Oracle-BEA versus IBM-FileNet: the Borg versus death by a thousand cuts

Almost two years ago, I reported on the IBM acquisition of FileNet, wherein I quoted their plan to “integrate IBM’s BPM and SOA technologies with the FileNet platform”. I interpreted this to mean that FileNet BPM could finally get separated from its document-centric chains, and become the product that it should have been years ago. Just as Jessica Rabbit said “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way”, the FileNet BPM wasn’t (isn’t) document-centric, it’s just marketed that way. As the former director of e-business evangelism for FileNet in 2000-1 when they were launching this generation of the BPM product, I had some idea of what I was talking about — I saw that 40% of the BPM installations in some countries did not involve documents at all, and that this was due to the local sales and marketing messages and techniques rather than any inherently different BPM requirements between countries. So several years after I left FileNet, when the acquisition occurred and I saw that initial press release, I imagined that the best possible thing would be if the BPM product were to be separated out and made part of the IBM WebSphere suite, in order to flesh out the badly-needed human-facing workflow side of things over there. I realized that would mean some major surgery on the product, but a stronger unified BPM suite would emerge from that.

A few days later, an analyst call with IBM set me straight on that: the GM of the IBM Information Management unit that would be absorbing FileNet referred to FileNet’s BPM as “content-centric”. Uh-oh. I knew that couldn’t mean anything good for the product. I still have a lot of friends inside IBM-FileNet, and at first, it seemed like they were being allowed some degree of autonomy. Then, they gradually started being pulled into the “IBM way”, and a lot of people started getting unhappy, and many eventually left. There were few explicit purges, except for some redundant administration, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t losses.

Recently, IBM announced its grand plan for BPM; Bruce Silver covered it here, describing how they plan to bring together process and content:

[T]he steps that involve content operations (e.g. adding/revising/securing documents) are done by a FileNet P8 process, which is invoked via WSDL as a subprocess in the end-to-end WebSphere process.

In other words, after more than a year, my premonition about the FileNet BPM product was realized, and it became — from a marketing standpoint — a shadow of its former self. I’m sure that customers using FileNet BPM for end-to-end processes (which IBM thinks are more suitable for WebSphere Process Server) cringed as they see the future of their installed product atrophy. I can only imagine the impact on the (still fairly segregated) sales team: one day, they’re selling FileNet BPM as a full BPM solution, the next day, it’s a document-centric subprocess handler, to be called from WPS. In much the same way that other BPEL vendors handle human-facing tasks as second-class citizen, calling a subsystem using WSDL to manage them, IBM is demoting FileNet BPM to the same realm. Although I predicted this right from the first analyst call, it doesn’t give me much satisfaction when I think about what it could have been.

The current monster acquisition in this space is Oracle and BEA, and it’s interesting to see the contrast in acquisition styles. Unlike the death-from-a-thousand-cuts method inflicted by IBM on FileNet, Oracle is more like the Borg: BEA is being assimilated, and fast. The acquisition — from the first rejected offer last October to the final accepted offer this January — was completed in late April, less than two weeks before the BEA Participate user conference. At the conference, I found that many of my BEA acquaintances were not staying on with Oracle; many others have announced that they’re leaving since then as well.

The Register reported yesterday on how Oracle is dismantling the AquaLogic product line: the AquaLogic web products (portals and Web 2.0) and, it appears, the WebLogic products will go one direction (hypothesized by the Register to be the Stellent team), with some rationalization of AquaLogic and WebLogic finally occurring; AquaLogic BPM will be moved under the Fusion middleware team. I haven’t dealt much with the WebLogic side of BEA, but when I dared to suggest that AquaLogic Pages could be used as a lightweight replacement for WebLogic Portal, I was “corrected” on the official party line. Given my confusion over this, I have to assume that some part of the market has also been confused over why BEA offers two different portal products. If it takes Oracle’s firm hand to finally merge them, that’s a good thing.

Oracle is doing exactly what I thought IBM should have done with FileNet: split up the product where it made sense and merge those pieces into similar teams that already exist, rather than try to maintain an intact semi-autonomous unit and brand, then gradually re-jig the product, potentially misleading customers about the final outcome.

As a member of the Enterprise Irregulars, I’ve been invited to a dinner hosted by Oracle next week at the Enterprise 2.0 conference; it will be interesting to see if BEA is so completely assimilated that the name isn’t even uttered.

One last session

I’m cutting out early for my flight home, so I’m finishing the FileNet user conference with another BPM technical session, this one on process orchestration. This is a relatively new area for FileNet in terms of out-of-the-box functionality, and a bit behind the competitive curve but they appear to be charging into the fray with strong functionality. Mike Marin, BPM product architect extraordinaire, walked us through the current state: the ability of a process to consume web services, and the ability to launch and control a process as a web service. Mike sits on a couple of standards boards and is pretty up-to-date on what’s happening with the competition and future directions. Nothing here that I wasn’t already aware of, although he provided some good technical insights into how it all works under the covers as well as an excellent distinction between choreography and orchestration. He also talked about using web services as a method for federating process engine services, that is, allowing a process to span servers, which I think is absolutely brilliant. The same thing holds for invoking and being invoked by a process on a BPEL engine (like Oracle’s), because it’s just a web service interface.

Time to grab some lunch and head for the airport. Regular (non-UserNet) blogging resumes later this week.

BAM technical session

This seemed to be a morning for networking, and I’m arriving late for a technical session on FileNet’s BAM. I missed the hands-on session this morning so wanted to get a closer look at this before it’s released sometime in the next couple of months.

The key functional things in the product are dashboards, rules and alerts. The dashboard part is pretty standard BI presentation-layer stuff: pick a data source, pick a display/graph type, and position it on the dashboard. Rules are where the smarts come in: pick a data source, configure the condition for firing an alert, then set the content and recipient of the alert. Alerts can be displayed on the recipient’s dashboard, or sent as an email or SMS, or even launch other processes or services to handle an exception condition automatically.

There’s a nice interface for configuring the dimensions (aggregations) in the underlying OLAP cubes, and for configuring buckets for running statistics. The data kept on the BAM server is cycled out pretty quickly: it’s really for tracking work in progress with just enough historical data to do some statistical smoothing.

Because they’re using a third-party OEM product for BAM, it’s open to other data sources plugged into the server, used in the OLAP cubes, combined on the dashboards or used in the rules. However, this model adds yet another server, since it pulls pre-processed work-in-progress data from the Process Analyzer (so PA is still required) and has a sufficiently hefty memory requirement since it’s maintaining the cubes in memory that it’s probably not a good idea to co-locate it on a shared application server. I suppose that this demotes PA to a data mart for historical data as well as a pre-processor, which is not a completely bad thing, but I’m imagining that a full replacement for PA might be better received by the customers.

Rules, rules, rules

I consider rules (specifically, a BRE) to be pretty much essential as an adjunct to a BPMS these days. There’s a number of reasons for this:

– Rules are a lot more complex than you can implement in most BPMS, with the exception of rules-based systems like Pegasystems: FileNet’s expression builder, for example, is not a replacement for a BRE no matter how many times that I hear that from their product marketing group. A BRE lets a business analyst create business rules in a declarative fashion, using the language of the business.

– Rules in a BRE can be used consistently from different process flows, and also from other applications such as CRM: anywhere in the organization that needs to apply that rule can be assured of using the same rule if they’re all calling the same BRE.

– Most importantly, in my opinion, is the ability to change business rules on work in progress. If you implement a business rule in FileNet’s expression builder at a step in the process, then once a process instance is kicked off, it can’t (easily) be changed: it will execute to completion based on the workflow, and hence rule, definition at the time that it was instantiated. If you instead call a BRE at a step in the workflow, then that call isn’t made until that step is executed, so the current definition of the business rule at that time will be invoked. This, in my opinion, is one of the best reasons to get your business rules out of FileNet and into a BRE, where they belong.

I finished the conference today in a session on BPM that is much too rudimentary for me (hence why I’m blogging my thoughts on BRE), and not enough cover to dash for the door without being seen. It’s finishing up with Carl Hillier doing a demo, which is always entertaining: he showed pictures of both his baby and his Porsche.

I also found out that FileNet commissioned the Economist to do a survey on process management; I’ll have my eyes open for that.

Hot BAM!

If there’s anything better than hearing about a hot new product like FileNet’s BAM, it’s hearing it in Danny Pidutti’s lovely Aussie accent. There’s a few misconceptions in his presentation around the differences between BI and BAM; I see BAM as just a process-oriented subset of BI, although the real-time nature means that we’re in the realm of operational BI, such as was discussed in an eBizq webinar “Improving Business Visibility Through Operational BI” on Oct 27th ( according to my calendar, sorry for the lack of a direct hyperlink but that’s the limits of blogging via Blackberry email) and an earlier one about operational BI on Oct 12th, although I can’t recall who hosted it.

This looks like a pretty significant improvement on the old Process Analyzer: about 20 pre-configured reports, configurable role-based dashboards, KPIs for scorecard-like capabilities, alerts and other fun stuff. A bit of a catch-up from.a competitive standpoint, but FileNet’s more known for solid technology than being the first to market these days.

The demo starts with a Celequest login screen, telling you who the OEM vendor is. At this point, it’s really a standard BI demo, showing how dashboards are configured, alerts set and related functions.

My only question is, what took you guys so long?


I’m in the BPM special interest group session, which is much more sparsely attended than I expected, but it’s just after lunch and people are still trickling in. The conversation is starting out a bit granular, questions about some very specific functionality although I suppose that’s part of the goal.

Chris Preston just made a statement that the clear direction for interoperability is BPEL, which is definitely the right answer although there’s still a lot of issues around handling the human-facing steps in a process. Unfortunately, in the absence of any questions from the audience, he’s off on a long rant about “re-engineering” using FileNet tools for process modelling, execution, analysis and simulation, which is a little too sales-y althoguh he’s doing his best to be consultative. He needs to encourage much more give-and-take with the audience rather than going into full oratory mode.

Minutes go by, and I’m really starting to wish that I sat closer to an escape route…

Fun with compliance

I spent some time this morning with the guys from BWise, which turned into a very informative session. Although FileNet has partnered with them primarily for their compliance solution, they do so much more in the entire area of internal controls. The compliance frameworks certainly are impressive, though. I’ll definitely be taking a closer look at this.

I’m currently sitting beside the pool at Caesar’s Palace, and although I don’t think that it’s warm enough to be dressed the way that some people are (or aren’t, to be more accurate), it’s a nice respite from the conference crowds for a few minutes before I head back to the sessions. This morning’s BPF hands-on session was so full that I didn’t get near a computer – better to let the customers at them first — and I’m surprised the FileNet didn’t anticipate this level of interest in the labs.

I’ve talked to a lot of UserNet first-timers, and they’re all a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information but seem to be getting a lot out of it in general.

Off to an afternoon of BPM and BAM sessions.

Wrapping up Monday

I did my breakout presentation at the end of day yesterday — after the two solid days on the weekend, an hour-long presentation is a piece of cake, and in fact I had to cut out material on the fly because I enthused overly long about enterprise architecture. Some great feedback from that: many people who attended are starting to think about the bigger picture of enterprise architecture and corporate performance management when they think about BPM, which means that more and more of these systems are actually going to start making a difference for the companies that install them.

The surprise hit of the conference is my business card: I now have people asking me for my card because they want to see the graphic on the back. Just last week, my cards with Hugh‘s “read my blog” cartoon arrived, and I’ve been using those as my standard business card here at the conference. A few people tried to hand them back, thinking that I had given them a card that I had doodled on; a few read it and don’t get it, but very many have a good laugh over it and (I hope) come here to check out what I have to say. When it comes down to it, this blog really is my primary marketing activity, if you can call it that, and I’m totally sold on many of Hugh’s ideas about how blogging is changing the face of PR and advertising, especially for small companies.

Lots of interesting contacts: I’m talking to Cognos about what they’re doing in corporate performance management (which is very interesting) and, in the context of this conference, how that can be integrated into BPM. Also spending a bit of time with BWise, who does a compliance solution built on top of FileNet. Since most of my customers are in financial services, both of these topics are of great interest to them.

Expecting some good sessions today: a hands-on session is scheduled for the business process framework (which is being productized), and some detailed sessions on the new BAM releases.

Blogging by email is a bit hit-and-miss. Since Blogger has to publish via ftp to my own domain, sometimes it doesn’t succeed in the unattended process and the posts don’t appear, requiring me to get onto one of the public terminals available in the conference centre and give it a whack on the side of the head. Because of that, posts can be a bit delayed.

High-level product info

Dave McCann, FileNet’s SVP of Products, is talking in some very broad strokes about product directions, and I’m yearning for more details on all the new announcements. I suppose that will come mostly in the breakout sessions, I just need to be patient. He’s also talking a lot about content, which is not my focus (in case you haven’t noticed already) — I consider content to be like the air we breathe: it’s always there, I just don’t think about it.

A few interesting factoids that he’s dropped into his talk based on his conversations with customers: a large insurance company who sits on the FileNet technical advisory board stated that the largest cost in their IT budget is integration between all of the vendor products that they own. Yikes! A European customer told him that 82% of their IT budget is committed to maintaining what’s already in place, with only the remaining 18% to spend on new technology. These two facts taken together point out the need for easier ways to integrate all the things that are there, which will free up part of the budget for new technology that will help companies maintain a competitive advantage. The need for consistent architectures and reusability has never been greater.

He’s finally onto the process stuff, and is talking about the recent and upcoming enhancements to the BPM product suite:

– Productization of the Business Process Framework, which is a BPM application development framework developed by FileNet’s Professional Services for use in their own customer engagements, including things like case management and skills/roles management. They’re being very careful about positioning this so that it’s not perceived as being too competitive with partner solutions, although I’m sure that there will be a few partners who are going to be a bit put out by this.

– Business Activity Monitoring as a new product, replacing the rudimentary Process Analyzer that has been holding the fort in the BAM area for the past few years. Shipping in December. I’ll definitely be going to the lab on this later this week, since this is something that I constantly talk to customers about.

– Enhanced integration with business intelligence, especially through their recent cozying up with Cognos. I’ll be talking about corporate performance management, and mentioning Cognos specifically, in my breakout session this afternoon, since I feel that this is a critical step for most organizations.

– eForms enhancements, which are always interesting but a bit peripheral to what I usually do.

– A business rules connectivity framework that integrates to Fair Isac, Corticon and Resolution in addition to the longer-standing integration with ILOG. BRE is another functionality that I feel is essential to BPM, as I discussed in my course on the weekend.

He’s also talking about the FileNet Enterprise Reference Architecture, which fits nicely as a technical architecture for ECM against a full EA context.

The most exciting thing about the features that will be released next year is full BPMN support, which further validates my personal preference for BPMN over UML for process modelling.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with what they’ve announced in the BPM area, since it’s addressing some key weaknesses (like BAM) that have existed in the product suite to date.

Survey Says…

Martyn Christian, FileNet’s CMO, is up on stage right now giving the usual rah-rah speech about how great FileNet is doing with their customers, but with a very cool twist: all the customers in the audience (more than 700 of them) have a handheld voting device and can respond to questions that Martyn is asking, with the responses shown live on the screen.

So far (I’m paraphrasing the questions slightly since I couldn’t write them down quickly enough):

Question 1: What % of your projects are using BPM?

25% responded “none”, 49% said that less than a third of their projects used BPM, 13% said about half, 9% said about two-thirds, and 4% said all. Martyn also quoted Gartner (I believe) in stating that 95% of BPM projects are successful these days, which is an amazing number.

Question 2: What’s the primary driver for ECM solutions in your organization?

“Content” scored 27%, “Process” scored 45%, and “Compliance” scored 28%. Interesting results, considering the relatively low usage of BPM indicated in the responses to question 1, and the fact that compliance was a non-issue only two or so years ago.

Question 3: How do you select a FileNet partner to work with on your implementations?

18% already have selected a partner and 30% don’t use one, but the breakdown of the remaining votes was interesting: 32% make their choice based on the partner’s technical knowledge of FileNet and their own environment, whereas 20% select based on industry knowledge. I can certainly validate that from my experiences: although I specialize in financial services and insurance, I end up doing work in other industry verticals because of the value placed on my BPM knowledge. I would guess that this holds true for many products, not just FileNet.

Question 4: Are content and process management part of a larger information management architecture in your organization?

28% said that this is true today, 39% responded that it will be happening in the next 12 months, 28% said that it will be happening but beyond 12 months, and 5% said that it’s just never going to happen. My breakout session this afternoon is on enterprise architecture and BPM, so I’m very encouraged by the fact that about two-thirds of this audience is considering content and process management in the larger EA context.

By the way, please excuse any typos and the lack of links in these posts from the FileNet user conference: there’s no WiFi in the meeting rooms so I’m blogging live from my Blackberry.