Comparing BPM conferences

The fall conference season has kicked off, and I’ve already had the pleasure of attending 3 BPM conferences: the International BPM conference (academic), Appian’s first user conference (vendor), and the Gartner BPM summit (analyst). It’s rare to have 3 such different conferences crammed into 2 weeks, so I’ll sum up some of the differences that I saw.

The International BPM conference (my coverage) features the presentation of papers by academics and large corporate research labs covering various areas of BPM research. Most of the research represented at the conference is around process modeling in some way — patterns, modularity, tree structures, process mining — but there were a few focused on process simulation and execution issues as well. The topics presented here are the future of BPM, but not necessarily the near future: some of these ideas will likely trickle into mainstream BPM products over the next 5 years. It’s also a very technical conference, and you may want to arm yourself with a computer science or engineering background before you wade into the graph theory, calculus and statistics included in many of these papers. This conference is targeted at academics and researchers, but many of the smaller BPM vendors (the ones who don’t have a big BPM research lab like IBM or SAP) could benefit by sending someone from their architecture or engineering group along to pick up cool ideas for the future. They might also find a few BPM-focused graduate students who will be looking for jobs soon.

Appian’s user conference (my coverage) was an impressive small conference, especially for their first time out. Only a day long, plus another day for in-depth sessions at their own offices (which I did not attend), it included the obligatory big-name analyst keynote followed by a lot of solid content. The only Appian product information that we saw from the stage was a product update and some information on their new partnership with MEGA; the remainder of the sessions was their customers talking about what they’ve done with Appian. They took advantage of the Gartner BPM summit being in their backyard, and scheduled their user conference for earlier the same week so that Appian customers already attending Gartner could easily add on a day to their trip and attend Appian’s conference as well. Well run, good content, and worth the trip for Appian customers and partners.

Gartner’s BPM summit (my coverage), on the other hand, felt bloated by comparison. Maybe I’ve just attended too many of these, especially since they started going to two conferences per year last year, but there’s not a lot of new information in what they’re presenting, and there seems to be a lot of filler: quasi-related topics that they throw in to beef up the agenda. There was a bit of new material on SaaS and BPM, but not much else that caught my interest. Two Gartner BPM summits per year is (at least) one too many; I know that they claim to be doing it in order to cover the east-west geography, but the real impact is that the vendors are having to pony up for two of these expensive events each year, which will kill some of the other BPM events due to lack of sponsorship. Although I still think that the Gartner BPM summit is a good place for newbies to get a grounding in BPM and related technologies, having a more diverse set of BPM events available would help the market overall.

If you’re a customer and have to choose one conference per year, I’d recommend the user conference put on by your BPM vendor — you’ll get enough of the general information similar to Gartner, plus specific information about the product that you’ve purchased and case studies by other customers. If you haven’t made a purchasing decision yet and/or are really new to BPM, then the Gartner BPM summit is probably a better choice, although there are other non-vendor BPM events out there as well. For those of you involved in the technical side of architecting and developing BPM products at vendors or highly sophisticated customers, I recommend attending the International BPM conference.

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