Caution: rogue TLAs

I was listening to a presentation on IBM WebSphere today when the speaker, Deon Newman, IBM’s Director of WebSphere Marketing and Communications, made what I consider to be an excruciating misappropriation of a TLA. (I know, two consecutive posts about IBM: consider it a statistical anomaly)

First of all, the presentation was supposed to be about using WebSphere to automate business processes, that is, business process management, or what most people who have anything to do with process-based technology would abbreviate as BPM. However, it was very narrowly focussed on using WebSphere MQ V6 for the EAI (system-to-system) portion of BPM, in spite of a nice boilerplate slide on integrating people, processes, information and applications. Fair enough, still some interesting information, but if these MQ guys are going to join the party, they have to realize that MQ-type EAI is part of a larger BPM picture.

To confuse things further, there is a field of business intelligence and analytics called business performance monitoring — also abbreviated as BPM — which is what we used to call executive information systems (EIS) or decision support systems (DSS). Within the process world, the monitoring of business processes and performance is referred to as “business activity monitoring” (BAM), probably to distinguish it from the “real” BPM, and because it can include raw activity data as well as aggregate performance measures. The upshot is that for process-centric players, BPM means business process management, and monitoring of the processes and other performance measures is BAM. Gartner published an interesting report on the convergence of BPM and BAM last year, but they still classify them separately, and under those names. To clarify the overlap, a BPM system may include “BAM Lite” capabilities for monitoring the processes that it models and executes, but a full-on BAM system allows for inputs from several systems, including BPM systems, to create an overall view of the business activities. Of course, there’s also another BPM, business process modelling, although that is widely accepted as part of business process analysis (BPA) because of the round-trip nature of modelling and simulation.

Anyway, at the end of the presentation, Mr. Newman was asked a question about whether WebSphere MQ included BAM. He started his response by re-labelling BAM as “business process monitoring” and stating “We use the moniker ‘BPM’.” Huh? A third, slightly different meaning for an already overloaded TLA? Tsk, tsk. I was left with the feeling that either IBM doesn’t really have a clue where WebSphere MQ fits into the world of BPM (that’s business process management), or they’re not paying attention to anything that anyone else is saying, or they’re attempting some creative marketing spin.

I’m not beating up on IBM specifically, I’m beating up on the marketing department of all vendors who misuse commonly-understood terms or invent completely new ones, to the detriment of the businessperson who is trying to wade through all of the doublespeak. Although some part of what I do with any customer is to sort out vendor terminology and product taxonomy, it’s not always a very exciting part (for me), and I wish that the vendors could just follow some basic guidelines for not confusing the customers. Like agreeing on their TLAs.

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