I had a chat this morning with Kristin Muhlner, webMethods‘ EVP of Product Development, and I have to say that it’s refreshing to have a discussion with another technical woman for a change, since there’s really not enough of us in this industry. 🙂
The reason for our call was to discuss webMethods’ announcement today about their upcoming release of webMethods Fabric 7.0, which will include new BPM functionality that they are using to launch into the BPM suite market — a move that will place them squarely in competition with TIBCO and IBM (this latter depending on whether someone at IBM wakes up and realizes that the BPM product that they just acquired with FileNet would perfectly round out their WebSphere suite, but that’s a topic for another day).
This change in strategic direction for webMethods has been 18 months in the making, and they’ve released a new Eclipse-based process modelling environment that takes on a different personality depending on whether the user is a business analyst or a developer. Following the direction of other BPM vendors, this can be run as a standalone desktop tool without connection to a server, and although they’re not making it a free download like Savvion has done, I have the sense that that’s being discussed. One key flaw that I could see is that although they’re modelling in BPMN, they’re serializing only to BPEL for transfer to an execution environment, not to XPDL; unfortunately, not everything that you can model in BPMN can be saved to BPEL, so I’m not sure what their solution is for this. Obviously, they must be using some other format for transferring to their own execution environment. I’ve asked for a demo of the product over the next few days, so I hope to be able to resolve this question then.
We had the inevitable discussion about browser-based modelling tools — I think that offering a modelling tool for business analysts in a browser lowers the bar significantly for adoption across an enterprise, something that modelling vendors like Proforma have already figured out — but webMethods isn’t offering that in the current product release.
The goal of this process modeller, as with many of the other BPM vendors’ modellers, is to become so ubiquitous in an organization that the business analysts no longer use Visio to model processes, but use this tool instead. That’s quite a different approach from vendors like Fujitsu, who extend Visio using something like Zynium‘s Byzio, as I’ve discussed previously. In both cases, however, vendors are looking to eliminate the translation errors that occur now when Visio diagrams are manually re-created in a BPM vendor’s modelling tool, by allowing a direct import of the process definition from the modelling environment, whether that’s Visio or a proprietary modeller. The advantage of what webMethods provides is all the things that you don’t have in an enhanced Visio environment, such as rich documentation capabilities, the ability to design KPIs directly into the process for later linking with BAM, and an environment that allows business analysts and developers to collaborate more easily. I think that they’re going to have to make this a free downloadable product in order to really see market penetration, however. They also provide a codeless development environment that allows a developer to just drag and drop services and pre-built AJAX components in order to build a custom application. And, speaking of BAM, they’ve included BAM, simulation and business rules integration in the BPM suite, too.
An advantage that webMethods will have is that the BPM suite is built directly on top of their existing integration platform, which gives them a way to mine their existing customer base of integration/SOA implementations to expand to include BPM.