Apparently BPM Died Again

Scott Francis
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Apparently BPM died again while I was out, and someone forgot to tell me. Well, this isn’t the first time.  In fact, the title is even the same.  Why, way back in 2010, an eternity in technology, I wrote “BPM is Dead. Long Live BPM!” as a repudiation of those that just stopped with “BPM is Dead”.  Every so often there’s a new prophet of BPM’s doom. But so far, taking their bets would have cost you a good bit of money.  In investing, being early is a nice way of saying you were wrong.  I may not be right about the future of BPM, but I’ve been right about it for enough years to feel pretty good about my bet.

Let’s trot out the usual arguments from Suresh’ post first:

  • BPM Vendors all got it wrong (but I’ve got it right)
  • Re-characterize all those vendors as “early stage” and then bucketize them into “heavy duty integration middlewares”
  • Characterize BPM as basically SOA.  No differentiation noted among BPM vendors or approaches is allowed for in the broad brush treatment.
  • Assume that success stories were only the ones “bought” with massive investment from the vendors.
  • Randomly, credit to a (presumably) friendly analyst for “moving BPM vendors” toward a collaboration focus
  • Equate “acquisition” with failure – partly by only talking about the acquisitions that really were failures for investors (like Cordys).  No IPOs is boring, which means failure.
  • And of course, the answer is self-service.  Where the process owner and process creator are one and the same.  Like spreadsheets.

So, a quick rebuttal:

  • Some vendors got it wrong, some got it right. Notably, during the entire period of Suresh’ critique, Lombardi (and then as part of IBM, IBM BPM) has grown every year.  Similarly, Pega has grown every year.  I can’t say for sure whether Appian has grown every year, but from their blog posts we can assume every year in recent years.  One of the reasons Lombardi won early on was precisely because it wasn’t a SOA-focused approach – and IBM needed that “business-first” set of priorities when it bought Lombardi.
  • It is always easy to pick on a straw man or two, without naming names.  Back in 2003-2008, I don’t recall hearing anything of OrangeScape on the BPM scene during that time… I must have missed it. But Lombardi was winning business competing against Webmethods, Tibco, Vitria, Staffware, Pega, IBM, Metastorm, Global360, etc. by focusing on the business problems, processes, and solutions.
  • At Lombardi, successes were just that – customer successes.  You might be able to buy a case study, but you can’t buy fans.  We’re doing the same thing at BP3.
  • Vendors more often push analyst points of view than the other way around.  Analysts synthesize what they’re hearing and attempt to play it back in a value-added way. Or spot trends before everyone else has put their finger on it, or put a label on it.  But the interesting ideas start with software companies and their customers.
  • Acquisitions are not all made equal.  Lombardi’s worked out well for investors and employees, and absolutely for IBM.  It even worked out well for most customers, despite everyone’s predictions otherwise.
  • Self-service isn’t the answer for everyone’s processes.  Not all process owners want to be process authors.  Not all processes can avoid enterprise integration.   This is basically mirroring the ACM crowd’s arguments, which haven’t moved the market.

Suresh paints a picture of change being brutal, and of BPM vendors fighting to manage each technology change.  Maybe that’s how it felt at the companies he worked at, but it has always felt to me that BPM as an industry has done a remarkable job of floating along on top of dramatic technological changes – and reaping the benefits.  Brutal change would be Google deciding to shut down its marketplace for Apps, but brutal doesn’t describe the wide open opportunities facing BPM companies.

Certainly, as customers and practitioners with BPM products, we’ve experienced great benefits from the technology changes – not some kind of perpetual battle of adapting. Maybe this is just in the eye of the beholder – the way some people “fight” cold weather and snow, and the way other people embrace it and take up skiing and hockey and ice fishing (looking at you, Minneapolis office!).

I’ll go back to my thoughts 4+ years ago:

Let’s imagine a world where there are only 3 BPM engines in the world, like the three heads of Cerberus. One from Oracle, one from IBM, and one from Microsoft. Or, if you prefer hydras, we could have another one from SAP. BPM will have achieved the ubiquity of RDBMS because every corporation that buys software from these giant software providers will have at least one BPM engine as part of their enterprise stack, along with requisite modeling tools.

Some would call this death for BPM.  But no one would describe databases as dead.  We use them all the time.  And BPM will become ubiquitous as well.  Is becoming more mainstream all the time.  And why am I so confident?

Because it has never been about BPM engines, the parts that the business never sees.  Or software stacks.  It’s always been about the ease in building the applications that the engine runs, the ease of adapting those applications to changing business requirements (processes), and the effectiveness of the measurements, dashboards, and analytics that provide the learning feedback loop for the business.

A few IPOs would have been more exciting.  And in times when enterprise software companies were awarded better multiples, might have made sense. And the new batch of BPM tech and companies coming along is pretty interesting too.  I see no reason for melancholy with the batch of startups that are hitting the market with interesting products that take different approaches to BPM (or facets of BPM). I think things might just get more interesting.  Ubiquitous BPM has a good ring to it.

BPM is the anti-hype software category, where the steady-eddy wins.  Where the patience and persistence of disciplined organizations and good leaders pays off.  It makes it really frustrating for those that want a quick win.

I may not be right about the future of BPM, but we’re going to invest in BPM and our business because we believe that BPM is not dead, and that the prophets of doom are early once again.

 

 

 

  • sureshsambandam

    Scott,

    Nice to see a point by point rebutal. Despite this, I still don’t see a strong argument to change my views. BTW, You should check out http://kissflow.com, not OrangeScape!

    After my post, I stumbled upon Gartner’s post on the same topic!
    http://blogs.gartner.com/elise-olding/2014/04/02/introducing-bpmshift-bpm-is-dead-long-live-big-change/

    Now, what say?

    Thanks,
    Suresh

    • I’m sorry, was there something in that Gartner post that was relevant? Or are you just saying that since Gartner said it, it must be true? : ) Of course, if that is the case, one wonders why they didn’t put KissFlow on the quadrant, right? It’s kind of a double-edged sword. I did check out kissflow – there just isn’t much information there unless I want to click the “get started” button, which I don’t! And the company is orange scape.. so… that’s what I checked out.

      I’m sorry you didn’t find my post convincing, but on that front, we’re even.

      • sureshsambandam

        Scott,

        It is a shame that I didn’t Google on the topic before I did the post. But after your post I had to do that anyway. And, in the process I found Gartner’s post and more.

        My point was it is not just me saying it, but a lot of folks from the industry have talked about it, I thought, only supports my case. :-) !

        Thanks,
        Suresh

      • I get your point… but I think it just proves that the prognosticators have consistently gotten the death of BPM wrong. And still are :) Every 2 years apparently… :)

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  • I’m not sure if this post needs re-visiting. To paint a very vulgar picture on it – the ease-of-use part is winning very heavily right now. We are doing pretty well at https://tallyfy.com

    In essence, taking the power of BPM but hiding some of the parts that DO need process design experience is where the art is – and we are now beginning to master this art. The last thing customers need is an IT army for a simple solution to niche problems. The key there is to see that most business processes are too small for a dedicated solution – that’s why the new “process management for anyone” space of apps is taking hold.

    Happy to engage further, as I’ve watched this area for a decade :-)

    • Congrats :) Looks a lot like kissflow. There’s definitely a place in the world for tools like this, reminder apps, to-do lists, etc.

      Question : how do you make money for partners with tallyfy? or is your go-to-market based on direct distribution?

      • Thank you :-)

        We have a partner program, and actually have 4 Six Sigma Black Belts signed up already, with an intent to scale when we’re ready. We recognise the channel approach and value it drives and are firm on our commitment to it.

        Are you in Silicon Valley? Happy to chat in person if so!

      • I want to also clarify that we don’t really sit in the todo and reminder app space. We actually are proper process management. We do full integration with an API – see https://app.tallyfy.com and https://api.tallyfy.com + Zapier and actually do conditional branching through a beautiful use of tagging on steps.

        This is achieved via IFTTT (if this then that) statements. Theoretically, we aim to cater for every flowchart-centric BPM scenario, while still keeping things looking like a checklist. The maximum UI complexity we have is swim lanes (coming soon).

        More importantly, we are going for removing the UI itself through conversational bots. Since 2 billion+ people in the world are already familiar with chat apps like Slack and Whatsapp – a bot chatting with you to fill a form and do approvals and handovers is far more natural than attempting to make form fields “smaller” to fit on a phone screen. The resulting use cases make my mind spin.

        I believe this approach will re-define the legacy market – since customers are incredibly thirsty for solutions that are easy, which fail fast, which are agile and mobile-first.

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