OpenText Acquires Cordys And Assure Platform For Cloud-Based Smart Process Apps

I had a briefing two weeks ago with OpenText about their acquisition of Cordys, an interesting move considering their acquisition just a few weeks before that of ICCM, a partner company that created the Assure platform on top of OpenText’s MBPM (hat tip to Neil Ward-Dutton for tying together these two acquisitions). This provides them with two important pillars in their strategy:

  • A robust cloud platform. Although OpenText Cloud existed, it wasn’t what you’d call industrial strength and it was more of an infrastructure platform: it wasn’t fully multi-tenant, and it’s not clear that they had the skills internally to build out the functionality into a competitive solution-oriented platform as a service (PaaS). Cordys, in spite of being a relative unknown, has a strong cloud and PaaS heritage. They also bring other parts of the infrastructure that are missing or deficient in OpenText – including a rapid application development framework, ESB, rules, analytics and MDM – which should accelerate their time to market for a full cloud offering, as well as benefit the on-premise platform.
  • A “Smart Process Application factory” for creating vertical process-centric applications. OpenText first announced Assure almost a year ago as a development platform, plus their initial Assure HR application built on the platform, and have since released (or at least announced on their product pages) customer service, ITSM and insurance client management apps on Assure as well. Now, presumably, they own all of the underlying intellectual property so are free to port it to other platforms.

They have immediate plans (for release near the beginning of 2014) for bringing things together, at least on the surface: they are porting Assure to Cordys so that the same development platform and vertical applications are available there as on MBPM, which gives them greatly improved cloud functionality, and will create additional smart process applications along the way. Effectively, they are using Assure as a technology abstraction layer: not only will the user experience be the same regardless of the underlying BPM platform, the Assure application developer experience will also be the same across platforms, although obviously there’s completely different technology under the covers.

There are some obvious issues with this. In spite of OpenText CEO’s claim that this is a “single platform”, it’s not. OpenText was still working out the Metastorm/Global360 picture from earlier acquisitions, and now have the Cordys platform thrown into the mix. In 2011, when IBM pulled Lombardi, WPS and a few other bits and pieces into IBM BPM, some of us called them out for the fact that although it was presented as a single platform, there were still multiple engines with some degree of overlapping functionality. IBM’s response, and I’m sure OpenText would line up behind this, is that it doesn’t matter as long as it’s integrated “at the glass”, that is, there’s a common user interface for business users and potentially some more technical functions. As someone who has designed and written a lot of code in the past, I see a fundamental flaw with that logic: in general, more engines means more code, which means more maintenance, which means less innovation. Hence, I consider refactoring redundant engines into a single back-end as well as a common UI to be critical for growth. Getting Assure in place quickly as a technology abstraction layer will definitely help OpenText along this route, although primarily for existing Assure customers and new customers for whom Assure will be the primary OpenText application development environment; existing MBPM and OpenText customers will likely need to consider porting their applications to the Assure platform at some point in order to get on the main upgrade bandwagon.

Following the Cordys announcement, Gartner released their analysis that casts doubts on whether OpenText can bring together the acquisitions into a coherently unified strategy. Aside from the stunningly obvious point in the summary, “If OpenText’s BPM suites do not fully meet your needs, evaluate other providers” (when is that not true for any vendor/product?), they see that this just makes the OpenText landscape more complex, and goes so far as to wave off prospective customers. As one person who passed on this link said: ouch.


Disclosure: OpenText has been a customer in the past for which I have created white papers, the most recent of which was “Thinking Beyond Traditional BPM” (and a related webinar). I was not compensated in any way for my recent briefing nor for writing this blog post.

Henk de Man of Cordys at Software 2010

Only one other presentation at the Software 2010 conference in Oslo today was in English, which likely would have attracted me anyway, but I especially wanted to see Henk de Man of Cordys speak about adaptive BPM and case management in the cloud, which provides a nice bookend to my talk at the start of the day.

I couldn’t believe that it’s been three years since I last looked at Cordys, and I was looking for a bit of an update. Cordys Process Factory (CPF) is now tightly integrated with Google Apps, and they have some examples of customers using Google Apps, CPF and on-premise applications with data and transaction exchange between the cloud-based and on-premise software in a “hybrid cloud” configuration.

His focus today, however, was on case management: a higher-level coordination of activities that can’t be shown in a single structured process, with many bits of content and process works towards a common goal, such as is defined by OMG. This is emerging as a type of process modeling, separate but adjacent to the type of structured process modeling that we see in BPMN. In case management, there is a case file that contains all the relevant content, but multiple ways to achieve the ultimate goal, which might be dependent on the contents of the case file, current conditions, and the decisions of the individual participants working on the case. Forrester just released a research note on dynamic case management, and some of the older document management and workflow solutions are being repositioned into this “new” area, but the successful players will be those that can bring quality analytics, collaboration and modern user experience to bear: areas where Cordys is making inroads.

This is a bit of old wine in new bottles, but new technologies are definitely breathing life back into case management; the challenge will be to differentiate true case management processes from potentially structured complex processes that someone is just too lazy to model. Expect to see much more of this in 2010.