The value of vendor white papers

Every vendor writes white papers that try to appear vendor-neutral (in an effort to build their street cred), but which have subtle — or not-so-subtle — hidden agendas. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read them, just don’t take them as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The best approach is to read a variety of sources on a subject from both vendors’ white papers and “independent” analysts (who, of course, have their own agendas as well) and start looking at the common themes and messages across all of them. If a vendor doesn’t mention something that is considered important by several others, that could highlight a missing functionality or flaw in their system. However, when one vendor offers an opinion that is vastly different from all the others, then either they’re trying to justify a flaw, or they’ve really discovered a better way of doing things and are the first to flaunt it. Don’t discount the latter possibility out of hand, because a vendor is much more likely to be silent about their flaws rather than try to justify them, so if they’re talking about it in a white paper, then they may have something to say.

I read a lot of vendor white papers and analyst reports because it’s my job to stay on top of what’s happening in the BPM and related spaces, and it’s nice to run across one that I can recommend every once in a while. Last week, I saw this report from Metastorm published on TechRepublic (TechRepublic free registration required to view) about choosing a BPMS. It includes five very valid steps along the selection path:

  1. Consider the vendor’s core competence.
  2. Consider the vendor’s reputation and position in the market.
  3. Validate the essentials.
  4. Evaluate implementation & maintenance requirements.
  5. Ensure the solution can support your unique process needs.

and provides a checklist of activities as well as a description for each of these activities. In the first step, they take a direct shot at EAI vendors who have grown into the BPM space: a hidden agenda of sorts, since Metastorm built their product as BPM from the start, but one that I don’t necessarily disagree with:

Many of the solutions marketed for BPM today were not actually developed for BPM — for example, EAI may be great for data to data integration and automation of system flows, but because it was not developed to address human interaction, it is unlikely to be the ideal solution for human-intensive process management, where human involvement and decision making is key.

I’ve run into situations in the past where an EAI vendor has positioned themselves as BPM and made large (and inappropriate) sales because of it. At some point, however, an EAI vendor will presumabely have built sufficient BPM functionality and expertise to be allowed into the club. Furthermore, it’s fair to say that the line between EAI and BPM is sufficient vague that there will be many vendors who play in both arenas instead of being in one and interfacing to the other: check out my post last week on integration stacks as well as Gartner’s emerging view of what’s in a BPMS.

All in all, there’s very little in the Metastorm white paper that most other BPM vendors would disagree with. At only 2-1/2 pages of real content, it’s a somewhat superficial look at the vendor evaluation process, but a good starting point.

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