#bpmNEXT was a Blast

Scott Francis
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bpmNEXT was once again a gathering of some of the world’s best-known BPM experts and vendors.  After the conference, I have so much to write about and say with respect to the sessions and BPM. A big plus for me was finally meeting Tom Baeyens in person after being in touch over twitter and blogs for so many years!   I thought I’d start by taking a step back and thinking about the themes of the conference.

The key takeaways for me:

  • BPM has a lot of room to run.  In a week when Gartner’s new iBPMS quadrant came out and named the three usual suspects as the three leaders, it would be easy to think that there isn’t much going on in BPM.  But from a practitioner’s point of view, there is a lot of innovation and maturing going on.  And a lot of tools to make our lives better as practitioners.  The pace of improvement is inspiring.  What is easy to lose sight of is that the vendors at bpmNEXT and the Gartner Quadrant are not really in the same markets.  They rarely compete with each other, and they are attaching BPM through different lenses.  They’re solving real problems for their customers, and finding product-market fit with those customers.  And that’s a legitimate reason for a Fortune 500 customer to have more than one “BPM” vendor in-house.  These solutions are not as similar as two different relational databases.
  • The community is strong.  The number of repeat attendees at bpmNEXT was high – and the number of “customer-attendees” was fairly consistent and engaged.  The discussions were really impressive, and it was so cool to put a face to the names!
  • BPM is continuing to adapt to technology waves.  BPM vendors and practitioners are doing a good job riding the technology waves and still making progress on core BPM functionality.

Next, who comes to bpmNEXT?  You could largely divide the attendees into three (four?) groups:

  • Academic. Not all academics work for educational institutions, but the key differentiation of academics is that they aren’t encumbered by the delivery of executable BPM solutions to customers.  They’re primarily concerned with models, concepts, and theory, rather than running software and the economics thereof.
  • Software Vendor.  Most of the software vendors were in attendance to show off what they’ve been up to for the last year, or what is in their near-view.  They’re concerned about what sells in the market, rather than what is interesting from a completeness-of-model point of view, or a concept/theory point of view.
  • Practitioners.  The remainder of attendees could largely be categorized as practitioners – consultants and consumers (customers) of BPM technology, who are largely responsible for and concerned with the execution of BPM software in production.
  • Analysts.  There aren’t really any analysts at this conference, other than Niel Ward-Dutton and Sandy Kemsley (hope you don’t mind me calling you an analyst for purposes of this discussion!).  The big boys, Forrester and Gartner, don’t show up.  Neil and Sandy are great additions to the event because they’re insightful, and unafraid to break down tough questions with vendors.  I recall Neil asking one vendor point-blank “how do you guys make money?” And it was fantastic, he got a great answer from the vendor (and selfishly, my curiosity was satisfied as well!).  I think the analysts SHOULD be here because they’d learn something from this conference.  But only Sandy and Neil make the investment.  Kudos to them.

All of the attendees are into product.  Only one vendor that I’m aware of only sends their marketing folks and disdains to participate by presenting or engaging their product experts in the discussion – not *everyone* gets it.  The rest of the people involved are people who define and build software around BPM, who make BPM software work for customers, or who make BPM Software work for their own organization.  Some additional purely process improvement folks attend, to learn more about how technology might inform their work.

You might ask, why do people who work for ostensible competitors (especially software vendors and consultancies) get together and share ideas?  Because people who have a passion for BPM and software generally want the state of the art to improve.  Because there’s much to be gained from feedback from your peers.  Because there’s much to be inspired by in what other people are doing.  And because there’s much to learn from the social and network interactions inbetween sessions.

And that’s what I love about this conference – it is really a conference of industry peers.  If you feel like a customer or a vendor, come to a conference like bpmNEXT, and you feel like you’re with colleagues.  There’s less selling and being sold to, and more substantive discussion.

The live-blogging coverage was courtesy of Sandy Kemsley, and if she didn’t cover your session, you probably weren’t following the basic premise of the event:  the focus is on the demo, slides are by way of introduction and context only:

Bruce Silver and Nathaniel Palmer, our hosts and organizers, kicked off the conference and laid out the rules: each session (except for the keynote and a multi-company interoperability demo) is strictly 30 minutes long, with 20 minutes for the demo and 10 for Q&A. Last year, Nathaniel would start to look a bit threatening when the speaker reached their deadline, and everything ran on time.

Honestly, I’m not sure why a couple of sessions miss the boat – either too much preaching or not leaving enough time for demos.  This isn’t the audience for the concept pitch, this is the audience to show off the near future to in the form of a demonstration.  Of course, focusing on the demo isn’t always a recipe for success – some demo-driven presentations will invariably lose themselves in minutiae and lose the audience along the way.  The best demos told a good story, alongside a good demo.

Anatoly Belaychuk took some great photos of the event while he was there.  Official photographer?  And the presentations will soon be available on Youtube.

Bruce Silver acted as the primary Emcee this time around, with Nathaniel filling in at times and the Palmers running all the logistics.  After each session, Bruce would typically lead off with one of his own questions to get the ball rolling and then get the microphone to the audience for further questions.  The Q&A is often the best part of these presentations, and a good sign that you did well with the presentation, is how many interesting questions you get afterward.

Content at the conference hit on a few themes:

  • Mobile BPM
  • Ad-hoc processes
  • Integration
  • Model interchange and standards
  • Extending BPM into other areas (gantt charts, enterprise architecture)
  • Process Intelligence and analytics – this category had more entrants than I would have expected, and it was interesting for how much room for improvement there still is.

 

The main complaint for the event was that the networking was that it ended too early each night!  The drinks and food were taken away before 9pm, which left the group of talkative BPMers at a loss.  Room for process improvement for next year!

 More to come in subsequent posts in a more targeted fashion… but this sets the table…

 

bpmNEXT