TIBCO Analyst Summit: Spotfire

Christopher Ahlberg, founder of Spotfire and now president of TIBCO’s Spotfire division, discussed Spotfire’s capabilities and what’s been done with integrating Spotfire into other TIBCO products.

Timely insights — the right information at the right time — is a competitive differentiator for most businesses, and classic business intelligence just doesn’t cut it in many cases. Consumer applications like Google Finance are raising the bar for dynamic visualization techniques, although most of them are fairly inflexible when it comes to viewing or comparing specific data in which you’re interested. In other words, we want the data selection and aggregation capabilities of our enterprise systems, and the visualization capabilities of consumer web applications. Ahlberg sees a number of disruptive BI technologies transforming the platform — in-memory processes, interactive visualization, participatory architecture, mashups — and starting to be able to link to the event-driven world of classic TIBCO.

He did a demo of copying and pasting the contents of a spreadsheet directly into Spotfire, which automatically used the column headers as metadata and created a scatterplot. He filtered and colored the chart dynamically, set thresholds and played around with the data to show what could be extracted from it, then showed a pre-built dashboard of charts that still allowed quite a bit of interactivity in terms of filtering and other view parameters. He also showed a mashup between Spotfire and Microsoft Virtual Earth that allowed a subset of the data to be selected in Spotfire, causing a shortest route between the geographic location corresponding to the data points to be plotted on Virtual Earth.

This puts a much more configurable face on standard analytics, not just in display parameters but also in area like selecting the dimensions to be compared on the fly rather than having them pre-defined in OLAP cubes. Since TIBCO is focused on real-time event processing, the logical step is to see how those events can be visualized in Spotfire: instead of just raising an alert to someone, give them a view of the analytical context behind the alert that makes it easier to close the loop on problem resolution. They’ve packaged this as Spotfire Operations Analytics, which fits most closely into a LEAN Six Sigma manufacturing environment.

There’s a session on Thursday about BPM with analytics which I’ll likely attend to see what they’re doing in that area.

TIBCO Analyst Summit: Go To Market Strategy

Ram Menon, EVP of Marketing and Product Strategy, discussed the go to market strategy for some of the opportunities that Murray Rode identified earlier.

One opportunity for growth is in simplification, in four major areas:

  • Improved focus on who they are targeting in the sales process, based on their experience of who is most likely to buy and through deepening their penetration within existing customers.
  • Creation of horizontal bundles that simplify purchasing for IT buyers: SOA starter edition, SOA composite apps, SOA integration, and SOA governance.
  • Focus on differentiated vertical value propositions that allow a business buyer to match TIBCO’s capabilities to their specific business needs.
  • Improved user interface and usability in the form of TIBCO ONE for deployment and management, all based on a common Eclipse framework and some of the technology that they acquired with General Interface.

They have a three core SOA messages to the market:

  • Best in class ESB
  • SOA service management
  • Extreme messaging, namely top performance

They also have some BPM-related themes:

  • Advanced order fulfillment (vertical)
  • Dynamic claims management (vertical)
  • Unify BPM and SOA: cross-selling BPM to existing SOA customers

There were two business optimization themes, including a supply chain management vertical, but that went by too fast for me.

Bruce Silver and another analyst later asked about the vertical solutions, and it appears that this is more about marketing and advertising than any verticalization of a product or service offering.

Menon discussed some of the specifics of their expansion into new geographies — including up-to-date localized product materials and websites — and new partner models.

TIBCOmmunity logoThey’ve made a big push for visibility in the market over the last two years, including such efforts as Greg the Architect videos on YouTube, resulting in a much greater chance of TIBCO’s name appearing whenever equivalent IBM and Oracle products are mentioned. They’re also launching TIBCOmmunity, a social network for their customers, although the site’s not up yet so there’s no details on what it will include.

He was followed by two of the VPs of Sales — Robin Gilthorpe for the Americas and Tony Harris for Asia-Pacific — and EVP of Sales Murat Sonmez standing in for the VP for EMEA, each discussing the specifics of their region.

A question came up at the end asking about who they’re selling to within organizations, and (not surprisingly) almost all SOA sales are to IT, whereas BPM is sometimes being sold to business management. TIBCO has a legacy of selling to IT, and I suspect that much of the sales force is most comfortable making the technical sale. Selling to business takes a slightly different set of skills, which makes me curious if they’re specifically recruiting business-oriented salespeople in their current sales force expansion.

TIBCO Analyst Summit: Corporate Vision

Next up was Vivek Ranadivé, CEO, with a summary of where the company came from and some vision for the future: Enterprise 3.0 (yes, he actually said that), focused on event-driven SOA, predictive analytics and the business processes that use them.

He sees their superior technology as key, but feel that customers also gravitate to them because of their neutrality: a direct dig at IBM — who he believes is both not neutral and has inferior point-to-point event technology — and at BEA being acquired by Oracle (although rumors continue to fly in the industry about who is going to acquire TIBCO, and when).

Although this session was billed as "strategy and vision to remain a leader in the current market of consolidation and competitive pressures", I didn’t hear a lot about how they plan to do that, except for a "we’ll sell more because we’re better" sort of statement.

TIBCO Analyst Summit: Corporate and Financial Overview

TIBCO’s having their first ever analyst summit in the day before the TUCON user conference starts, covering both business strategy and product announcements.

First up was Murray Rode, CFO, with a company overview and their position in the market. Their key market segments are SOA and BPM, as we know, but also business optimization (rules + analytics) based in part on the acquisition of Spotfire a year ago. They see their differentiators as their neutral platform, mission critical engineering and being event-driven and bus-based. They also see "infrastructure becoming the essential part of the architecture" and that companies are using TIBCO to "create apps from infrastructure". A key catchphrase summing up what their products can do is "simpler connectivity, more complete automation".

Their fiscal year 2007 revenue was $577M, I was surprised to hear that 50-55% of their revenue is from services, which includes both maintenance and professional services, in spite of a strong partner channel that presumably is also generated significant professional services revenue based on TIBCO products. Geographically, about 50% of the revenue is from the Americas, 40% EMEA and 10% Asia-Pacific. Financial services is their largest vertical at 25%, with telecommunications at 10-15%. They’re continuing to expand their sales force from the current 170 to 190-200, with each quota-carrying salesperson generating about $2.2M in licence revenue annually, and in addition to growing the sales force, they intend to continue expanding through new geography exploration, acquisitions and partner channels.

BPM is 11% of revenue, business optimization is 25%, and the remainder is SOA, although it’s difficult to separate out in many of the larger deals that may be driven by BPM without the licence revenue necessarily reflecting the importance.

Their growth strategy, in summary, is to build on pure-play leadership and neutrality, direct sales force expansion for broader coverage, fully penetrate Global 2000 before expanding to mid-market, continue Spotfire focus with increased cross-selling, and new geographies and indirect channels.

Travel-crazy again

Having spent almost two months without getting on a plane, I’m back on the road for the next few weeks:

  • April 22-23: Washington DC for the Architecture and Process conference
  • April 29-May 2: San Francisco for TUCON, TIBCO’s user conference
  • May 5-7: Orlando for SAPPHIRE, SAP’s user conference
  • May 13-14: Chicago for BEA.Participate.08, BEA’s user conference

Expect to see lots of blogging from the conferences. If you’re attending any of them, ping me for a meet-up.

Disclosure: for the three vendor conferences, the respective vendors are paying my travel expenses to attend.

BEAParticipate and TUCON wrapups

Last session of the conference, and it was a tough choice: the ALBPM Experience track was featuring a talk about BAM, but since I’d already covered this in the past two days, I decided on the performance tuning session. Unfortunately, 10 minutes into the time slot, the Q&A for the previous session was still dragging on; I took this as a message from the conference gods that my time here was done and ducked out to write this wrapup post before I leave for the airport. I’m back in Toronto for a week catching up on real work (the sort that actually pays, as opposed to this blogging gig) so blogging may be light for the rest of the week. My next conference is Shared Insights’ Portals and Collaboration in Las Vegas later this month, where I’m speaking on the changing face of BPM.

It’s been an interesting experience attending two (competing) vendors’ user conferences back-to-back: TIBCO last week, and BEA this week. Since this week’s conference was only a subset of BEA’s customer base — those that use ALUI and ALBPM — it was less than half the size of last week’s TUCON, but I found myself at both conferences having to make decisions between what to see in any particular session since there was a lot of good content at both. Since both of these vendors are from the more technical integration space, and gained their BPM products by fairly recent acquisitions rather than organic growth (Staffware in the case of TIBCO, and Fuego in the case of BEA), the conferences were still quite focussed on technical rather than business attendees. TIBCO, having a head start on the BPM space by a couple of years, probably did a bit better at addressing the business part of the audience, but both they still have a long way to go. I contrast this with FileNet user conferences that I’ve attended over the years, which have a much higher percentage of business attendees (by my assessment) and many more topics specifically addressing their needs.

The reception that I had at both conferences was nothing short of amazing. My hosts made sure that I had everything that I needed to work productively (although there wasn’t much that they could do about the crappy wifi in either location), access to the people who I wanted to talk to, and wined and dined me around town in the evening — my diet starts tomorrow. Special thanks to Jeff and Emily at TIBCO, and Jesper and Marissa at BEA for being the point people during my visits, although there were many others involved at both vendors.

Just to finish up, I’ve been noting the logistical things that make attending a conference a lot better for me. Not to sound like too much of a prima donna, here they are:

  • Wifi. Free wifi. In fact, I would go so far as to say that technically-oriented conferences should only be held in hotels that offer free wifi throughout their hotel, both in public areas and rooms.
  • Power. Although less important than wifi, because I can run for a couple of hours without it, the last thing that I want to do is have to switch from blogging to paper note-taking because my battery dies during a session.
  • Tea. Hot. Preferably green.
  • T-shirts. What is it with all the fancy paper notebooks being given away as conference schwag this year, with nary a t-shirt in sight? All I know is that if I go home without a man’s large t-shirt from the conference, I hear about it for days. Particularly this week, when I’m missing his birthday to be here.

I have to say, both TIBCO and BEA failed me on the t-shirt requirement. 😉

TUCON: The Face of BPM

Thursday morning, and it seems like a few of us survived last night’s baseball game (and the after-parties) to make it here for the first session of the day. This will be my last session of the conference, since I have a noon flight in order to get back to Toronto tonight.

Tim Stephenson and Mark Elder from TIBCO talked about Business Studio, carrying on from Tim’s somewhat shortened bit on Business Studio on Tuesday when I took up too much of our joint presentation time. The vision for the new release coming this quarter is that one tool can be used by business analysts, graphical tools developers and operational administrators by allowing for different perspectives, or personas. There’s 9 key functions from business process analysis and modelling to WYSIWYG forms design to service implementation.

The idea of the personas within the product are similar to what I’ve seen in the modelling tool of other BPMS vendors: each has a different set of functions available and has some different views onto the process being modelled. Tim gave some great insight into how they considered the motivations and requirements of each of the types of people that might use the product in order to develop the personas, and showed how they mapped out the user experience flow with the personas overlaid to show the interfaces and overlaps in functionality. This shows very clearly the overlap between the business analyst and developer functionality, which is intentional: who does what in the overlap depends on the skills of the particular people involved.

As we heard in prior sessions, Business Studio provides process modelling using BPMN, plus concept modelling (business domain data modelling) using UML to complement the process model. There’s a strong focus on how BPM can consume web services and BusinessWorks services, because much of the audience is likely developers who use TIBCO’s other products like BusinessWorks to create service wrappers around legacy applications. At one point between sessions yesterday, I had an attendee approach me and thank me for the point that I made in my presentation on Tuesday about how BPM is the killer app for SOA (a point that I stole outright from Ismael Ghalimi — thanks, Ismael!), because it helped him to understand how BPM creates the ROI for SOA: without a consumer of services, the services themselves are difficult to justify.

We saw a (canned) demo of how to create a simple process flow that called a number of services that included a human-facing step, a database call to a stored procedure, a web service call based on introspecting the WSDL and performing some data mapping/transformation, a script task that uses JavaScript to perform some parameter manipulation, and an email task that allows the runtime process instance parameters to be mapped to the email fields. Then, the process definition is exported to XPDL, and imported into the iProcess Modeler in order to get it into the repository that’s shared with the execution engine. Once that’s done, the process is executable: it can be started using the standard interface (which is built in General Interface), and the human-facing steps have a basic form UI auto-generated.

It is possible to generate an HTML document that describes a process definition, including a graphical view of the process map and tabular representations of the process description.

As I mentioned in other posts, and in many posts that I’ve made about BPA tools, is that there’s no shared model between the process modeller, which is a serious issue for process agility and round-tripping unless you do absolutely nothing to the process in the iProcess Modeler except to use it as a portal to the execution repository. TIBCO has brought a lot (although not all) of the functionality of the Modeler into Studio, and are working towards a shared model between analysts and developers; they believe that they can remove the need for Modeler altogether over time. There’s no support at this time, however, to being able to deploy directly from Studio, that is, Studio won’t plug directly into the execution engine environment. Other vendors who have gone the route of a downloadable disconnected process modeller or a separate process discovery tool are dealing with the same issue; ultimately, they all need to make this new generation of modelling tools have the capability to be as integrated with the execution environment as those that they’re replacing in order to eliminate the requirement for round-tripping.

TUCON: Continuous Process Improvement Using iProcess Analytics

For the last breakout session of the day, Mark Elder of TIBCO talked about reporting and analytics with iProcess Analytics, their historical (rather than real-time) analytics product.. The crowd’s thin this time of day, although I understand that the lobby bar is well-populated; this was the same timeslot that Tim and I had yesterday, but the attendees now have an additional day of conference fatigue. Also doesn’t help that the presentation PC acted up and we were 10 minutes late starting.

He looks at the second half of any business process implementation: after it’s up and running, you need to measure what’s going on, then feed that back to the design stage for process improvement. iProcess Analytics has a number of built-in metrics, then wizard interfaces to allow a business analyst to build new KPIs by specifying dimensions and filters, then create interactive reports. It’s even possible to set different threshold values for filtered subsets of data, such as setting different cycle-time goals for different geographic regions.

He moved on to a live demo after a few minutes of slideware to show us just how easy it is to create a chart or report for a process, or even a single step within a process. The wizard looks pretty easy to use, although chart generation isn’t exactly rocket science. There’s some nice report distribution capabilities, much like what you’d see in a business intelligence suite, so that you can share a chart or report with other members of your team. You can’t do a lot of calculations on the data, however, but you can export tabular data to Excel for further calculations and aggregation.

One very cool feature is that for a given set of data that’s being used to generate a report, you can reconstruct the process map from the report data to see where the data is coming from, since process metadata is passed over to iProcess Analytics along with the execution data.

It appears that if you want to get real historical data into Business Studio for simulation, you’re going to create a tabular report in iProcess Analytics, export it to Excel, then save it as a text file for importing. Not as integrated as I would have expected — this needs to be fixed as well as more people start to use the simulation functionality within Business Studio.

It’s all browser-based, and can generate either the interactive web-based reports that we saw, or static HTML or PDF reports. It will be interesting to see how TIBCO moves forward with their analytics strategy, since they now have both iProcess Analytics and iProcess Insight (BAM). Although historical analytics and BAM serve different purposes, they’re opposite ends of the same spectrum, and analytics requirements will continue to creep from both ends towards the middle. Like many other vendors who started with an historical analytics tool then bolted on an OEM BAM tool, they’re going to have to reconcile this at some point in the future. There’s also the question, which was raised by an audience member, about the boundary between iProcess Analytics and a full BI suite like Cognos. Although there’s a lot of nice functionality built into iProcess Analytics that’s specific to analyzing processes, many customers are going to want to go beyond this fairly rudimentary BI capability.

That’s the end of day 2 at TUCON; tomorrow morning I’ll probably only be able to catch one session before I have to leave for the flight home. Tonight, 750 of us are off to the SF Giants game, where we’ll see if Vivek Ranadivé’s throwing practice paid off when he throws out the first pitch. Watch for all of us in our spiffy new TIBCO jackets; with free wifi in the stadium, there’s likely to be some geeks there with their laptops, too.

TUCON: Architecting for Success

In an afternoon breakout session, Larry Tubbs from AmeriCredit talked about using TIBCO to automate their contract processing workflow, that is, the part between loan origination/approval and the contract administration system. Their business case was similar to that I’ve seen in many other financial and insurance applications: visibility into the processes, appropriate management of the resources, and ever more stringent regulatory requirements. They did a product evaluation and selected TIBCO, using iProcess Suite, BusinessFactor, BusinessWorks, and EMS as the underlying service bus. They implemented really quickly: for their initial release, it was a matter of months from initial design to rollout to five branches handling 1600 cases simultaneously (the system is designed for a peak load of 7000 cases).

Nimish Rawal from TIBCO, who was involved in the implementation, described some details of what they did and the best practices that they used: use iProcess engine for process orchestration and BusinessWorks for integration; put application data in a separate schema (they had 583 instance data fields and 257 metadata fields); create a queue/group structure according to business divisions; and allow the business to control the rules to allow for easy changes to the process flow or any changing regulations. They used master and slave iProcess servers hitting against a common database to distribute the load, and used clustering for high availability although the failover process is not automatic (which surprised me a bit since clustering software or hardware can automate this). They also planned for disaster recovery by distributing nodes between two physical locations and sending archive files from the master to DR site about once every five minutes; again, the failover is not automatic, but that’s less expected in the case of a total site loss.

Rawal also went through the TIBCO professional services engagement model. On the AmeriCredit side, they had four core developers to work with the TIBCO team (which went from five to seven to two), and now the TIBCO people only do mentoring with all development being done by AmeriCredit’s developers.

TUCON: BPM, The Open Source Debate

Ryan Herd, who heads the BPM centre of competence within RBM Private Bank, was up next to talk about the analysis that they did on open source BPM alternatives. Funny that the South Africans, like we understated Canadians, use the term “centre of competence” as opposed to the very American “center of excellence”. 🙂

Don’t tell Ismael Ghalimi, but Herd thinks that jBoss’ jBPM is the only open source BPM alternative; it was the only one that they evaluated, along with a number of proprietary solutions including TIBCO. Given that he’s here speaking at this conference, you can guess which one they picked.

Their BPM project started with some strategic business objectives:

  • operational efficiency
  • improved client service
  • greater business process agility

and some technology requirements:

  • a platform to define, improve and automate business processes
  • real-time and historical process instance statistics
  • single view of a client and their related activities

They found that then needed to focus on three things:

  • Process: dynamic quality verification, exception handling that can step outside the defined process, and a focus on the end-to-end process.
  • People: have their people be obsessed with the client, develop an end-to-end process culture in order to address SLAs, and create full-function teams rather than an assembly-line process.
  • Systems: a single processing front-end, a reusable business object layer and centralized work management.

Next, they started looking at vendors, and for whatever reasons, open source was considering the mix: quite forward-thinking for a bank. In addition to TIBCO and jBPM, they considered DST‘s AWD, IBM‘s BPM, eiStream (now Global 360) and K2: a month and a half to review all of the products, then another month and a half doing a more focussed comparison of TIBCO and jBPM.

For process design, jBPM has only a non-visual programmer-centric environment, and has support for BPEL but not (obviously, since it’s not visual) BPMN. It does allow modelling freedom, but that can be a problem with enforcing internal standards. It also has no process simulation. TIBCO, on the other hand, has a visual process modelling environment that supports BPMN, has a near zero-code process design and provides simulation. Point: TIBCO.

On the integration side, jBPM has no graphical application integration environment, although it has useful integration objects and methods and has excellent component-based design. The adapters are available but not easily reused, and has no out-of-the box communication or integration facilities. TIBCO has a graphical front-end for application integration, and a lots of adapters and integration facilities. Point: TIBCO.

On the UI side, jBPM has only a rudimentary web-based end user environment, whereas TIBCO has the full GI arsenal at their disposal. Point: TIBCO.

Reporting and analytics: jBPM has nothing, TIBCO has iProcess Analytics and (now) iProcess Insight.

Support: don’t even go there, although jBoss wins on price. 🙂

Overall, they found that the costs would be about the same (because of the greater jBPM customization requirement), but a much longer time to deploy with jBPM, which had them choose TIBCO.

Given what they found, I find it amazing that they spent three months looking at jBPM, since jBPM is, in its raw form, a developer tool whereas TIBCO spans a broader range of analyst and developer functionality. The results as presented are so biased in favour of TIBCO that it should have been obvious long before any formal evaluation was done that jBPM wasn’t suited for their particular purposes and should not have made their short list; likely, open source was someone’s pet idea so was thrown into the mix on a lark. Possibly an open source BPM solution like Intalio, which wasn’t available as open source at the time of their evaluation, would have made a much better fit for their needs if they were really dedicated to open source ideals. I’m pretty sure that anyone in the room that had not considered open source in the past would run screaming away from it in the future.

Getting past the blatant TIBCO plug masquerading as a product comparison, Herd went on to show the architecture of their solution, which uses a large number of underlying services managed by a messaging layer to interface with the BPM layer — a fairly standard configuration. They expect to go live later this year.