LucidEra launches today

I had the chance last week for a chat with Ken Rudin and Alex Moissis of LucidEra, and a preview of their SaaS business intelligence offering aimed at the SMB marketplace that is being released in general availability today. Rudin, LucidEra’s CEO, was previously with Salesforce.com, Oracle and Siebel CRM OnDemand, so you have to assume that he knows something about both BI and SaaS; Moissis, VP of Marketing, had a long run at Business Objects in product marketing and product strategy.

In most BI projects that I’ve seen, ROI comes quickly — usually less than a year, sometimes less than six months — since it allows analysis of costs, revenues and risks in ways that just aren’t possible using spreadsheets and paper reports. Once the patterns in the data are made visible, companies can act on these trends to cut costs and increase revenues, either in a manual or automated fashion. This is great if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on a big BI solution, and an IT team to put it in place and get the initial reports up and running, but not so great if you’re smaller, with less money to spend and little or no IT support for a BI project.

LucidEra report with quota field addedWhat LucidEra showed me will help to address that issue for SMBs: a very Web 2.0-looking hosted BI application, supporting multiple data sources, and easy enough to use by anyone familiar with a spreadsheet. In short, they’re trying to simplify BI enough that a smaller company with little IT infrastructure can adopt it and start to reap the benefits. There’s a basic BI platform with pre-built solutions on top of the platform; some of the solutions, like their initial forecast-to-billing one, are included in the base price, whereas others may be at an additional cost, especially those created by third parties. The base price will be around $3,000 per month, which includes 100 users, 3 different data connections, and the aforementioned forecast-to-billing application. It seems like a lot of money, but think about it: the per-user price is about halfway between Salesforce.com and Blueprint. Welcome to the world of paying for your “enterprise” software monthly on your American Express card, and stopping it at any time that you’re not happy with it.

Setting up a new company in LucidEra is a self-service activity, and LucidEra doesn’t even offer professional services to assist with this, although they do provide telephone and online support. Typically for their beta customers (of which there are about a dozen, ranging in size from less than 50 to several hundred employees), this takes up to five person-days spread over as much as three weeks, and is mostly about getting the data sources properly hooked up and doing some data cleansing on the results. Although I didn’t review this process, it sounds as if you’re not going to need professional help for this one, just someone internally who understands your data sources already.

LucidEra graph by regionWe spent quite a bit of time looking at the forecast-to-billing application, doing some slicing and dicing on the data. In the sample that we looked at, the customer data (expected revenue) came from Salesforce.com, the financials (booked revenue) came from NetSuite, and the quota information came from an Excel spreadsheet. These are just three of the data sources that LucidEra can support in any combination: for example, the financials could have come from Oracle Financials instead.

The really cool thing is that there is no distinction between the design and view environment: if you’re viewing a report, you can change it interactively. We added fields to the report, filtered it, grouped by fields (creating the equivalent to an Excel pivot table) and viewed it as a graph, all through dragging things around on the screen. If we didn’t like our changes, we could undo them one at a time, or revert back to the original report.

A few technical notes: the client is purely browser-based, and will run in IE or Firefox on Windows. Ken was going to confirm whether it ran on other platforms (Mac and Linux) but I haven’t heard back yet. They developed their own back-end database based on the Broadbase data warehouse source code and some open-source technology, then rebuilt for multi-tenancy, ease-of-use and to optimize for the SaaS environment. All of this was put together in about 15 months, a timeline that they could not have accomplished except by using the code bases that they started with.

The press release isn’t up on their site yet, but you should be able to find it, and all the other information, there later today.

BI isn’t a field that I usually cover in depth, but keep in mind last week’s themes at the Gartner conference: visibility and agility. BI combined with BPM is one of the ways that visibility into business processes is being realized.

Blueprint webinar now available for replay

I hosted a webinar — now available for replay — with Colin Teubner of Forrester and Jim Rudden of Lombardi on Tuesday this week, discussing collaborative process modelling and on-demand BPM in the wake of Lombardi’s beta release of Blueprint on Monday.

I have to say, the conversation that we had in the 20 minutes following the presentation portion of the webinar was so much fun, I told Colin and Jim that next time they only get one slide each, and we spend the rest of the time on open discussion. It was great to host an analyst like Colin who is great at off-the-cuff answers, even when I ask questions totally out of left field, and Jim was very up front when I quizzed him on his competitors (Appian‘s SaaS announcement on Monday, which I’ll write more about later today) and interoperability (yes, you could take the BPDM output from Blueprint and import it to any BPMS that supports BPDM).

We didn’t get to half of the audience questions, but obviously the conversation was compelling, because the number of attendees in the webinar didn’t drop off during the Q&A portion as usually happens.

Savvion enters the brawl

Nothing like a good old-fashioned vendor smackdown. In response to the software-as-a-service announcements by Lombardi and Appian on Monday, Pat “Fighting Irish” Morrissey of Savvion threw in his two cents worth:

Yesterday’s announcements are a beautiful snapshot of on-demand’s reality and hype in practice. Appian’s solution is a good Web-only application – and we applaud their effort to focus on BPM for the small and medium market (SMBs). Lombardi, however, is trying to use SaaS as a way to divert attention from the fact that they now have a beta modeling tool with PowerPoint export – it’s not on-demand, it’s BPM modeler ‘light’.

Pat is right about one thing: Lombardi’s Blueprint is BPM Modeler Lite — but that’s exactly the intention. I had a chance to talk to Pat today, and I’m not sure that Savvion, and most likely other BPM vendors, are really understanding what Lombardi is doing, and how they’re pushing into a relatively new part of a very crowded BPA/BPM space. Although Lombardi talks up the easy-to-use high-level process “sketching” view in Blueprint, what I think is so hot about Blueprint is the collaboration functionality: presence and the shared whiteboard paradigm. Not “collaboration” by virtue of a shared repository where multiple people can serially access a process model, but a true interactive collaboration. You can be sure that there will be a lot of scouting around the vendor booths at the Gartner BPM conference in a couple of weeks as people try to figure out what this all means.

Morrissey went on to say (in his press statement yesterday):

Savvion has offered a full-featured process modeler as a free download on our website to help business and IT users get started with BPM for more than two years. 75,000 users have downloaded our modeler and we welcome Lombardi’s move to adopting our market leading strategy.

Interesting, but I think that this misses the point: regardless of functionality, what Appian and Lombardi are offering is zero-download software as a service, and what Savvion is offering is a downloadable desktop application. Apples, meet oranges.

In a post last April, I talked about the wave of free, downloadable modeling tools, and the big problem with them — the installation restrictions on many corporate desktops — that made this solution my least favourite of the ways to distribute process modeling to the masses. In short, a few vendors, such as Savvion (who pioneered the concept) provide a free downloadable version of their process design tool, which can be installed and run standalone on your desktop without connecting to a server. Although I like the idea of process design for the masses, and this type of solution enforces standards and provides some degree of process validation, it has a major flaw that I find to be a show-stopper in most of my customer’s corporate environments: it requires that the user be able to download and install an application on their desktop. If you are a business analyst at, say, a large bank, you almost certainly can’t do that because IT policies prevent it through some sort of desktop lockdown security. Even if you could, the process of downloading and installing software is not something that a lot of business analysts do regularly, so could be a bit of a barrier in itself, but that’s a moot point if the user doesn’t even have the ability to install software locally.

At that time of that post in April, I gave the edge to Visio together with an add-on like Zynium‘s Byzio to model a process in Visio, optionally using a BPMN template, then export it as XPDL for import into a vendor’s BPM design tool. This alternative, used by Fujitsu among others, has the huge advantage of using a tool that is already on the desktop of virtually every business analyst, and easing the learning curve as the business analyst moves into process design and starts to learn BPMN. The disadvantage is that Visio is a general purpose tool that creates “dumb” process models: it doesn’t enforce standards such as BPMN, doesn’t prevent the analyst from adding all sort of nonsensical things to a process model, doesn’t provide any sort of validation against the process server, and doesn’t provide higher level functions that you’ll find in a BPM vendor’s process designer, such as direct hookups to rules engines or web services.

In the past several months, however, I’m leaning towards the browser-based approach, especially after seeing what’s possible in a full-featured process modeller from Appian, and Lombardi’s new process mapper.

As I’ve been predicting for a while, this will be the year of SaaS BPM, and the only way to accomplish that is with a fully browser-based solution like Appian Anywhere. And as I’ve also been predicting, this will be the year of Web 2.0 colliding with BPM, of which Lombardi is giving us a taste.

Appian also offering on-demand BPM

Late in the day today, likely after they saw my Lombardi Blueprint post, I received a message from Appian announcing that they had released an on-demand, subscription-based BPM service. This appears to be a SaaS version of their BPM suite, although it’s hard to tell since they only sent me the press release and a package of six screenshots in their email, most of which appear to show setup and admin screens (look! you can change colour schemes!).

The big difference between this and what Lombardi announced today is that this is the full BPM suite, not just a high-level process modeller. I’ve posted previously about Appian’s killer browser-based process designer, so it’s straightforward (although by no means trivial) for them to convert the whole shebang to a proper SaaS offering. Unlike Lombardi, it’s not clear whether they’ve added any Web 2.0/social software concepts such as collaboration, or whether this is just a straight-up deployment of their existing product. Since they didn’t brief me in advance, I don’t have a lot more information about it, but they’ve promised me a phone call sometime real soon. [Note to vendors: if you want analyst/bloggers to write about your stuff in any amount of detail on the day that it releases, it’s a good idea to do that briefing ahead of time.]

I’ve been saying for some time that SaaS is coming for BPM. There have been a few attempts at this in the past, such as the Global 360-funded Process Factory, but nothing has really made any impact in the marketplace, not like Salesforce.com has done for sales automation. Appian, as an established BPM brand, could be the first to see some success in this area.

Naked Process Modelling with Lombardi

“Naked blogging” is a term that’s applied to living your life transparently on the web through your blog and other social media, like Flickr, del.icio.us, Skype, LinkedIn, Library Thing and Facebook. Most of my friends around my age (which, as you can tell from many of my online profiles, is 46) are appalled at the amount of information that I expose out there, although the younger crowd that I hang with at TorCamp see it as perfectly normal, and I truly believe that if you’re going to get benefit from the network effects of Web 2.0, you need to contribute every bit as much as you expect to get back.

Two weeks ago, when I had a chance for a preview of Lombardi’s new Blueprint Web 2.0-like, software-as-a-service process modeller, my first reaction was “Cool! Naked process modelling!” After all, if you could model your processes online and invite people from within or outside your organization to collaborate on the design of those processes, wouldn’t you expect to see some benefit from that collaboration?

Blueprint addresses some of the issues seen in current process modelling tools: too much complexity for the casual user, and too little ability to collaborate. They call it “process discovery” rather than process modelling, host it as software-as-a-service, and let you get started with a free version (limited to one process and two users) to try it out before you spring for the monthly subscription. Just go to the site, start sketching out your process, then invite others to participate in the design. Like a wiki, everyone who you invite to collaborate on your process can make edits, and you’ll see their edits right away — a true shared whiteboard paradigm. Last September, I used the term “process wiki” in a post and at a couple of conferences where I was speaking, and that’s pretty much what Lombardi has done here.

They’ve also integrated presence into the application using the Google Talk instant messaging client: you can see if your process collaborators are online (notice the “4 Other Users Viewing” indicator in the top right of the first screenshot below), and chat with them through Google Talk. You can also use your Google Talk buddy list to invite people to join the collaboration. As a big Skype user, I’m hoping that they add other IM clients eventually.

Given what I’ve been doing lately around Enterprise 2.0, and seeing how Web 2.0 impacts BPM, this is one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen in BPM for quite a while. I must disclose that Lombardi is a client of mine, but I’d be saying the same thing even if they weren’t.

The visual paradigm is that of outlining a process by specifying the main high-level activities, then the sub-activities within each activity. In fact, you see both the flow diagram and the outline view:

Blueprint outline view

Notice anything weird about this screenshot? That’s right, it’s taken on a Mac. In fact, the Lombardi product manager who gave me the demo came into the meeting room toting his MacBook, which was not something that I was expecting to see. I’ve also seen it on Firefox on Windows. What better way to demonstrate platform independence? The Web 2.0 style interface is very slick, and there won’t be much of a learning curve for anyone who is comfortable with other web-based applications.

You can then specify a lot more detail for the process, including participants, inputs and outputs, impact analysis information such as potential failure points and likelihood of occurrence (very Six Sigma-like), and documentation.

You can also drill down into a more detailed BPMN view of the process for detailed workflow modelling:

Blueprint BPMN view

You can generate a PowerPoint presentation from the process model, which includes all of the additional parameters specified, for presenting the business case of the process further up the management chain. The demo that I saw generated a 60-page PowerPoint presentation with every possible bit of detail; I think that the problem would be cutting it down to size rather than the usual problem of having to find information to add to the presentation.

Once the collaboration has gone as far as it can, the process model can be exported to Lombardi’s TeamWorks, using (soon-to-be-released) BPDM as the serialization format — with Lombardi’s CTO chairing the BPMI steering committee at OMG, which oversees the BPDM standards, this isn’t a big surprise. You can even round-trip the processes from TeamWorks back to Blueprint when they need another round of collaborative design.

I think that their pricing is too high — $500/month for 10 users, whereas Salesforce.com is around $165/month for a 10-user team, and is currently discounted to half of that — but that will sort itself out in the marketplace. I suggested that their free version be ad-supported, much like the freemium business models of other Web 2.0 applications like Flickr and LinkedIn; I got a few weird looks from around the table at that point, but who knows, I may have put a bug in someone’s ear.

They are almost certainly going to have requests from companies to host the application on internal servers rather than Lombardi’s software as a service, although the success of Salesforce.com (especially in maintaining privacy of data) means that there’s a lot of companies out there are that starting to trust the SaaS model. Looking in a completely different direction, I would love to see Lombardi make Blueprint open source, which would drive collaborative process modelling into places that they never imagined. Although it could negatively impact Blueprint revenue — it’s still possible to have revenue-generating open source, it just requires a bit more imagination — it could serve to drive more business to Lombardi’s core products.

In a year-end emerging trends article in December, I predicted both “modelling for the masses” and “Web 2.0 hits BPM”. Lombardi’s Blueprint delivers on both of these, and I look forward to seeing how they take it forward from here. If it’s like all other good Web 2.0 software, it will adhere to the principle of constant improvement rather than monolithic release cycles.

There’s a lot more to it than what I’ve discussed here, and if you’re interested, check out the webinar that I’m hosting tomorrow entitled Are You Ready for On-Demand BPM with Colin Teubner of Forrester Research and Jim Rudden of Lombardi, in which Jim talks a lot more about Blueprint. You can also sign up for the beta program if you want to try it out for yourself; as of the end of April, it will be available to everyone. I signed up this morning, but received the following email back from Lombardi a short while later:

Dear Sandy,

Thank you for your interest in Lombardi Blueprint. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming number of requests for Blueprint accounts, we are unable to activate your account at this time.

We will keep your registration information in our database and will contact you when we can provide you with an account.

I’m hoping to be able to pull some strings and get in the beta program sometime soon. 🙂

For those of you who did manage to get a beta account, go on, get out there and expose your processes!

The Other Four Misperceptions of Outsourcing

Almost six months later, part 2 of this Gartner podcast arrives. Linda Cohen talks about the second four of the eight myths:

  • the myth of sourcing independence;
  • the myth of service autonomy;
  • the myth of economies of scale;
  • the myth of service management as self-management;
  • the myth of the enemy (i.e., setting up the vendor as an adversary);
  • the myth of procurement;
  • the myth of steady state; and
  • the myth of sourcing competency.

Good discussion, especially on how procurement needs to get a better handle on how to negotiate long-running services contracts in a non-adversarial way (myths 5 & 6). As a long-time service provider, I know how important it is that you start a contract with both parties not feeling like they just got screwed, because that can damage the relationship for months or years to come. Organizations that are used to using a heavy-handed approach with product vendors might want to consider that they’re now negotiating with another company that is going to become an integral part of their operations for a long time — the mentality needs to be more like hiring an employee than buying a product.

Myth 7 (steady state) is also interesting, although pretty obvious: business changes, and the relationship between an organization and its outsourcer needs to be able to adjust accordingly on a fairly regular basis.

It’s probably worth going back to the podcast covering the first four myths and listening to them together.

SaaS and doppio macchiatos

I just received the latest copy of Roger Sessions’ ObjectWatch newsletter (direct link to PDF), and there’s a great article in it explaining SaaS in terms of making your own doppio macchiato instead of going to Starbucks, then later gives an IT cost-avoidance example for SaaS that lines up perfectly with the espresso-making analogy.

He also discusses the two models of SaaS revenue: pay-as-you-go (like Salesforce.com), or watch-as-you-go (ad-supported, like Google, and like most mashups). There are many Web 2.0/SaaS services out there that have a watch-as-you-go free version, and a pay-as-you-go premium version — Flickr, Mollyguard and Nuvvo all come to mind — so the two models are definitely not mutually exclusive for one provider.

If you want a quick and easy way to understand SaaS, or to explain and justify it to your organization, some great ideas in this newsletter. Worth reading.

Mashup Camp 2 Day 1: Mashdowns

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had to do all my blogging today offline because of the spotty wifi in the Computer History Museum, and I have to say that Windows Notepad makes a pretty sucky offline blogging tool. However, I’m relaxing back in my room listening to the newly-downloaded and extremely enjoyable Veneer (just available on iTunes, after I couldn’t buy the CD after a month of trying on Amazon.ca), cleaning up the blog posts and paper notes from today.

Following the kickoff session, we headed off to breakout sessions proposed by anyone and everyone during the kickoff. Each session was supposed to update the wiki with notes from anyone at the session, and you can find the grid of sessions here with links to the wiki pages with the notes. I’ll link to the notes for each of the sessions that I attended.

The first one that I headed to was “Mashdowns: mashing for competitive advantage in rich client/enterprise applications“, led by Mike Fisher and Ben Widhelm from ElephantDrive. They see this as a second generation of mashups: more tightly integrated into desktop or enterprise applications, and more focussed on “doing” rather than “consuming” — which seems pretty much aligned with my ideas about BPM and mashups. I hate their term “mashdown”, however, preferring the more-commonly used “enterprise mashup”. Really, the distinction between first and second generation mashups is primarily between consumer mashups and business/enterprise mashups.

We gathered a number of ideas about the difference between first and second generation mashups:

  • First generation mashups are about the “what”, and are primarily about aggregating/joining/federating data. They’re generally seen as useful by users (consumers), and because they’re focussed on the consumer market, they tend to be public, and developed rapidly and a bit loosely. The revenue model is usually based on ad revenues, since few end-users pay for the mashups.
  • Second generation mashups are about the “how”, and are about aggregating external and internal (enterprise) services. They’re useful to business for all the usual business ROI reasons: improving process efficiency, reducing IT costs and increasing business agility; like any other plan that reduces technology capital investment, they also tend to level the playing field for smaller companies since they can use the same technology as the big guys but not have to build it or buy it outright. Unlike the consumer mashups, however, they have to be industrial-strength, private and secure. Equally importantly, they have to be supported by some sort of service level agreement backed by appropriate high availability and disaster recovery scenarios, which most of the current API vendors are not willing to provide.

The key difference for me is that second generation mashups are about integrating into the business processes. This breakout was a significant conversation since it’s the first one that I’ve heard at either Mashup Camp where business processes were a major focus. I’m feeling very positive about BPM and Web 2.0 today.

We had a conversation about one of the main problems of enterprise mashups, which is their current lack of acceptance by IT. Part of this is IT attitudes: not trusting the external APIs, either in terms of data integrity or in terms of reliability, plus the NIH problem. An equally important part is the relatively lack of readiness of the APIs themselves in terms of SLAs, authentication and other indutrial-grade issues that would have external APIs be on equal footing alongside internal ones. Even with internal-only mashups, that use lighter-weight mashup techniques on internal APIs, there’s resistance to a new way of doing things. That really comes back to the question of the the difference between a mashup and any other web services orchestration, especially as lightweight (non-WS-*) integration methods are used for faster application assembly internally.

This was a great session for focussing my thoughts on how to talk to my enterprise customers about mashups.

Michael Scherotter was also there from Mindjet, distributing copies of their application on flashdrives. Haven’t had a chance to install and try it out yet.

SaaS: Mean time to fix security holes

I hadn’t looked at the news feed from Information Week for a few days, so when I checked it today there was a really interesting story told by way of headlines:

Yahoo Mail Worm Harvesting Addresses: The “Yamanner” worm exploits a JavaScript vulnerability in Yahoo’s Web mail client. Users should watch out for messages with a “From” address of [email protected] and the subject line, “New Graphic Site.” Posted on: Mon, Jun 12 2006 11:41 AM

Yahoo Quashes Mail Bug: Yahoo says it has patched a bug that was letting attackers hijack systems through a flaw in the portal’s free Web-based e-mail service. Posted on: Tue, Jun 13 2006 1:23 PM

Yahoo Mail Worm May Be First Of Many As Ajax Proliferates: The Yamanner worm that hit Yahoo Mail shows how increasingly popular techniques like Ajax and Javascript that make Web-based software perform well also could make it vulnerable. Posted on: Tue, Jun 13 2006 4:00 PM

As alarming as this might sound, think about the timeline for a minute. Late Monday morning, the problem hits the news. Early Tuesday afternoon, the security hole is fixed; because there’s no software installed on any desktops, the fix is effectively distributed everywhere instantaneously. By late Tuesday afternoon, they’re already into the post-game analysis since there’s nothing else to talk about.

Quite different from applications that run on your desktop or your servers: this is the reality of web-based SaaS.

The Eight — er, Four — Misperceptions of Outsourcing

I was catching up on some older Gartner podcasts recently — they’re not really time-sensitive, so fine to listen to them weeks or months later, and some of them do contain some good tidbits of information. There was one good one called The Eight Misperceptions of Outsourcing: Part I, in which Linda Cohen starts by listing these eight misperceptions:

  • the myth of sourcing independence;
  • the myth of service autonomy (this was particularly interesting since it touched on the subject of the interdependence of services due to SOA and BPM);
  • the myth of economies of scale;
  • the myth of service management as self-management;
  • the myth of the enemy;
  • the myth of procurement;
  • the myth of steady state; and
  • the myth of sourcing competency.

She then went on to discuss the first four in detail, whetting my appetite for Part II, which was to contain the second four. I checked my iPod: not there. I checked the iTunes directory: ditto. I checked the Gartner podcast page: Part II just doesn’t exist. Okay, it’s only been four months since Part I, maybe I’m being a bit impatient, but bring on the second four myths, already!

Of course, I’m not one to be throwing stones here: I posted the first six episodes of my Short History of BPM over a month ago, and haven’t completed the last two. Now that JC has caught up with translating them to French on his blog, however, I need to get moving on this.