they didn’t want to show all their cool new stuff to their competitors: you are totally missing the point, and you missed a great opportunity. Ideas need a bit of exposure to the light in order to grow properly, and this is the place for that.

Sandy’s right, and I bet we’re talking about the same persons.  This wasn’t the place for snarky competitive comments or defensiveness, this was a place to let your hair down a little and talk to your colleagues.  But some people are stuck in a zero-sum-game mindset.  Maybe it is easier for a consulting firm to see that the world of BPM is not zero-sum-game, than it is for a software vendor.

BPMN is the Foundation for New Layers of Innovation

Some people feel that BPMN isn’t the right notation for BPM, or that something can’t be innovative if it uses BPM.  But in fact, we saw ACM implemented with BPMN behind the scenes in at least 3 cases, and in a fourth I’m not sure how the back-end was implemented.  Only a couple of presentations ignored the subject of BPMN entirely, and they weren’t actually the most innovative solutions presented.  BPMN is here to stay, and it is clearly the foundation for another leg of innovation in BPM.

Germany should get honorable mention as it seemed to me they had more experts on deep BPMN thinking than any other country represented at the conference.  The entire first morning of the conference was deep discussion of BPMN, BPMN model analysis, capturing BPMN models, evaluating models for style, etc.  The innovation in the space of correctness, style, input forms, and model interchange was stark and points toward BPMN continuing to be a staple of BPM solutions – but de facto table stakes, rather than something to differentiate with.

I was really impressed with the level of innovation on display.  Several pundits have made a sport of declaring innovation “Dead” in BPM – but that clearly wasn’t the case here.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mention in the “really big company” category goes to IBM, Fujitsu, and Bosch – Oracle, SAP, IBM, Bosch, and Fujitsu all presented. It was IBM (John Reynolds) and Fujitsu (Keith Swenson) that actually showed something new, with a tight focus on a particular new capability or prototype.  They avoided the trap of giving us a tour of what a multi-billion dollar corporation might be doing overall in BPM.  Bosch didn’t *quite* avoid that trap, but the “internet of things” sounds shiny and new in BPM circles, so I’ll give them a pass – it was new to most of the audience present!

In the open-source category, Camunda and Signavio had the best presentations in my view.  Camunda’s demonstration shows the depth in the opensource community around dealing with BPMN2 XML – and building full support of BPMN2 – something we just aren’t seeing from the commercial vendors.  Signavio’s Gero Decker had a great style of presentation and showed that Signavio’s vision is all about making modeling processes easier-  reducing barriers to modeling, reducing barriers to the input of the process. To that end, even crazy ideas like voice-driven-modeling, make sense.  Even crazier ideas, like using a Leap motion controller might make sense in the not-too-distant future.

In the “extensions to BPMN” category, the presentations that caught my eye were Fluxicon‘s Disco, and Whitestein‘s Goal-Oriented modeling extensions to BPMN2.  Disco is a really nicely developing product for “process” mining, which has some great visualization and technique for inferring process.  It isn’t a BPMS, but it is a tool that fits into the BPM toolbox. Whitestein’s Goal-Oriented modeling has the idea of coming up with a better modeling paradigm for policy- and milestone-based goals. Could these be modeled as BPMN?  Sure, but it isn’t quite the way people *think* of how to model these problems.

Best use of “ontology” in a presentation goes to the folks from IMSC – who have developed some developer-centric tools around navigating between vendor-agnostic BPMN and semantic queries, and handling the 15+ DODAF forms.  Its a highly specialized case, and yet it may be the kind of problem that really big organizations are going to face in the future – as disparate BPM projects start to “bump into each other” and need to be reconciled…

Clearly, as these technologies come to fruition, we’re going to see a lot of benefit to the consumers of BPM technologies and methodologies.  bpmNEXT is going to be the conference to get an early look into these technologies.  Can’t wait for next year.

I’ll post a couple more blogs with some additional learnings and details from the presentations – more to come!