Maintaining Ethical Standards As An Industry Analyst And Enterprise Consultant

Every once in a while, someone suggests that vendors pay me for coverage. The latest accusation actually used the term “pay-for-play”, which is a derogatory term for industry analysts who require that vendors be their paid clients before they receive any coverage by the analyst, and is often considered to be unethical. Vendors who work with me know that’s not true, but I just wanted to sum up how I work with vendors.

Unpaid Work

  • I will accept a briefing from any vendor whose products that I find interesting. I might also write about an interesting piece of news, a webinar that I watched, or information about upcoming events. If I choose to write about any of this here (which I sometimes don’t, due to time constraints or lack of interest), the vendors do not have review/edit privileges before I post: they see my review the same time as all other readers. This last policy, by the way, has resulted in some vendors shutting me out of their analyst programs, since they want to control the message; needless to say, I don’t write about them much since all they give me is the same information as you could find on their websites.
  • I will attend a vendor conference but must have my travel expenses reimbursed since I’m an independent and would have to pay these costs myself.

I know that a lot of analyst firms charge for merely attending briefings and conferences, and maybe I will start doing that some day, but I want the freedom to write (or not) whatever I want about what I see without any sort of oversight or censorship, since I think that’s important to my readers. If there is information presented that’s under embargo or NDA, I always honor that. Note that in both of these cases, I give up my time – which could have been spent on revenue-generating work – to attend events and briefings, so if you’re envious of all my “free” trips to exotic locations, remember that I don’t get paid while I’m there unless I’m doing paid work.

Paid Work

My website describes the types of paid work that I do for vendors, but to sum up:

  • I consult on strategy, including product and go-to-market strategy. When I do this, you’ll probably never hear about it since anything I produce will be under NDA to my client.
  • I give webinars and conference presentations, and write white papers. Although I choose my subject to be of interest to my client (the vendor) and their audience, what I write is my own opinion: the fact that a vendor pays me to write a white paper does not mean that I am endorsing their product, even though they appear as a sponsor of the paper. If appropriate, I will mention their product as an illustrative example. I upload my presentations and papers and link to them from my blog because people always request copies, and because these materials form part of my online portfolio to allow other prospective customers to understand what I can do for them. When doing a (paid) conference presentation, I may also be blogging from the conference, which is covered under the unpaid work section above.

Regardless of my relationship with a vendor, I am never compensated for product sales, nor for blogging about them, nor for giving a positive review about their product. I have a disclosure statement that summarizes these principles and lists current and recent vendor clients. It would be fair to say that vendors who take the time to cultivate a relationship with me and invite me to their conferences tend to get more coverage because I’m exposed to more information about them, but it’s not necessarily favorable coverage.

Since most of my work is for enterprise clients – primarily helping financial services and insurance organizations with BPM implementations – I follow strict ethical guidelines, including disclosing the names of my vendor clients to my enterprise clients at the start. Since many enterprise clients use my blog and white papers as a way to get to know my work, it’s important that I present unbiased information of value.

</rant>

Can We Achieve BPMS Pricing Transparency?

I saw – and responded to – this question on Quora today:

What are the license fees / cost for the the top BPM solutions in the market ? ( Pegasystems, IBM ( Lombardi ) , Appian, Oracle , etc )

I am looking forward to do a benchmark of the top BPM ( Business Process Management ) sofware solutions on the market. Its well known that is always hard to have a clear knowledge on the licensing prices that top software vendors offer on their solutions.

My response:

Good luck with getting public information on that — like most enterprise software vendors, BPMS vendors are very reluctant to release this sort of information. Typically, they sell a package made up of software, services, maintenance and possibly even future growth, then apply discounts based on how close they are to the end of their sales quarter/year and other things that are unimportant to the customer but unfortunately used to drive sales.

You might have better luck finding prices for those who have a cloud version, since that tends to be based just on a per user/per month figure rather than a mysterious formula. However, I notice that many of them, stuck in their old ways of not disclosing any prices, don’t even publish those but make you request a quote.

The lack of transparency in pricing in enterprise software in general, and BPMS in particular, is not a good thing for customers.

I’ve helped a number of end-customer organizations with their BPMS purchasing decisions over the years, although I’m typically focused on how well the functionality fits their business requirements rather than how well the price fits their budget. At some point, however, the customer always asks “How much does it cost”, and my answer is almost always “I have no idea”. I might know how much it cost for some other customer, but the pricing calculations for a particular customer are usually so completely opaque that they can’t be generalized and – this is the killer – the vendor considers this confidential information that cannot be disclosed to other customers. Even cloud-based pricing, which should be publicly advertised on the vendors’ websites in easy-to-understand per-user-per-month terms, is sadly missing from some of the key cloud BPMS vendors.

Remember the bad old days of buying a car, when you had no idea how much it cost when you walked into the showroom, and had to go through some weird pseudo-negotiation between the salesperson and his manager, where they would throw in the free floor mats if you did your financing with them, give you an extra discount if it was within a week of the end of their sales quarter, or bait-and-switch you into a more expensive model? Enterprise software has always felt a bit like that to me, and BPMS pricing and sales tactics sadly fall into that same category, at least for many of the major vendors.

Now, remember what happened when people started sharing car prices online? Soon, everyone knew the dealer price on a car in advance, and were in a much better position to negotiate a fair price, rather than have the salesperson negotiate what they think you would pay. It would be good if the BPMS vendors could get ahead of that trend, and start being a bit more transparent about their pricing, starting with cloud pricing.

Litigating Your Way To BPM Notoriety

I’m a firm believer in free and open information exchange – not always a popular view amongst independents like myself who make our living selling our knowledge and experience to organizations – and that principle is why I became involved in the Process Knowledge Initiative and its creation of an open-source body of knowledge for process information. The idea of the PKI’s BoK (or PKBoK as we’ve come to call it, much to the amusement of pedants who love to point out that two of the five letters in the acronym stand for “Knowledge”) is that the BPM community needs a body of knowledge that is freely available to all, and where everyone in the community can contribute. To that end, we’ve launched a public wiki that contains some starting framework pieces for the BoK, and are starting to accept community contributions in the form of public comments. Soon, I hope, we will have enough in place to open this up for community editing; in order to do that, we need to have some safeguards in place to make sure that special interests don’t hijack the conversation.

The idea for this was first launched in September 2010, based on a paper by Wasana Bandara, Paul Harmon and Michael Rosemann on the need for an open, comprehensive process body of knowledge in order to further professionalize BPM. In that paper, the authors discussed the ABPMP BPM CBOK as “the closest BPM BoK the discipline has to date” in terms of completeness, extendibility, understandability, application and utility, and identified a number of core limitations that need to be addressed:

First, the process of deriving and maintaining the BoK should be more systematic and transparent. This will assist the perceived validity and adoption of it. Secondly, the content that forms the BoK needs to be defined and scoped, and most of all, checked for completeness, correctness and relevance to the field. Also, consensus definition of the content of a BoK is needed for it to be accepted as industry standard. Thirdly, the structure of the BoK should be carefully thought about and documented; this will assist in the correct interpretation of the BoK by its adapters and will also support sustainability and growth of the BoK.

They categorized the ABPMP CBOK as “a good starting point”, and proposed initiatives for an ontology-based approach to developing more comprehensive content, and a community approach to populating and maintaining the content.

The ABPMP, however, doesn’t like the idea of an open and freely-available process BoK, since they make money from selling the content ($49.95 from their store, although Amazon discounts it to $39.17) as well as offering certification programs. Attempts by PKI members, many of whom have long-time memberships with the ABPMP, to involve the ABPMP in the PKI were generally rebuffed. In short, for all of you wondering why we aren’t just working with the ABPMP on their BoK: we think the content should be free and community-created, and they don’t.

I’ve been an ABPMP member in the past, and rejoined last year when I was invited to be on the executive of the fledgling ABPMP Toronto chapter. I don’t see that as being in conflict with my PKI involvement: they’re both helping to educate people on BPM, and that’s a good thing for the industry. At PKI, we could even envision a day when ABPMP offered certification courses and exams for the content in the PKI BoK, either in addition to or as a replacement for their own BoK. Imagine my disappointment, then, at two recent developments:

  • The ABPMP “Presidents Annual Report 2010” provided a financial and legal update that included the statement “Due to the increase in trademark filings, our legal costs will be an ongoing fixed cost of doing business going forward and will be budgeted on an annual basis to align our trademark filings with our growth strategies outside the US.” In other words, they’re using my membership fees to pay their lawyers to sue others who attempt to create bodies of knowledge in the BPM space where the name might possibly be confused with the ABPMP BPM CBOK. Tony Benedict, president of ABPMP International, already fired a warning shot at the PKI with an email stating “You cannot use BPM BOK in any of your publications, digital or otherwise as it violates our trademark.  Please refrain from doing so or ABPMP will take legal action.” This is not how I want my ABPMP membership fees spent. Also, we never used the term “BPM BoK”.
  • The president of the Toronto ABPMP chapter was told by ABPMP International that they can’t help us with our chapter startup costs (which are mostly just incorporation and initial marketing to draw in members), and that we would need to obtain money from sponsors, or incorporate as a for-profit organization and take capital contributions from the shareholders – in spite of the fact that less than 15% of the local members’ fees actually flow to the local chapter. Considering that our startup costs are likely worth about 1 hour of ABPMP International’s trademark lawyers’ fees, I would rather that a bit of that money be directed here so that we can get a local chapter started to promote BPM in Toronto, rather than focusing on suing other people.

I’m just not okay with the idea that you can litigate your way to fame and fortune when you’re trying to create something like the body of knowledge. I know it’s the American way, but I’m Canadian, eh?

But Customers Don’t WANT Three BPMSs

In my Links post last Friday, I linked to a post on Mike Gammage’s blog that quoted Janelle Hill of Gartner speaking at the recent Gartner BPM Summit in London:

The right answer in selecting a BPMS is often three BPMSs, based on the particular projects’ needs.

I commented that this seemed to indicate that Gartner is bowing to pressure from platform vendors that have multiple fragmented BPM offerings (e.g., IBM), and that it’s not a good thing for customers.

Just before midnight that night, I received a reply from someone who I met at a conference last year:

<begin rant>

Regarding your links today – and the Sourcing Shangri-La post featuring the Janelle Hill/Gartner quote :  "The right answer in selecting a BPMS is often three BPMSs, based on the particular projects’ needs." 

Couldn’t agree with you more on how disappointing this is.  This is a very unfortunate message that I seem to be hearing more and more lately.  For those of us out there getting muddy in the trenches, who use and implement a BPMS for business processes executed by [humans] that have [document] and line of business system [integration] inputs and outputs required for most activities within a single business process, this "three different BPMSs " reasoning doesn’t make any sense at all.  It does make a convenient pitch, however, if you’re a vendor trying to explain why you’ve acquired products that overlap in a confusing way and perhaps don’t want to lay out the money to integrate them.   Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m a little stunned that it seems to be so widely accepted. 

As long as vendors (and research VPs) continue to put this out there, the vendors (like Pega) who would never punish their end users or application support teams in a single organization with three different BPM suites to deal with will continue to see results like this (in a severe recession, no less):

“Feb. 22, 2010 – Pegasystems Inc. (NASDAQ: PEGA), the leader in Business Process Management (BPM) software solutions, today announced financial results for the year and fourth quarter ended December 31, 2009. Revenue for 2009 increased 25% to $264 million compared to 2008. Net income for 2009 nearly tripled and increased to $32.2 million.” (http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/marketwire/0589312.htm)

<end rant/>

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

MTCC wifi ripoff

Aside from the really poorly scaled logo graphic at the top that looks all squished, does anyone see anything wrong with this website that pops up when I try to access the wifi at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre?

 MTCC wifi ripoff

That’s right, $395 for access for a single computer. No, there’s no missing period in that number, it’s three hundred and ninety-five dollars. I realize that this is targeted at exhibitors, but seriously, this is flat-out extortion.

Note to anyone attending or exhibiting at a conference at MTCC: you’re in range of Toronto Hydro’s One Zone wifi, which is $10/day.

Jason Laszlo gives Bell Canada a(nother) black eye

All week, the local tech community has been buzzing around the news that Bell Canada is throttling P2P traffic — specifically the widely-used BitTorrent protocol — for not only their direct Sympatico subscribers, but also for anyone who buys their supposedly unlimited DSL from a Sympatico reseller, such as TekSavvy. For those of you new to the traffic shaping/net neutrality wars that have been going on in North America over the past months, here’s why throttling P2P traffic isn’t good news:

  • Bell Canada (and our only other "last mile" carrier, Rogers Cable) are violating their role as a common carrier: they’re supposed to deliver the data, regardless of what it is, subject to our individual bandwidth and download caps. As long as I’m not getting a higher bandwidth than I was promised, and don’t go over my monthly volume cap, I should be able to download whatever I want, whenever I want, because the contract that I signed with Bell implied that would be the case. If they can’t deliver that bandwidth, then they shouldn’t be selling it; furthermore, they should have taken the money made by all these years of overselling the same bandwidth and invested in improving the now-outdated infrastructure so that we wouldn’t have these problems now.
  • The carriers, Bell and Rogers, like to position this as allowing equal access to everyone instead of allowing those evil file-sharing types to hog the bandwidth, but they don’t exactly have altruistic motives: both of them sell services (cable and satellite TV) that compete with downloaded video, and they want you paying $40+ to them each month to watch the TV that they choose rather than be able to select from a wide variety of alternative — and legal — video available on the internet. Furthermore, Rogers wants to use the same bandwidth that you would use for free video downloads to download their pay-per-view movies instead.
  • Bell and Rogers have targeted the BitTorrent protocol for throttling even though it has many legal uses. Last week, CBC made history by offering a TV program available, DRM-free, for download by BitTorrent. This allowed anyone in the world with broadband access to have access to Canadian programming that might not be available on their local TV stations. By throttling BitTorrent, however, Bell and Rogers are effectively blocking access to that Canadian content within Canada, forcing people to watch it on Bell or Rogers’ TV services. Personally, I use BitTorrent not just for that CBC show, but to download new releases of Ubuntu, and other large open source downloads where the source site provides BitTorrent as an option in order to reduce the bandwidth demands on their servers.

What this all comes down to is a violation of net neutrality: Bell and Rogers are deciding which traffic on the network gets higher priority. They’re doing it now because they’ve failed to make the necessary investments in infrastructure over the years that would allow them to actually deliver what they sell, and coincidentally they choose to throttle traffic that competes with their other business areas.

Suffice it to say that Bell Canada didn’t have a good week because of this — it was all over the news, the DSL resellers are talking about suing, and even the unions are in on the action. Enter Jason Laszlo, a spokesperson (apparently associate director of media relations) for Bell Canada, who was quoted extensively on this issue in the press:

  • "Regarding customers like Mount Sinai [a major Toronto hospital that was used as an example of how legal file sharing might be used for CAT scans], Laszlo said it’s their own fault for using a notorious application like file-sharing. ‘We’re blind to the content flowing through our pipes,’ he said. ‘Our goal is to ensure maximum efficiency for everyone.’" — Digital Journal, March 25th. ["Notorious"? Oh, puh-leeze. And if they were blind to the content, then they wouldn’t be throttling file sharing.]
  • "P2P programs are only employed by a small percentage of internet users, but they tend to make use of all the available bandwidth, Laszlo said. Reduced P2P use should provide a better balance between P2P and other users at peak times, he said. ‘I feel we’re on the side of good,’ he said." — CBC News, March 25th. [Throttling P2P is a good way to make sure that it is only ever employed by a small percentage of users, which is exactly what Bell wants.]
  • "Bell spokesman Jason Laszlo on Friday reiterated the company’s position —that it was shaping traffic in order to prevent a small portion of bandwidth hogs from slowing speeds down for all customers." — CBC News, March 28th.
  • Jason Laszlo (Bell Canada media relations) on Facebook"Jason is throttle-icious." — Jason Laszlo’s publicly-viewable Facebook profile, status update dated March 28th at 4:34pm.
  • "Jason is realizing how little seperates [sic] most journalists from lemmings." — Jason Laszlo’s publicly-viewable Facebook profile, status update dated evening of March 28th.

Yes, those last two are real; his Facebook profile was posted on a broadband discussion forum yesterday afternoon (you can Digg the story here); he obviously was unaware of the impact of no privacy settings, since I was able to access his profile immediately after that even though we’re not directly connected and have no mutual friends.

My friend Mark Kuznicki channeled his outrage into a great blog post about how this hands the net neutrality advocates a gift, and messaged Laszlo on Facebook to let him know what we all think of his two-faced approach to media relations. Shortly after that, Laszlo’s profile was set to private so that I could no longer view it; this morning, it appears to be completely missing.

So what’s the lesson to be learned from this mess? The public is now aware and mobilized on the impact of traffic shaping on their daily lives, even if they haven’t yet heard the term net neutrality. To paraphrase Peter Finch’s character from Network, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.

Oh, yeah, lesson #2: don’t entrust media relations for a sensitive subject to an inexperienced junior who doesn’t know well enough not to post inappropriate comments to his publicly-viewable Facebook profile.

The rip-off that is hotel internet access

I was just about to start crowing over how I haven’t paid for internet access since I arrived in the Bay area last Tuesday — the ratty old Best Western in Mountain View had free wired access as well as being in the Google wifi zone, and the Hilton in San Francisco’s financial district doesn’t charge for wifi, the first Hilton that I’ve ever been in that didn’t — but I’ve arrived at the Hyatt Regency near San Francisco airport for the BPM Think Tank conference and find myself having to buy access through T-mobile.

When are the organizers of technology conferences going to start to insist on only booking at hotels with free internet access? When that starts becoming a competitive differentiator for their bread-and-butter conference bookings, the hotels will start to listen.

Sporadic email problems

If you’ve emailed me this week at my kemsleydesign.com address and the email has bounced, it’s because I’m in the process of changing hosting providers and Yahoo (the relinquishing provider) is doing everything in its power to screw things up for me — like not transferring my domain to a new registrar upon request. I’ve updated my MX records to point to my new hosting provider (GoDaddy) while I’m waiting for the domain transfer to happen, and sometimes things get confused.

Email to me at the column2.com address shown on my blog profile page seems to be working fine, even though it redirects to the same kemsleydesign.com address, since the email for that domain name is routed through GoDaddy and it seems to know about other MX records hosted by GoDaddy.

With any luck, this will all be sorted out by the weekend.

Weirdness in the conference circuit

I have a busy next few months lined up, between conferences that I’m attending (such as next week’s Gartner BPM summit in San Diego — check back here then for live blogging) and ones where I’m speaking (such as the Shared Insights collaboration conference in May in Las Vegas). Regardless of my role at a conference, I blog pretty much everything that I see and hear, which the conference organizers like because it gives them a lot of coverage, as well as giving me (and all of you, of course) an historical record of the conference in a searchable format.

I also had an invitation to speak at the American Strategic Management Institute’s BPM summit in Miami next month, but as of today, I’ve been uninvited (although the current version of the brochure on their site still list me as a speaker). The entire interaction with ASMI (or The Performance Institute — the email addresses are from this domain, but I’m not sure of the relationship between the organizations) has been a bit odd. It all started back in November, when I had an unsolicited invitation from Matthew Sheaff of ASMI to speak at the upcoming conference, which was at that time scheduled for March 19-21. His first email to me went like this:

On behalf of The American Strategic Management Institute, I’d like to extend to you an invitation to participate in The 2007 Business Process Management Summit being held March 19-21, 2007. Your remarks would begin at 2:30 on the 19th and last about an hour. The topic of the session that we would be honored for you to present on is “Using Business Intelligence Methods to Forecast Enterprise Process Improvement.”

Weird — what sort of conference has specific session titles preassigned four months in advance, before they even have speakers? Typically, if someone is asking me to speak (unless it’s a last minute fill-in), they specify a track or broad subject area and ask me for an abstract of what I’d like to speak about, and we’d work something out from that which suits their conference and that I’ll enjoy presenting. In most cases, I’m not paid for speaking at conferences, so I like to talk about things that I’m passionate about, and that also happen to fit into the conference theme.

I responded back to Sheaff that I was interested (after all, it’s Miami in March, how bad can it be?) and asked for a few details, and he responded:

As with all speakers, we cover your airfare to and from the event, transportation from the airport to the hotel, your food, conference attendance and one night stay at the hotel.

Okay, pretty standard stuff so far. A few weeks ago, I got an email from the event planner, Caroline Bracher, about speaker logistics. It included the phrase “We allow up to $400 for roundtrip tickets, for your reference if making your arrangements through another venue“, which in conjunction with Sheaff’s earlier assurance that they cover all travel expenses, I interpreted to mean that if I use their travel agent, everything is covered, but if I book my own tickets, they’ll allow me to charge them back up to $400. I have every intention of letting their agent book it, since you really can’t get a flight for $400 from Toronto to Miami this time of year — we are in another country, after all, and a cold one.

Yesterday, I email their travel agent and give him my planned dates of travel. He makes a couple of tentative bookings, and emails me back:

I have made two reservations for and emailed it for you. If you fly on US the fare is 603.95, but if you the AA flights, the fare is 751.90. Please let me know which you prefer cause Performance Institute will cover up to $400.00.

Huh? Must be some misunderstanding, Sheaff’s original email to me clearly stated that my airfare was covered. I emailed back, copying Bracher on the email:

Sorry, I will not be covering any additional airfare — Caroline, that’s not the arrangement that I had with you, you were to cover my airfare and hotel. Please sort this out and get back to me.

Silence descended. No phone calls, no email. Then this morning, the following arrives from Sheaff:

Due to some spacing limitations that we have encountered at the conference hotel in Miami – we’ve had to consolidate our two track event into one. Unfortunately, due to that, we’ve had to cut out some sessions. With that we’ve decided not to run the session on Business Intelligence. I want to thank you for all your help during this process and I hope that we can have the opportunity to work with you in the future. Caroline Bracher, who is cc’d on this email, will be handling all the logistics for the change in the program. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Things like this just make me shake my head in wonder. The difference between my airfare and their limit was $203.95 (or 351.90, if I went for the non-stop option so as not to have to spend 2 entire days in airports to spend 1 hour speaking at a conference). They’re charging attendees $1,795 for the 2-day conference, which means that about 60% of a single attendee’s fee would pay for all of my travel expenses.

If you’ve already booked for this conference, you may want to request the revised schedule from them: if they really have reduced it to a single track, it may no longer have the sessions that you’re looking for, and you still have a couple of weeks to get a refund. If their last email to me is inaccurate and they’ve just replaced me as a speaker because I wanted them to uphold their part of our speaker’s agreement: well, you can make your own decision on that.