I had lunch today at Innovation World with a Software AG partner that will be releasing one of the industry vertical frameworks (I didn’t ask if I could use their name, so am withholding it for now). They see the frameworks as a necessity to even demonstrate BPM to a vertical business, as well as providing a base on which to create a custom solution. A few bits about the partner frameworks:
- The partner that I spoke with does not plan to productize the framework; rather, it will be used as the starting point for a custom solution for a client. This is how I see most companies implementing frameworks on top of any BPMS, with a mixed degree of success: although it’s difficult to turn some or all of a framework into a product rather than a service, especially for the services companies who normally create them, a productized framework can have advantages when it comes to maintenance and support. Customers need to be aware that a non-productized framework is really just another piece of custom code, and the long-term maintenance costs will reflect that.
- This partner plans to retain the intellectual property of the framework and any custom code that they build on it, allowing them to roll the code developed for any customer back into the framework for resale. This is great for the industry in general, and future customers in particular, but customers would need to ensure that they specify any processes to which they do not want to give up IP rights.
- Software AG does not provide guidelines or rules for what should or should not be in a framework, or how to create one. In their online partner forum, however, they describe the existing frameworks so that partners can get an idea of what should be in one.
- Software AG is not certifying the partner frameworks, so customers need to do their own due diligence on the strength of the solution. Some sort of certification program would likely improve customer confidence in the third-party frameworks.
Vertical industry frameworks are definitely the new black in BPM these days: in addition to Software AG’s program of mixed internal and third-party frameworks, Savvion announced a fairly ambitious framework program with one tier of components built by Savvion and one by their partners, and TIBCO provides some vertical frameworks as a vertical marketing tool.
I’m all for providing a leg up for customers to start working with a BPMS in their industry, but we need to be clear about whether something is a true framework or a set of unsupported templates, understand the value that a framework can bring, and know the pitfalls of a framework approach. I’ve seen some pretty big BPMS implementations that went totally off track because of the use of a non-productized framework: the framework became brittle legacy custom code before it was even in production, was seriously impacted by a minor upgrade to the underlying BPMS platform, and did not allow access to recent modeling and optimization functions provided in the BPMS since it was designed and built for a previous version.
In general, I think that most “frameworks” that overlay BPMS’ are actually templates, providing marketing and sales support for the underlying product in that vertical, but not providing a lot of value in terms of a code base. Those that do have a significant code base are usually not productized, hence need to be evaluated as a big chunk of custom code: although the initial purchase price is likely lower than having all that code written for you, you have to consider the ongoing maintenance costs.