One of the advantages of being in the software industry for a long time is that I can watch trends come and go. Some of them many times. Take the buy versus build argument: is it better for an organization to build a system (for its own use) using best-of-breed components, or buy a best-in-class monolithic system from a single vendor? As with all things software, the answer is “it depends”: it depends on how well the company’s needs are accommodated by a single-vendor solution, and how much the company’s needs are expected to change on an ongoing basis.
Almost every end-customer organization that I talk to now, either in my consulting practice or through industry contacts, is deploying an in-house digital automation platform that allows them to quickly assemble capabilities into new business applications. Since business applications tend to be process- and case-centric, organizations have often ended up with a BPMS (or what Gartner might call an iBPMS) as a single-vendor solution for the core of their digital automation platform, although ERP and CRM platforms such as SAP and Salesforce are also making a play in this space.
BPMS — once (more or less) single-purpose systems for modeling and managing processes — have, Borg-like, assimilated so many other technologies and capabilities that they have become the monolith. If you sign up for their process management capabilities, you may also get decision management, analytics, event handling, user experience, social media and many other capabilities in the same box. This is what allows BPMS vendors to market their products as complete digital automation platforms, requiring only a bit of wiring to connect up with line-of-business systems and data.
If there’s one constant in how organizations work, it’s that they will outgrow their systems as their business environment (constantly) changes. And that’s exactly the problem with any monolithic system: there will certain capabilities that no longer meet your changing needs, or a disruptive new vendor or product that could replace specific capabilities with something transformative. Without the ability to decouple the components of the monolith, you may be stuck using the unwanted capabilities; at the very least, you’ll still be paying maintenance and upgrades for the entire suite rather than just the parts that you’re using.
The result of all this is that I’m seeing organizations starting to build their digital automation platforms with much more granular components, and BPMS vendors offering their products in a granularity to match that. It’s this pattern that I’ll be talking about in my bpmNEXT keynote in Santa Barbara on April 16, “Best of Breed: Rolling Your Own Digital Automation Platform using BPMS and Microservices”. Hope to see you there.