The Case For Smarter Process At IBMImpact 2014

At analyst events, I tend to not blog every presentation; rather, I listen, absorb and take some time to reflect on the themes. Since I spent the first part of last week at the analyst event at IBM Impact, then the second half across the country at Appian World, I waited until I had to pull all the threads together here. IBM keeps the analysts busy at Impact, although I did get to the general session and a couple of keynotes, which were useful to provide context for the announcements that they made in pre-conference briefings and the analyst event itself.

A key theme at Impact this year was that of “composable business” (I have to check carefully every time I type that to make sure I don’t write “compostable business”, but someone did point out that it is about reuse…). I’m not sure that’s a very new concept: it seems to be about assembling the building blocks of business capabilities, processes and technologies in order to meet the current needs without completely retooling, which is sort of what we’ve all been saying that BPM, ODM and SOA can do for some years now.

Smarter Process is positioned as an enabler of composable business, and is IBM’s approach for “reinventing business operations” by enabling the development of customer-centric applications that push top-line growth, while still providing the efficiency and optimization table stakes. Supporting knowledge workers has become a big part of this, which leads to IBM’s biggest new feature in BPM: the inclusion of “basic” case management within BPM. The idea is that you will be able to support a broader range of work types on a single platform: pre-defined “structured” processes, structured processes with some ad hoc activities, ad hoc (case) work that can invoke structured process segments, and fully ad hoc work. I’ve been talking about this range of work types for quite a while, and how we need products that can range across them, because I see so few real-world processes that fit into the purely structured or the purely unstructured ends of the spectrum: almost everything lies somewhere in the middle, where there is a mix of both. In fact, what IBM is providing is “production case management”, where a designer (probably not technical, or not very technical) creates a case template that pre-defines all of the possible ad hoc activities and structured process fragments; the end user can choose which activities to run in which order, although some may be required or have dependencies. This isn’t the “adaptive case management” extreme end of the spectrum, where the end user has complete control and can create their own activities on the fly, but PCM covers a huge range of use cases in business today. Bruce Silver

“But wait,”, you say, “IBM already has case management with IBM Case Manager. What’s the difference?” Well, IBM BPM (Lombardi heritage) provides full BPM capabilities including process analytics and governance, plus basic case capabilities, on the IBM BPM platform;  IBM Case Manager (FileNet heritage) provides full content and case capabilities including content analytics and governance, plus basic workflow capabilities, on the IBM ECM platform. Hmmm, sounds like something that Marketing would say. The Smarter Process portfolio graphic includes the three primary components of Operational Decision Management, Business Process Management and Case Management, but doesn’t actually specify which product provides which functionality, leaving it open for case management to come from either BPM or ICM. Are we finally seeing the beginning of the end of the split between process management in BPM and ICM? The answer to that is likely more political than technical – these products report up through different parts of IBM, turning the merging/refactoring of them into a turf war – and I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m guessing that we’ll gradually see more case capabilities in BPM and a more complete integration with ECM, such that the current ICM capabilities become redundant, and IBM BPM will expand to manage the full spectrum of work types. The 1,000th cut may finally be approaching. Unfortunately for ICM users, there’s no tooling or migration path to move from ICM to BPM (presumably, no one is even talking about going the other way) since they are built on different infrastructure. There wasn’t really a big fuss made about this new functionality or how it might overlap with ICM about this outside the BPM analyst group; in fact, Bruce Silver quipped “IBM Merges Case into BPM but forgets to announce it”. Winking smile

The new case management functions are embedded within the BPM environment, and appear fairly well integrated: although a simple web-based case design tool is used instead of the BPM Eclipse authoring environment, the runtime appears within the BPM process portal. The case detail view shows the case data, case document and subfolders, running tasks, activities that can be started manually (including processes), and an overall status – similar enough to what you would see with any work item that it won’t be completely foreign, but with the information and controls required for case management. Under the covers, the ad hoc activities execute in the BPM (not ICM) process engine, and a copy of ECM is embedded within BPM to support the case folder and documents artifacts.

The design environment is pretty simple, and very similar to some parts of the ICM design environment: required and optional ad hoc activities are defined, and the start trigger (manual or automatically based on declarative logic or an event) of each activity is specified. Preconditions can be set, so that an activity can’t be started (or won’t automatically start) until certain conditions are met. If you need ad hoc activities in the context of a structured process, these can be defined in the usual BPM design environment – there’s no real magic about this, since ad hoc (that is, not connected by flow lines) activities are part of the BPMN standard and have been available for some time in IBM BPM. The case design environment is integrated with Process Designer and Process Center for repository and versioning, and case management is being sold as an add-on to IBM BPM Advanced.

Aside from the case management announcement, there are some new mobile capabilities in IBM BPM: the ability to design and playback responsive Coaches (UI) for multiple form factors, and pushing some services down to the browser. These will make the UI look better and work faster, so all good there. IBM also gave a shout out to BP3’s mobile portal product, Brazos, for developing iOS and Android apps for IBM BPM; depending on whether you want to go with responsive browser or native apps as a front-end for BPM, you’re covered.

They also announced some enhancements to Business Monitor: a more efficient, high-performance pub-sub style of event handling, and the ability to collect events from any source, although the integration into case management (either in BPM or ICM) at design time still seems a bit rudimentary. They’ve also upgraded to Cognos BI 10.2.1 as the underlying platform, which brings more powerful visualizations via the RAVE engine.  I have the impression that Business Monitor isn’t as popular as expected as a BPM add-on: possibly by the time that organizations get their processes up and running, they don’t have the time, energy or funds for a full-on monitoring and analytics solution. That’s too bad, since that can result in a lot of process improvement benefits; it might make sense to be bundling in some of this capability to at least give a teaser to BPM customers.

In BPM cloud news, there are some security enhancements to the Softlayer-based BPM implementations, including 2-factor authentication and SAML for identity management, plus new pricing at $199/user/month with concurrent user pricing scenarios for infrequent users. What was more interesting is what was not announced: the new Bluemix cloud development platform offers decision services, but no process services.

Blueworks Live seemed to have the fewest announcements, although it now has review and approval processes for models, which is a nice governance addition. IBM can also now provide Blueworks Live in a private cloud – still hosted but isolated as a single tenant – for those who are really paranoid about their process models.

My Spring 2014 BPM Conference Schedule

Last night, a friend asked me about where I’m travelling next, and when I responded “Newark, Philadelphia, San Diego, Orlando and San Francisco”, she assumed that was everything up to the end of May. Alas, that only gets me to the end of March. Here’s the conferences that I’ll be attending or presenting at over the next couple of months:

  • Kofax Transform, San Diego, March 9-11: I am making a joint presentation with Craig LeClair of Forrester on Planning, Designing and Implementing a Smart Process Application. I was also asked to judge their customer and partner awards, although I won’t be sticking around for the awards ceremony.
  • DST AWD Advance, Orlando, March 17-19: I’m presenting The Technical Side of Process Excellence, particularly around the use of configurable process-based applications for quick solution delivery.
  • bpmNEXT, Monterey, March 25-27: I’m attending and blogging, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. I’ll be in San Francisco for the beginning of that week, and possibly stopping in the South Bay area at the end of the week to visit the Computer History Museum.
  • IBM Impact, Las Vegas, April 27-30: I’m attending the analyst event at Impact and as much of the show that I can cram in in the short time, because after almost a month without conferences, I’ll be doing two in one week.
  • Appian World, DC, April 30-May 2: I’m attending after a year away (recently, this always conflicts with IBM Impact).
  • BPM Portugal, Lisbon, May 8: I’m presenting on incentives for social enterprise, including social BPM. This will be an updated version of the presentation that I gave at the APQC conference last fall, and if you have any case studies to contribute to this, I would love to hear about them.
  • PegaWorld, DC, June 8-10: Again, one that I’ve missed a few times since it was conflicting with the IRM BPM conference in London, but this year they are a week apart and I’ll be there.
  • BPM Europe, London, June 16-18: I haven’t yet been added to the agenda for IRM’s annual BPM conference, but I’ve been there the past several years so it’s likely that I’ll be there again.

Hopefully, that’s it for the next four months, although there are always last-minute changes. Let me know if you’ll be nearby or at any of these and want to meet up. It’s a fair bet that I’ll be blogging from each of these as well.

Smarter Process At IBM Impact 2013

Day 1 at IBM Impact 2013, following a keynote full of loud drums, rotating cars and a cat video, David Millen and Kramer Reeves gave a presentation on IBM’s vision for Smarter Process, which focuses on improving process effectiveness with BPM, case management and decision management. There are a number of drivers that they mentioned here that we’ll address in our panel this afternoon on “What’s Next For BPM” — the big four of mobile, social, cloud and big data — with the point that the potential for these is best seen when tied to mission-critical business processes. Not surprisingly, their research shows that 99% of CIOs looking to transform their business realize that they have to change their processes to do so.

Processes are not just about internal operations, but extend beyond the walls of the organization to take the customers’ actions into consideration, binding the systems of record to the systems of engagement. Therefore, it’s not just about process efficiency any more: we’re being forced to move beyond automation and optimization by the aforementioned disruptive forces, and directly address customer-centricity. In a customer-centric world, processes need to be responsive, seamless and relevant in order to engage customers and keep them engaged and well-served, while still maintaining efficiencies that we learned from all those years of process automation.

This isn’t new, of course; analysts (including me) and vendors have been talking about this sort of transformation for some time. What is new (-ish) is that IBM has a sufficiently robust set of product functionality to now have some solid case studies that show how BPM, CM and/or DM are being used with some configuration of mobile, social, cloud and big data. They’re also emphasizing the cross-functional approach required for this, with involvement of operations as well as IT and line of business teams.

Their key platforms for Smarter Process are BPM, Case Manager and ODM, and we had a summary of the relevant new features in each of these. BPM and ODM v8.5 are announced today and will be available in the next month or so. Here’s some of the key enhancements that I caught from the torrent of information.

BPM v8.5:

  • Dashboards that allow you to click through directly to take action on the process. The dashboards provide a much better view of the process context, both for instance information such as the process timeline and activity stream, and for insights into team performance. This is now a more seamless integration with their “Coach” UI framework that is used for task UI, including presence, collaboration and social activity. I think that this is pretty significant, since it blurs the line between the inbox/task UI and the report/dashboard UI: analytics are context for actionable information. The process timeline provides a Gantt chart view — similar to what we’ve seen for some time in products such as BP Logix — and includes the beginnings of their predictive process analytics capabilities to predict if a specific instance will miss its milestones. There’s so much more than can be done here, such as what-if simulation scenarios for a high-value instance that is in danger of violating an SLA, but it’s a start. The team performance view provides real-time management of a team’s open tasks, and some enhanced views of the team members and their work.
  • Mobile enhancements with some new mobile widgets and sample apps, plus a non-production Worklight license bundled in for jumpstarting an organization’s mobile application development. You would need to buy full Worklight licenses before production deployment, but so many organizations are still at the tire-kicking stage so this will help move them along, especially if they can just modify the sample app for their first version. The design environment allows you to playback the mobile UI so that you can see what it’s going to look like on different form factors before deploying to those devices. As expected, you can take advantage of device capabilities, such as the camera and GPS, within mobile apps.
  • Social/collaboration enhancements, including presence indicators.
  • Integration into IBM Connections and IBM Notes, allowing for task completion in situ.
  • Blueworks Live integration, providing a link back to BWL from a BPM application that was originally imported from BWL. This is not round-tripping; in fact, it’s not even forward-tripping since any changes to the process in BWL require manual updates in BPM, but at least there’s an indication of what’s connected and that the changes have occurred.
  • Integration with the internal BPM content repository now uses the CMIS standard, so that there is a single consistent way to access content regardless of the repository platform.
  • A new BPM on SmartCloud offering, providing a full IBM BPM platform including design and runtime tools in IBM’s cloud. This can be used for production as well as development/test scenarios, and is priced on a monthly subscription basis. No official word on the pricing or minimums; other BPM vendors who go this route often put the pricing and/or minimum license numbers prohibitively high for a starter package, so hoping that they do this right. Applications can be moved between cloud and on-premise BPM installations by networking the Process Centers.

ODM v8.5:

  • MobileFirst for business rules on the go, with RESTful API adapters inside the Worklight environment for building mobile apps that invoke business rules.
  • Decision governance framework for better reusability and control of rules, allowing business users to participate in rule creation, review, management and release. Considering that rules are supposed to be the manifestation of business policies, it’s about time that the business is given the tools to work with the rules directly. There’s a full audit trail so that you can see who worked on and approved rules, and when they were promoted into production, and the ability to compare rule and decision table versions.

Blueworks Live, for the enhancements already released into production a couple of weeks ago:

  • Decision discovery through graphical models, using the emerging decision modeling notation (DMN) from OMG. Decisions can now be documented as first-class artifacts in BWL, so that the rules are modeled and linked with processes. Although the rules can be exported to Excel, there’s no way to get them into IBM ODM right now, but I’m sure we can expect to see this in the future. The graphical representation starts with a root decision/question, and breaks that down to the component decisions to end up with a decision table. Metadata about the decisions is captured, just as it is for processes, leveraging the glossary capability for consistency and reuse.
  • Natural language translation, allowing each user to specify their language of choice; this allows for multi-language collaboration (although the created artifacts are not translated, just the standard UI).
  • Process modeling and discovery

Case Manager v5.1.1:

  • Enhanced knowledge worker control and document handling, bringing better decision management control into the case environment.
  • Modeling complex cases.
  • Two solutions built on top of Case Manager: intelligent (fraud) investigation management, and patient care and insight.

Integration Bus v9.0:

  • Decision services built in so that decisions can be applied to in-flight data.
  • Policy-driven workload management to manage traffic flow on the ESB based on events.
  • Mobile enablement to allow push notifications to mobile devices.

The Case Manager stuff went by pretty quickly, and wasn’t included in my pre-conference briefing last week, but I think that it’s significant that we’re (finally) seeing the FileNet-based Case Manager here at Impact and on the same marketecture chart as BPM and ODM. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the level of integration that they’re going to achieve, and whether the products actually combine.

Underlying the main product platforms, they’re leveraging Business Monitor and ODM to develop operational intelligence capabilities, including predictive analytics. This can gather events from a variety of sources, not just BPM, and perform continuous analysis in real-time to aid decision-making.

They are also including their services offerings as part of the Smarter Process package, supporting an organization’s journey from pilot to project to program. They offer industry solution accelerators — I assume that these are non-productized templates — and can assist with the development of methodologies and a BPM COE.

There are a number of breakout sessions on the different products and related topics over the next couple of days, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to see given the hectic schedule that they’ve given me as part of the analyst program.

Apologies for those who saw (briefly) an earlier version of this post; the new version of the WordPress Android app has a new button, and I went ahead and clicked it.

IBMImpact Next Week

I’m off to IBM Impact next week, where I’m speaking on a panel on Monday afternoon about “What’s Next For BPM”, along with Neil Ward-Dutton, Bruce Silver, Eric Herness and Pierre Haren, hosted by Irene Lyakovetsky. I’ll also be attending the analyst briefings and will post about what’s new with IBM BPM, Blueworks Live and related products. Annoyingly, there doesn’t appear to be any way to see the agenda unless you’re signed up for the conference, meaning that I can’t link directly to session descriptions, but will blog about whatever I attend if I have time.

It will be a pretty crammed few days, but if you’re going to be there and want to say hi, let me know and we can try to connect. And speaking of connecting, get yourself invited to the BP3 Connect cocktail hour on Tuesday evening (I’m sure that Scott Francis can help you with that), I’ll be there for sure [and everything will be off the record, if you know what I mean 🙂 ].

The Future Of BPM

I was on a panel yesterday afternoon on the future of BPM with Phil Gilbert of IBM and Derek Miers of Forrester, where we ranged across topics from BPM programs to achieving process maturity to the impact of social. No slides or recording, unfortunately, and that meant that I didn’t go to other sessions to blog about.

I’m headed home to Toronto for a couple of days, then this weekend I’m off to Vienna for the ISIS Papyrus open house and user conference. Watch for my coverage from there (Max, do we have a hash tag yet?).

IBM Impact Day 2: Engage. Extend. Succeed.

Phil Gilbert spoke at the main tent session this morning, summarizing how they announced IBM BPM as a unified offering at last year’s Impact, and since then they’ve combined Business Events and ILOG to form IBM ODM (operational decision management). Business process and decision management provide visibility and governance, forming a conduit to provide information about transactions and data to people who need to access it. IBM claims to have the broadest, most integrated process portfolio, having taken a few dozen products and turned them into two products; Phil was quick to shoot down the idea that this is a disjointed, non-integrated collection of tools, referring to it instead as a “loosely coupled integration architecture”. Whatever.

Around those two core products (or product assemblies) are links to other enterprise tools – Tivoli, MDM, ECM and SAP – forming the heart of business processes and system orchestration. In version 8 of BPM and ODM, they’ve added collaboration, which is the third key imperative for business alongside visibility and governance.

We saw a demo of the new capabilities, most of which I talked about in yesterday’s post. For ODM, that included the new decision console (social activity stream, rules timeline) and global rules search. For BPM, there’s the new socially-aware process portal, which has been created on their publicly-available APIs so that you can roll your own portal with the same level of functionality. There’s searching in the process portal to find tasks easily. The new coach (UI form) designer allows you to create very rich task interfaces more easily, including the sidebar of task/instance details, instance-specific activity stream, and experts available for collaboration. They’ve incorporated the real-time collaboration capabilities of Blueworks Live into the BPM coaches to allow someone to request and receive help from an expert, with the user and the expert seeing each other’s inputs synchronously on the form in question. Lastly, Approve/Reject type tasks can be completed in-line directly in the task list, making it much faster to move through a long set of tasks that require only simple responses. He wrapped up with the obligatory iPad demo (have to give him credit for doing that part of the live demo himself, which most VPs wouldn’t consider).

The general session also included presentations of some innovative uses of BPM and ODM by IBM’s customers: Ottawa General Hospital, which has put patient information and processes on an iPad in the doctors’ pockets, and BodyMedia, which captures, analyzes and visualizes a flood of biometric data points gathered by an armband device to assist with a weight loss program.

IBM Vision for BPM, ODM and SOA

Opening day at IBM Impact 2012 (there were some sessions yesterday, but today is the real start), and a good keynote focused on innovation. The wifi is appalling – if IBM can’t get this right with their messages about scalability, who can? – so not sure if I’ll have the chance to post any of this throughout the day, or if you’ll get it all when I get back to my hotel room.

This post is based on a pre-conference briefing that I had a week or two ago, a regular conference breakout session this morning, and the analyst briefing this afternoon, covering  IBM’s vision for BPM, ODM (decision management) and SOA. Their customers are using technology to drive process innovation, and the IBM portfolio is working to address those needs. Cross-functional business outcomes, which in turn require cross-functional processes, are enabled by collaboration and by better technical integration across silos. And, not surprisingly, their message is moving towards the Gartner upcoming iBPMS vision: support for structured and unstructured process; flexible integration; and rules and analytics for repeatable, flexible decisions. Visibility, collaboration and governance are key, not just within departmental processes, but when linking together all processes in an organization into an enterprise process architecture.

The key capabilities that they offer to help clients achieve process innovation include:

  • Process discovery and design (Blueworks Live)
  • Business process management (Process Server and Process Center)
  • Operational decision management (Decision Server and Decision Center)
  • Advanced case management (Case Manager, which is the FileNet-based offering that not part of this portfolio, but integrated)
  • Business monitoring (Business Monitor)

Underpinning these are master data management, integration, analytics and enterprise content management, surrounded by industry expertise and solutions. IBM is using the term intelligent business operations (which was front and center at Gartner BPM last week) to describe the platform of process, events and decision, plus appropriate user interfaces for visibility and governance.

Blueworks Live is positioned not just as a front-end design tool for process automation, but as a tool for documenting processes. Many of the 300,000 processes that have been documented in Blueworks Live are never automated in IBM BPM or any other “real” BPMS, but it acts as a repository for discovering and documenting processes in a collaborative environment, and allowing process stakeholders to track changes to processes and see how it impacts their business. There is an expanded library of templates, plus an insurance framework and other templates/frameworks coming up.

One exciting new feature (okay, exciting to me) is that Blueworks Live now allows decision tasks to be defined in process models, including the creation of decision tables: this provides an integrated process/decision discovery environment. As with process, these decisions do not need to become automated in a decision management system; this may just document the business rules and decisions as they are applied in manual processes or other systems.

Looking at IBM BPM v8, which is coming up soon, Ottosson took us through the main features:

  • IBM BPM inbox showing inline task approvalSocial collaboration to allow users to work together on tasks via real-time interactions, view activity streams, and locate experts. That manifests in the redesigned task interface, or “coach”, with a sidebar that includes task details, the activity stream for the entire process, and experts that are either recommended by the system based on past performance or by others through manual curation. Experts can be requested to collaboration on a task with another user – it includes presence, so that you can tell who is online at any given time – allowing the expert to view the work that the user is doing, and offer assistance. Effectively, multiple people are being given access to same piece of work, and updates made by anyone are shown to all participants; this can be asynchronous or synchronous.
  • There is also a redesigned inbox UI, with a more up-to-date look and feel with lots of AJAX-y goodness, sorting and coloring by priority, plus the ability to respond to simple tasks inline directly in the inbox rather than opening a separate task view. It provides a single task inbox for a variety of sources, including IBM BPM, Blueworks workflows and Case Manager tasks.
  • Situational awareness with process monitoring and analysis in a performance data warehouse.
  • iPhone app task listMobile access via an iOS application that can interface with Blueworks Live and IBM BPM; if you search for “IBM BPM” in the iTunes app store (but not, unfortunately, in the Android Market), you’ll find it. It supports viewing the task list, task completion, attach documents and add comments. They are considering releases the source code to allow developers to use it as a template, since there is likely to be a demand for a customized or branded version of this. In conjunction with this, they’ve released a REST API tester similar to the sort of sandbox offered by Google, which allows developers to create REST-based applications (mobile or otherwise) without having to own the entire back-end platform. This will certainly open up the add-on BPM application market to smaller developers, where we are likely to see more innovation.
  • Enhancements to Process Center for federation of different Process Centers, each of which implies a different server instance. This allows departmental instances to share assets, as well as draw from an internal center of excellence plus one hosted by IBM for industry standards and best practices.
  • Support for the CMIS standard to link to any standard ECM repository, as well as direct integration to FileNet ECM, to link documents directly into processes through a drag-and-drop interface in the process designer.
  • There are also some improvements to the mashup tool used for forms design using a variety of integration methods, which I saw in a pre-conference briefing last week. This uses some of the resources from IBM Mashup Centre development team, but the tool was built new within IBM BPM.
  • Cloud support through IBM SmartCloud which appears to be more of a managed server environment if you want full IBM BPM, but does offer BPM Express as a pre-installed cloud offering. At last year’s Impact, their story was that they were not doing BPM (that is, execution, not the Blueworks-type modeling and lightweight workflow) in the cloud since their customers weren’t interested in that; at that time, I said that they needed to rethink their strategy on this and and stop offering expensive custom hosted solutions. They’ve taken a small step by offering a pre-installed version of BPM Express, but I still think these needs to advance further.

WebSphere Operational Decision Management (ODM) is a integration/bundling of WebSphere Business Event Manager and ILOG, bringing together events and rules into a single decision management platform for creating policies and deploying decision services. It has a number of new features:

  • ODM event streamSocial interface for business people to interact with rules design: decisions are assets that are managed and modified, and the event stream/conversation shows how those assets are being managed. This interface makes it possible to subscribe to changes on specific rules.
  • Full text searching across rules, rule flows, decision tables and folders within a project, with filtering by type, status and date.
  • Improved decision table interface, making it easier to see what a specific table is doing.
  • Track rule versions through a timeline (weirdly reminiscent of Facebook’s Timeline), including snapshots that provide a view of rules at a specific point in time.
  • Any rule can emit an event to be consumed/managed by the event execution engine; conversely, events can invoke rulesets. This close integration of the two engines within ODM (rules and events) is a natural fit for agile and rapid automated decisions.

There’s also zOS news: IBM BPM v8 will run on zOS (not sure if that includes all server components), and the ODM support for zOS is improved, including COBOL support in rules. It would be interesting to see the cost relative to other server platforms, and the compelling reasons to deploy on zOS versus those other platforms, which I assume are mostly around integrating with other zOS applications for better runtime performance.

Since last year’s big announcement about bringing the platforms together, they appear to have been working on integration and design, putting a more consistent and seamless user interface on the portfolio as well as enhancing the capabilities. One of the other analysts (who will remain nameless unless he chooses to identify himself) pointed out that a lot of this is not all that innovative relative to market leaders – he characterized the activity stream social interface as being like Appian Tempo three years ago, and some of the functionality as just repackaged Lombardi – but I don’t think that it’s necessarily IBM’s role to be at the very forefront of technology innovation in application software. By being (fairly) fast followers, they have the effect of validating the market for the new features, such as mobile and social, and introducing their more conservative customer base to what might seem like pretty scary concepts.

IBM BPM: Merging the Paths

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” “That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Silver Blaze, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

And so the fact of me (and others) not yet blogging about the IBM BPM release has itself become a point of discussion. 😉

To recount the history, I was briefed on the new IBM BPM strategy and product offerings a few weeks before the Impact conference, with a strict embargo until the first day of the conference when the announcements would be made. Then, the week before Impact, IBM updated their online product pages and the sharp-eyed Scott Francis noticed this and jumped to the obvious – and correct – conclusion: IBM was about to integrate their WebSphere BPM offerings. That prerelease of information certainly diffused the urgency about writing about the release at the moment of announcement, and gave many of us the chance to sit back and think about it a bit more. I only had a brief day and a half at Impact before making my way back east for another conference where I was giving a workshop, and here I am a week later finally finishing up my thoughts on IBM BPM.

There’s been some written about it already by others who were there: Clay Richardson and his now-infamous “fresh coat of paint” post, which I’m sure did not make him any friends in some IBM circles, Neil Ward-Dutton with his counterpoint to Clay’s opinion, some quick notes from Scott Francis in the context of his keynote blogging (which also links to the video of Phil Gilbert making the announcement), and Tony Baer as part of his post on a week of BPM announcements.

It’s important to look at how the IBM organization has realigned to allow for the new product release: Phil Gilbert, former president and CTO of Lombardi, now has overall responsibility for all of WebSphere BPM – including both the former Lombardi and WebSphere BPM products – plus ILOG rules management. Neil Ward-Dutton referred to this as the reverse takeover of IBM by Lombardi; when I had a chance for a 1:1 with Phil at Impact, I told him that we’d all bet that he would be gone from IBM after a year. He admitted that he originally thought so too, until they gave him the opportunity to do exactly what he knew needed to be done: bring together all of the IBM BPM offerings into a unified offering. This new product announcement is the beginning of that unification, but they still have a ways to go.

Let’s take a look at the product offering, then. They’ve take pretty much everything in the WebSphere BPM portfolio (Lombardi Edition, Dynamic Process Edition, Process Server, Integration Developer, Business Modeler, Business Compass, Business Fabric) and mostly rolled it into IBM  BPM or replaced its functionality with something similar; there are a few exceptions, such as Business Compass, that have just disappeared. This reduces the entire IBM BPM portfolio to the following:

  • IBM Business Process Manager (which I’m covering here)
  • IBM Case Manager (the rebranding of some specialized functionality built on the IBM FileNet BPM platform, which is separate from the above IBM BPM offering)
  • IBM Blueworks Live
  • IBM Business Monitor
  • IBM BPM Industry Packs

Combining most of the WebSphere BPM components into IBM BPM V7.5, the new product offering has both a BPMN Process Designer and a BPEL Integration Designer, a common repository, and a process server that includes both the BPMN and BPEL engines. Now you can see where Clay Richardson is coming from with the “new coat of paint” characterization: the issue of one versus two process “servers” seemed to occupy an inordinate amount of time in discussions with IBM representatives, who stoically recited the party line that it’s one server. For those of us who actually used to write code like this for a living, it’s clear that it’s two engines: one BPMN and one BPEL. However, from the customer/user standpoint, it’s wrapped into a single Process Server, so if IBM ever gets around to refactoring into a single engine, that could be made fairly transparent to their customers, but would likely have the benefit of reducing IBM’s internal engineering costs around maintaining one versus two engines. Personally, I believe that there is enough commonality between process design and service orchestration that both the designers and the engines could be combined into something that offers the full spectrum of functionality while reducing the underlying product complexity.

In addition to the core process functionality, the ILOG rules engine is also present, plus monitoring tools and user interface options with both the process portal and the Business Space composite application environment.

I don’t want to understate their achievements in this product offering: the (Lombardi-flavored) Process Center with its shared repository and process governance is significant, allowing users to reuse artifacts from the two different sides of the BPM house: you can add a BPEL process orchestration created in Integration Designer to your BPMN process created in Process Designer, or you can include a business object created in Process Designer as a data definition in your BPEL service orchestration in Integration Designer, or call a BPMN process for human task handling. The fact remains, however, that this is still a slightly uneasy combination of the two major BPM platforms, and it will likely take another version or two to work out the bumps.

Since this is IBM, they can’t just have one product configuration, but offer three:

  • The Express edition, offered at a price point that is probably less than your last car, is for starter BPM projects: full functionality of the Process Designer to build and run BPMN processes, but only one server with no clustering, so unlikely to be used for any mission-critical applications. If you’re just getting started and are doing human-centric BPM, then this is for you.
  • The Standard edition, which is pretty much the same human BPM and lightweight integration functionality as the former Lombardi Edition BPMS. Existing Lombardi Edition customers will be able to upgrade to this version seamlessly.
  • The Advanced edition, which adds the Integration Designer and its ability to create a SOA layer of BPEL service/process orchestrations that can then be called from the BPMN processes or run independently.

In the product architecture diagram above, the Advanced edition is the whole thing, whereas the Standard and Express editions are missing the Integration Designer; to complicate that further, current WebSphere Process Server/Integration Designer customers will be transitioned to the Advanced edition but with the Process Designer disabled, a fourth shadow configuration that will not be available for new customers but is offered only as an upgrade. Both engines are still there in all editions, but it appears that without both designers, you can’t actually design anything that will run in one of the engines. For current customers, IBM has published information on migrating your existing configuration to the new BPM; there is a license migration path for all customers who currently have BPM products, but for some coming from the traditional WebSphere products, the actual migration of their applications may be a bit rocky.

The web-based Process Center is used for managing, deploying and interacting with processes of both types, although the Process Designer and Integration Designer are still applications that must be downloaded and installed locally. Within the Process Designer, there’s the familiar Lombardi “iTunes-style” view of the assets and dependencies. It’s important to point out that the Toolkits are assets that could have originated in either the Process Designer or the Integration Designer; in other words, they could be human workflows running on the BPMN engine or service orchestrations running on the BPEL engine, and can just be dragged and dropped onto BPMN processes as activities. The development environment includes versioning, shared concurrent editing to view what assets that other developers are editing that might impact your project, playback of previous process versions, and all versions of processes viewable for deployment in Process Center. The Process Center view is identical from either design tool, providing an initial common view between these two environments. Linking these two environments through sharing of assets in the Process Center also eases deployment: everything that a process application depends upon, regardless of its origin, can be deployed as a single package.

Not everything comes from the former Lombardi Edition, however: the user interface builder in BPM BPM is based on Business Space, IBM’s composite application development tool, instead of the old Lombardi forms and UI technology; this allows for easy reuse of widgets in portals, and there’s also a REST interface to roll your own UI. Also, the proprietary rules engine in Lombardi is being replaced with ILOG, with the rules editor built right in to the design environments; the ILOG engine is included in the Process Server, but can only be called from processes, not by external applications, so as to not cannibalize the standalone ILOG BRMS business. I’m sure that they will be supporting the old UI and rules for a while, but if you’re using those, you’re going to be encouraged to start migrating at some point.

There is currently no (announced) plan for IBM BPM process execution in the cloud (except for the simple user-created workflows in Blueworks Live), which I think will impact IBM BPM at some point: I understand that many of the large IBM customers are unlikely to go off premise for a production system, but more and more organizations that I work with are considering cloud-based solutions that they can provision and decommission near-instantaneously as a platform for development and testing, at the very least. They need to rethink their strategy on this, and stop offering expensive custom hosted or private “cloud” platforms as their only cloud alternatives.

Finally, there is the red-headed stepchild in the IBM BPM portfolio: IBM FileNet BPM, which has mostly been made over as the IBM Case Manager product. Interestingly, some of the people from the FileNet product side were present at Impact (usually they would only attend the IOD conference, which covers the Information Management software portfolio in which FileNet BPM is entombed), and there was talk about how Case Manager and the rest of the BPM suite could work together. In my opinion, bringing FileNet BPM into the overall IBM BPM fold makes a lot of sense; as I blogged back in 2006 at the time of the acquisition, and in 2008 when comparing it to the Oracle acquisition, they should have done that from the start, but there seemed (at the time) to be some fundamental misunderstandings about the product capabilities, and they chose to refocus it on content-centric BPM rather than combining it with WebSphere Process Server. Of course, if they had done the latter, we likely would be seeing a very different IBM BPM product mix today.

Impact Keynote: Agility in an Era of Change

Today’s keynote was focused on customers and how they improving their processes in order to become more agile, reduce costs and become more competitive in the marketplace. After a talk and intro by Carrie Lee, business news correspondent and WSJ columnist, Beth Smith and Shanker Ramamurthy of IBM hosted Richard Ward of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Rick Goldgar of the Texas Education Agency and Justin Snoxall of Visa Europe.

The message from yesterday continued: process is king, and is at the heart of any business improvement. This isn’t just traditional structured process management, but social and contextual capabilities, ad hoc and dynamic tasks, and interactions across the business network. As they pointed out, dynamic processes don’t lead to chaos: they deliver consistent outcomes in goal-oriented knowledge work. First of all, there are usually structured portions of any process, whether that forms the overarching framework from which collaborations are launched, or whether structured subprocesses are spawned from an unstructured dynamic process. Secondly, monitoring and controls still exist, like guardrails around your dynamic process to keep it from running off the road.

The Lombardi products are getting top billing again here today, with Blueprint (now IBM BPM Blueprint, which is a bit of a mouthful) positioned as a key collaborative process discovery and modeling tool. There’s not much new in Blueprint since the Lombardi days except for a bit of branding; in other words, it remains a solid and innovative way for geographically (and temporally) separated participants to collaborate on process discovery. Blueprint has far better capabilities than other online process discovery tools, but they are going to need to address the overlap – whether real or perceived – with the free process discovery tools including IBM BlueWorks, ARISalign, InterstageBPM and others.

Smith gave a brief demo of Blueprint, which is probably a first view for many of the people in the audience based on the tweets that I’m seeing. Ramamurthy stepped in to point out that processes are part of your larger business network: that’s the beauty of tools like Blueprint, which allow people in different companies to collaborate on a hosted web application. And since Lombardi has been touting their support of BPMN 2.0 since last September, it’s no surprise that they can exchange process models between Blueprint and process execution engines – not the full advantages of a completely model-driven environment with a shared repository, but a reasonable bridge between a hosted modeling tool and an on-premise execution tool.

As you get into demanding transaction processing applications, however, Smith discussed WebSphere Process Server as their industrial-strength offering for handling high volumes of transactions. What’s unclear is where the Lombardi Edition (formerly TeamWorks) will fit as WPS builds out its human-centric capabilities, creating more of an overlap between these process execution environments. A year ago, I would have said that TeamWorks and WPS fit together with a minimum of overlap; now, there is a more significant overlap, and based on the WPS direction, there will be more in the future. IBM is no longer applying the “departmental” label to Lombardi, but I’m not sure that they really understand how to make these two process execution engines either work together with a minimum of overlap, or merge into a single system. Or maybe they’re just not telling.

It’s not just about process, however: there’s also predictive analytics and using real-time information to monitor and adjust processes, leveraging business rules and process optimization to improve processes. They talked about infusing processes with points of agility through the use/integration of rules, collaboration, content and more. As great as this sounds, this isn’t just one product, or a seamlessly-integrated suite: we’re back to the issue that I discussed with Angel Diaz yesterday, where IBM’s checklist for customers to decide which BPM products that they need will inevitably end up with multiple selections.

The session ended up with the IBM execs and all three customers being interviewed by Carrie Lee; as a skilled interviewer who has obviously done her homework, this had a good flow with a reasonable degree of interaction between the panelists. The need for business-controlled rules was stressed as a way to provide more dynamic control of processes to the business; in general, a more agile approach was seen as a way to reduce implementation time and make the systems more flexible in the face of changing business needs. Ward (from BCBS) said that they had to focus on keeping BPM as a key process improvement methodology, rather than just using TeamWorks as another application development tool, and recommended not going live with a BPMS without metrics for you to understand the benefits. That sounds like good advice for any organization finding themselves going down the rabbit hole of BPMS application development when they really need to focus on their processes.

Using Business Space for Human Workflows

Back to the breakouts for the rest of the afternoon, I attended a presentation and demo by Michael Friess of IBM’s BBlingen R&D lab on using Business Space to build user interfaces for human-centric processes.

Business Space is what I would call a mashup environment, although I think that IBM is avoiding that term because it just isn’t taken seriously in business; in other words, a portal-like composition application development environment where pre-built widgets from disparate sources can quickly be assembled into an application, with a great deal more interaction between the widgets than you would find in a simple portal. Business Space is, in fact, built on the Lotus Mashup Center infrastructure; I think they just prettied it up and gave it a more corporate-sounding name, since it bears a resemblance to the Lotus Mashup Center version that I played with a while back with the FileNet ECM widgets. It’s browser-based and is fairly clean-looking, with easy placement, resizing and configuration of widgets.

Friess considered both “traditional” (predefined structured) and dynamic human BPM, where the dynamic side includes collaboration, allowing the user to organize their own environment, and adaptive case management. Structured BPM typically has fixed user interfaces that have a specific mode of task assignment (get next, personal task list, team task list, or team-based allocation). Business Space, on the other hand, provides a semi-structured framework for BPM user interfaces where the BPM widgets can be assembled under the toolbar-like links to other spaces and pages; the widgets use REST interfaces to back-end IBM services such as WPS, Business Compass, Business Monitor, Business Fabric and ESB, as well as any other services available internally or externally via REST. Templates can be used to create pages with standard functionality, such as a vanilla BPM interface, which can then be customized to suit the specific application.

Each widget can be configured for the content (which tasks and properties are visible and editable to the user), the actions available to the user, and the display modes such as list or table view. Even if a specific user isn’t allowed to choose the widgets that appear on the page, they typically will have the ability to customize the view somewhat through built-in (server-side) filtering and sorting.

Once widgets are placed on a page and configured, they are wired together in order to create interactions between the widgets: for example, a task list widget will be wired to a task details widget so that the item selected in the list will be displayed in the details view.

There are a number of BPM widgets available, including task list, task details, escalations list, human workflow diagram (from the process model, which will change to indicate any new collaboration tasks) and even free-form forms; these in turn allow any sort of BPM functionality such as spawning a collaboration task. Care must be taken in constructing the queries that underlay the list-type widgets, although that would be true in any user interface development that presents a list to a user; the only specific consideration here is that the mashup may not be constructed by an developer, but rather by a business analyst, which may require a developer to predefine some views or queries for use by the widgets.

If you’ve seen any mashup environment, this is all going to look pretty familiar, but I consider that a good thing: the ability to build composite applications like this is critical in many situations where full application development can’t be justified, especially for prototype and situational applications, but also to replace the end user computing applications that your business analysts have previously built in Excel or Access. Unfortunately, I think that some professional services types feel that mashup environments and widgets are toys rather than real application development tools; that’s an unfortunate misconception, since these can be every bit as functional and scalable as writing custom Java code, and a lot more agile. You’re probably not going to use mashups and widgets for every user interface in BPM, but it should be a part of your application development toolkit.