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Friday, May 14, 2010 by Neil Ward-Dutton
Last week I flew to Vegas to attend IBM’s IMPACT customer conference. As James points out IMPACT used to be the conference for WebSphere customers; however a couple of years ago Sandy Carter (then head of marketing for WebSphere) put paid to that by shifting the focus to IBM’s big unifying story of the day – SOA. By doing this the event became a showcase for IBM capabilities, rather than for IBM products. Now, in 2010, the focus shifted again – this time to Business Process Management (BPM). At the same time, a dedicated business leaders’ track introduced last year was also further fleshed out; and IBM was serious about getting business leaders along – it partnered with Forbes for that reason.
Although it wasn’t the only theme gaining attention at the event, BPM echoed strongly through the keynotes on the first day – highlighted as “what links business strategy to execution”. It’s tempting to jump to the conclusion from this that IBM has got business process religion, but let’s not forget that the company has been feeding from the business process re-engineering trough for many years – its services arm has long vied with Accenture to be the top global SAP implementation partner.
What was more telling here was not the platitudes about the importance of business processes – but the frequency with which technology from recently-acquired Lombardi was placed front and centre in those same keynote sessions (see Bruce Silver’s note). And as Scott Francis from BPM implementation specialist BP3 pointed out the Lombardi-specific breakouts were very heavily attended – this stuff clearly impressed attendees from what I heard and saw.
During a meeting with Steve Mills, head of IBM Software, I asked Steve if – following the recent acquisitions of Lombardi (widely acknowledged as delivering very easy-to-use tools) and Cast Iron (just brought into IBM the previous day and another company with very consumable technology, here’s my first take) – we could expect IBM to look at consumability as a key attribute when selecting future acquisitions. This is what he said:
“IBM knows how to build engines; we have lots of them and we’re very good at it. What we need to do now is build services and features around them to make cars that people instinctively want to buy and drive.”
This chimed strongly with another comment, from a meeting I had with Robert Le Blanc (IBM’s SVP of Middleware). When discussing the current state of the market for IBM’s middleware offerings Robert said:
“We know that we have to take market share in order to grow, and we see competitive tactics as more important than ever – clients are consolidating their vendor relationships.”
IBM knows that in order to keep growing (and Software is a big deal for IBM from a profit perspective) it can’t afford to be perceived merely as a provider of Big Tech for people with Big Problems and Big Wallets. Acquisitions like Lombardi and Cast Iron (which bring an ability to reach into smaller organisations as well as bringing customers results quickly) are going to be key to this future.
All of this means that time is of the essence for IBM as it determines a roadmap for the coexistence of WebSphere BPM Lombardi Edition (formerly Teamworks) and WebSphere BPM Dynamic Process Edition. This isn’t because it’s critical for IBM to have an architecturally perfect BPM technology platform for customers that can be used to implement all kinds of process scenarios as well as acting as a dessert topping and a floor wax; but because at the same time that IBM is turning its gears at its own steady, measured pace, BPM technology is hitting the mainstream. And TIBCO, Pegasystems and Oracle are all making significant strides – and I’m willing to bet that salespeople from all these IBM BPM competitors are busy spreading FUD about the potential risks of buying into IBM’s offering while things are still “up in the air”.
In this kind of environment, it’s not enough to say “don’t worry, IBM has lots of BPM technology and it’ll find something in its kitbag to help you.” I’m hoping IBM clarifies things sooner rather than later.