ECM and BPM in 2014

Scott Francis
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After reading Lubor’s blog on content management predictions for 2014, I had a bit of de ja vu:

The debate about the future of ECM has been raging over the last years. Many consider the term obsolete or at least tired and believe that it doesn’t capture some of the new hip technologies such as social media, cloud computing, and mobility. Since the term ECM was coined back in 2001 (with many self-proclaimed authors), it has to stand only for a traditional, boring, on-premises software. Right? Basically, ECM is dead and it has to be replaced by a new term.

This is almost identical to the discussion and debate going on in BPM circles, spurred mostly by the slightly discontent ACM evangelists, and by folks who just get frustrated with the “establishment” BPM providers and analysts and would love to shake things up.

And yet, ECM and BPM aren’t going away.  Perhaps they will acquire new names, for sure they will continue to evolve as new technologies change the marketplace.  Think mobile, cloud, faster internet, social media, etc.

However, then he turns his attention to BPM:

Mentioning BPM, I have another prediction. I consider BPM so highly adjacent to ECM that it is probably one and the same – but that’s yet another topic of a discussion for a later blog post.

Clearly this isn’t the case.  First, technologically, these are two different products, not leveraging much common code. Second, market-wise, these two product areas are largely *not* competing for the same software dollars.  People spend real money on both types of systems, and they are not, typically, competing with each other.

My prediction is that the BPM market will continue to look for a future direction. Little has happened in the last few years. At the core of BPM is the ability to analyze and optimize business processes, to orchestrate them, to integrate with other systems, to monitor their status, and to analyze the process activity across a period of time.

Spoken like someone who isn’t paying attention to the market.  In the “last few years”, BPM providers have been implementing BPMN 2 more thoroughly (yawn), moving to the cloud (nice), and adopting mobile tech and altering how processes work to take these trends into account.  If there’s one thing BPM hasn’t been lacking, it is direction.  More of the same please.

Well, everyone is doing that. Sure, there has been a lot of talk about leveraging some of the new trends such as social collaboration, mobility, and the cloud but let’s face it – every software does that by now. Not much has happened since the last true innovative thought which was case management.

Hah. Actually, case management wasn’t an innovative thought, it was a retread of a very old thought.  And while leveraging new trends like social collaboration, mobility, and the cloud may not be innovative, it is significant and requires real work.  Customers have been slower to put their mission critical processes in the cloud, than they have been to put their docs in the cloud or their customer data.  You can argue whether that makes sense or not, but it is just “the way it has worked out”, and was not limited by availability of BPM in the cloud (we’ve been offering IBM BPM in the cloud since 2012).

Ironically, by being late to both cloud and mobile, both efforts have been easier for BPM players than it was for other markets or earlier adopters.  Just one of life’s little ironies.

Now, if you want to get a peak at innovation a year ago, take a look at the presenters from bpmNEXT 2013 (for example, Fluxicon’s presentation, or Keith Swenson’s, or Camunda’s, or several on ontologies) – or take another look at this year’s bpmNEXT 2014, when it happens in March.  Innovation is alive and well.

Even the analysts have been struggling to articulate innovation by introducing concepts such as Intelligent BPM Systems (iBPMS) and Smart Process Applications. Those are compelling discussions but they don’t really introduce much in terms of technology innovation. Instead, these concepts basically package existing technologies into a larger bucket.

I’m not sure there was ever a time when analysts were not struggling to articulate innovation, across any market, in aggregate. Luckily, that’s not the metric for innovation in a market.  Packaging related technologies into a cohesive new offering *is* innovation if done right (see: Design Thinking).  Decision Management and Business Process Management complement each other well when redesigned to do so.  But I, too, despise terms like IBPMS!

I predict that BPM will continue looking for a new direction in 2014, without finding it. In the longer term (beyond 2014), BPM technologies will become a feature of other software including ECM, ERP, CRM, etc.

Well.  I think that ECM vendors need to add process to their offering, but more likely, ECM will just become fancy document repositories… and the process work will live in BPM suites.  This is largely the story of ERP, and CRM as well.  There are whole markets that can be summed up as “products that specialize on the process to do X” (where X is the action-verb that goes with the market).

  • ERP:  the data storage and data maintenance applications for your operational / fulfillment data.
  • CRM:  the data storage and data maintenance applications for your customer (and sales) data.
  • ECM:  the data storage and data maintenance applications for your documents.
  • BPM:  where your processes actually live.  Yes, there’s data storage and maintenance applications for your process data, but the deployed processes are themselves living breathing applications your organization will interact with, where the organizing principle is the process rather than the data. 

I don’t know, which space would you rather be in?   It looks to me like BPM will be, in one form or another, just about everywhere.

 

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  • Joram Barrez

    “Clearly this isn’t the case. First, technologically, these are two different products, not leveraging much common code. Second, market-wise, these two product areas are largely *not* competing for the same software dollars. People spend real money on both types of systems, and they are not, typically, competing with each other.”

    As an employee working for an ECM company (Alfresco), working on a BPM product (Activiti) I couldn’t agree more. It’s not the same market. There is no shared code. Don’t be fooled by vendors who proclaim it is.

    ” I think that ECM vendors need to add process to their offering, but more likely, ECM will just become fancy document repositories… and the process work will live in BPM suites.”

    Spot on. It’s going to be a good year for us BPM-believers.

    • sounds like we are in violent agreement :)
      To contrast with the ACM/BPM comparison, in that case, the products just aren’t that different at a technology level, nor at a market level…

      I love that ECM and BPM share one thing in common though -passionate advocates who advance the state of the art and build great products for their markets.