Caterpillar on stage for IBM at #IBMImpact Day 1

  • April 18, 2011
  • Scott

Joe Heller, CIO of Caterpillar, gave an outstanding lesson in lasting business partnerships at IBM’s Impact conference on Day 1 (Monday, April 11th, 2011).  Joe was highly quotable (“There is dirt in the wrong place all over the world, and we are there to put it in the right place”), but beneath these quotes is a deep sense of business value over time.

And he wasn’t shy about sharing real dollar values in savings.

I think David Brakoniecki sums it up best in his post:

83 years of Partnership – Caterpillar has had a relationship with IBM for 83 years.
From a business perspective, I find this mind-blowing.  Having worked the last 12 years in small businesses and start-ups, I’m lucky if I can point to a continuing business relationship that goes back 5 years.
In recent times, the recession has claimed several major brands so it’s easy to forget that long-term business partnerships are not only possible but also worth having.  It’s mpressive that the CIO of Caterpillar was willing to stand on stage and say that IBM has never disappointed him in his 38 years of working together.

It is a pretty remarkable partnership.

Other thoughts on Day 1’s General session:

  • The video wall is truly massive.  The room itself is massive.  And I can’t imagine how they’ll fit more than 8000 people in one room next year.
  • It is also interesting how cultural differences come out in a conference like this.  At one point, Marie Weick, in the middle of a very well-delivered segment, repeated some advice once given to her: “In your career you can only move forward or fall behind”.  From the perspective of someone outside the corporate ladder-climbing world, this sounds off – a career is more than two dimensions measured forward and back.  I would wish for everyone to realize that early in their career rather than late.
  • Dr. Burns has one of the most compelling cases for application of technology – pediatric care.  It is well worth watching on the livestream video.
  • It takes an immense amount of coffee to serve this many people.  Don’t expect to find coffee at the coffee stations right outside the main event.
  • Impact Day 1 kicked off on an odd note, with the opening musical performance.  At some point three of the musicians switched from instruments to iPads to finish their musical number (and of course, you can’t tell if they’re actually playing or if it was all pre-recorded, but one wonders).  It was an interesting choice to kick off the conference.

Notes from the Rest of Day 1

After the General Session, I wanted to see what IBM was saying about “which BPM to use” in one of the early sessions of the day.  Sometimes it is good to get the official positioning so that you understand how far out of alignment your own opinions are.

IBM’s positioning of BlueworksLive is:

  1. No training to use
  2. Social Application, which helps scale social talk across the business
  3. Doc and discovery tool that is easy to use
  4. Automate simple processes

At this point, I noticed the room was full.  More than full.  This would continue in virtually every BPM session that touched on Lombardi heritage at all.  IBM’s conference organizers continue to under-estimate the demand for Lombardi-BPM-themed content – but we can hope that next year will be different under the IBM BPM branding.

Someone described BlueworksLive as “Powerpoint for process applications”.

There is an open question for IBM, which remains unanswered: How to support the partner community with this product?  IBM really depends on its partner channel to expose customers to products.  Unfortunately BlueworksLive leaves a lot to be desired from a partner point of view (one could even argue that the automation is competitive with partner service offerings).  I think the answer is to simply add a few features that will make this product more partner-friendly:

  • the ability to move models from one corporate account to another (so that I can move drafts created in my sandbox to the customer’s BlueworksLive spaces).
  • an expert BPMN diagramming mode that allows expert modelers to be more precise in their process definitions.
  • more features like the “playback” feature that was introduced in the last BlueworksLive update.

Next, IBM positioned IBM BPM as targeted at the high volume, repeatable processes, while BlueworksLive is focused on the long tail processes.  Both products offer “tooling that is easy to use” (relatively speaking), “transactional integrity and scale”,  “unified environment for governance, visibility, and control”, and versioning.  (Of course, they achieve this in very different ways and targeted at different processes and users.)

Next up, I went to a hands-on lab for BlueworksLive. But, being a newcomer to Impact, it wasn’t what I expected, so I said hi to a few people and then went to take a certification test in another room.

Lunch was a forgettable affair in the trade show area.  We left lunch quickly and met up with the analysts and bloggers who were sequestered on the first floor of the conference getting the low-down on all things IBM.  Flournoy and I were able to meet with Neil Ward-Dutton , and then he was nice enough to call out Sandy Kemsley (nice to meet for the first time!), Clay Richardson, and Bruce Silver.  It was great to hear their early impressions on the IBM BPM 7.5 release first hand – it definitely added color to the blogs they wrote later.  We shared notes and there was, generally, consensus (except for Clay).   It is too bad they are isolated from the rest of the conference, I think it would be really interesting for them to see how other people interpret what they’re hearing in typical Impact sessions (I imagine they got some of this if they stayed through til Tuesday or Wednesday).

In the afternoon I saw the “Measuring Quality” session by Fahad Osmani and Sean Pizel, of IBM.  It was a wide-ranging presentation, best to get the presentation slides rather than rely on my notes.  They suggest some new measurements for BPM projects, and pointed out that programs that deliver value, repeatedly, almost always turn into successes.

We then went into a meeting with folks from the IBM partner enablement community.  We were impressed by how motivated IBM’s partner groups were to make sure BP3 is successful as an IBM partner.  It was an intense and productive conversation, and we left with concrete follow ups.  The quality of the meetings their partner group set up for us was quite impressive.

After the partner session, I made it to the second Lincoln Trust presentation of the day (I had heard great reviews of their first session of the day, just prior).  In this session they talked about their strategy for addressing a high volume of processes (100’s) with a small team and small budget.  The answer, of course, was to have standard lightweight process definitions that could represent more than one of these processes.  The key outcomes they were looking for were tracking (for visibility), standardization, and governance.  By implementing lightweight processes that could act more generically, they gave themselves a lot more data about each process before investing in building something more technically demanding.

The Lincoln Trust approach reminds me quite a lot of the Banco Espirito (BES) approach.  At this point, the team dove into technical details behind their implementation (great content).

We had dinner with a fellow BPM practitioner and long-time colleague, and then headed over to iTKO’s party at Tao Beach, where we were able to catch up with friends at their company and IBMers who also joined in.  iTKO was a Diamond sponsor of Impact – quite a step up from last year.  They made a big splash and they’ve had a great year.  Kudos to the iTKO team for a big contribution to the quality of the conference.

At the end of Day 1, I was motivated and exhausted. It was time to rest up for Day 2.


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  • Scott,
    First of all let me just say it was nice to finally meet you in person at Impact. It sounds like you had a great time!

    I will respond to the Blueworks Live partner enablement comments. I have heard your first request a number of times while at Impact and we’re looking at the feasibility of doing this. As you can imagine, there are a lot of variables in play here given that we are in a multi-tenant environment and we want to ensure our customers are reassured that what’s theirs is theirs and noone else has access to it. It’s a delicate balance.

    As for your second point, I guess Bruce already beat you to it and made the same request in one of his blogs. I like the idea of an expert mode that will expose all the nuts and bolts of BPMN to a select group of people who actually understand and want to leverage the full scope of the notation. Where it gets interesting however is when you consider this point with the previous point: what if you model something in expert mode and then you move that model into an account that has no experts. If that model still has meaning in a simplified mode, how much of that meaning have you now lost? Again, it’s a question of balance.

    I take your third point as a challenge to continue to innovate around playback sessions and the way you and others are able to better communicate your work. We accept that challenge!

    • Great to meet you at Impact as well. And we did have a great time!

      I don’t claim my thoughts are original thoughts – bruce and I have both brought up the expert mode years ago as well as recently 🙂 My thought on expert mode- I think that an already drawn BPMN diagram is understandable to someone “not an expert” – the expert mode is about drawing time – that once a diagram goes into expert mode it doesn’t come back out. You can still see the process map, but you can’t dumb it back down to the novice process diagramming view.

      I think that tradeoff would be fine. Even if the target account has no experts, they should still be able to see something an expert has drawn up. When an architect draws up plans for my house, I couldn’t do this for myself, but I still can see the finished product and understand and comment on it…

      Please, take up the challenge! 🙂

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