#IBMInterconnect Smarter Process Impressions from a Partner

Scott Francis
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So I’ve had a week or more to reflect on IBM’s new mega conference, Interconnect.  As an attendee, it was one of the best conferences I’ve had since I started attending IBM conferences at Impact 2010, after the purchase of Lombardi Software and the remaking of IBM’s BPM offering. But I’m seeing the conference through a different lens than I was in 2010.

In 2010-11 I was primarily hoping to get insights into what IBM would make of it’s acquisition of Lombardi, and whether BP3 would have a happy future continuing to deploy “Lombardi style” BPM.  But in latter years, I’ve been looking for more indicators of how customers are making out with BPM, to make connections with customers, IBMers, and prospective customers at the conference.  We’re getting our insights into product direction outside of the conferences, and relying on the conference to reconnect with colleagues and customers.

By those measures, Interconnect was a big success:

  • More customer case studies presented than ever
  • The case studies presented are getting deeper and more interesting with time
  • Brazos UI figured prominently in customer presentations all week long
  • Several of our customers presented their BPM journey – and did a fine job of it
  • Our own session on the mobile BPM journey was well-attended with vigorous Q&A.
  • Our booth was well-attended despite the worst location we’ve had since the very first time we got a booth in 2011.
  • We reconnected with colleagues at IBM, perhaps better than ever on that front
  • Our customer event was well-attended and fostered great conversations among our community of customers
  • Our brand and presence were stronger than ever, and we don’t use silly gimmicks to get people to come to our booth.  Substance over style.

But if you were an analyst, looking for product vision, IBM left you wanting more:

In the new IBM, it’s all about customer-facing apps on phones, not cross-functional business processes. It’s about writing code, not model-driven development. This revolution, they tell us, will be hacker-led, not business-empowering. All those old BPM values and principles, apparently, are yesterday’s news.

But it seems to me that BPM – the technology, if not the IBM product – could have a valuable role to play here.

I have to admit, it is to IBM’s detriment that they can’t make the more nuanced argument – that while the revolution in cloud, mobile, security, and analytics is quite interesting, it turns out that it is all a lot more interesting in the context of your business processes. But I think those of us used to Smarter Process being the highlight of Impact will have to get used to it taking a supporting role if IBM continues with it’s Interconnect conference approach in the future.  Still, it is understandable that the marketing message is heavy handed and full of big lights, befitting of the Vegas venue – IBM is attempting to re-brand itself and sometimes that requires overdoing it, and even ignoring some of the crown jewels in its arsenal that just aren’t quite as shiny.

Moreover, the change in conference schedule from May to February hurt the Smarter Process development team. They’re on an annual release cycle and just had 4 months shaved off their development time (I’m guessing no time was shaved off of the requirements definition phase, if it is like any normal development team).  And IBM rules prevent IBM from discussing forward looking releases beyond the current quarter.  Add it up and IBM just couldn’t say as much as we would want them to say.  Worse yet, IBM seems to have squandered some of their scarce development resources attempting to catch what partners are producing in the way of UI toolkits and portal software, rather than focusing on aspects of the BPM offering that no partner can improve upon.  There are times when IBM forgets to look at customers and competitors for inspiration and starts to just look at it’s own products and ecosystems – that’s a mistake.  It’s understandable that Bruce Silver was disappointed based on what he would have wanted to see from IBM.

On the other hand, he had a great opportunity to see BP3’s latest:  Brazos UI, Brazos Portal, and Neches Analysis, at our booth.  We consider our product development efforts a pretty good leading indicator of where the action in IBM BPM is going to be in the near future, but these are hard acts to follow, and the gap between our products and the competition is only widening.

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Incidentally, an IBM’er from the UK did a great job capturing the new Smarter Process offerings in his blog, more succinctly than any other IBM BPM product positioning I’ve seen:

Infrastructure as a Service

In the IaaS space, you can create your own Smarter Process cloud leveraging a model called Bring Your Own Software and Licence (BYOSL) on SoftLayer, IBM’s Cloud. This means that you can rent a bare metal or virtualised server (or set of servers) on SoftLayer, and install Smarter Process software using your existing licences, thus creating your private Smarter Process Cloud. This approach gives you extreme flexibility, but requires product skills and a management effort for the instance.

In fact, BP3 helps several customers do just this on SoftLayer, including one of IBM’s biggest clients for Smarter Process.  We offer a 24×7 production support offering with white glove support to help customers manage their business-critical infrastructure and BPM needs. (Side note: If you’re looking at infrastructure as a service and want to bring your own licensing -or buy through BP3-  we’re the only vendor to talk to who can do this right).

The author also explains that Bluemix doesn’t attempt to replicate ODM and BPM with it’s rules service and workflow service – but rather to provide bite-sized chunks of this sort of functionality that can help enable software developers to build applications.  Think software developer as the target audience rather than “business developer” or “business user”.

If there’s one thing IBM runs the risk of losing with such a large multi-purpose event, it is customer intimacy.  The way Bruce Silver felt about the event is just one example.  It is harder to give the analysts from a dozen spaces their proper due, and it is hard to connect in a quality way with the thousands of customers.  The logistics of two venues also complicated things in a way that I’d be surprised to see IBM repeat.  Saving grace for us was that all the BPM sessions and the Solution Expo were in the same building.  Had those been split, it would have been a disaster for us, logistically, splitting our team hopelessly between two venues.

I’m happy to report we had a great event at Interconnect.  If you were looking for in depth BPM product vision, the details weren’t provided – but if you were looking for customer success stories, partner ecosystem successes, and a deeper relationship with customers and vendors alike, this was a great conference to attend.

 

 

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