Colonial Life at TUCON

I’m wrapping up my TUCON trip with the Colonial Life presentation on their TIBCO iProcess and BusinessWorks implementation in their back office. I work a lot with insurance companies, and find that they can be very conservative in terms of technology implementations: many are just implementing document imaging and workflow, and haven’t really looked at full BPM functionality that includes orchestration of different systems as well as work management. I had a chance to talk with the two presenters, Bijit Das from the business side and Phil Johnston from IT, in a private briefing yesterday; I heard about their business goals to do better work management and improve efficiencies by removing paper from the process, as well as their technical goal to build an agile solution that could be used across multiple process flows. They have done their first implementation in their policy administration area, where they receive about 180k pages of inbound documentation per year, resulting in about 10k work items per month.

They ended up using iProcess primarily as a state management and queuing engine, embedding most of the process flow rules in external database tables, and having just simple process flows in iProcess that routed work based on the table values rather than logic within the process model itself. Once a piece of work ended up in the right queue (or in a user-filtered view of a common work queue), the user could complete it, route it elsewhere, or put it on hold while they performed some activity outside of BPM. A huge part of their improvements came from using BW to create reusable services, where these services could be called from the processes, but they also turned that around and have some cases where iProcess is called as a service from BW for queue and state management, using services that had been developed by Unum (their parent company) for their implementation. They wrote their own custom user interface portal, allowing users to select the queue that they want to work, filter the queue manually, and select the work item that they want to work on. This is a bit unusual for back-office transactional systems, which typically push the next piece of work to a user rather than allowing them to select it, but it’s a lot harder to build those rules when you’re effectively writing all the work management in database tables rather than leveraging work management capabilities in a BPMS.

They transitioned from a very waterfall development model to a much more agile methodology throughout their first project lifecycle, which meant that the business area was seeing the code as it was being developed and testing, allowing for much smoother iterations. Although their first production release took about nine months (after an additional six months to implement the infrastructure), they did their next release in two months. They still do a lot of swivel-chair integration with their legacy policy administration system, and need to build better integration to further improve efficiencies and start to do some straight-through processing.

They’ve seen some impressive improvements:

  • The discovery and modeling that happened prior to the implementation forced them to look at their processes critically, and reorganize their teams so that similar work was processed by the same team
  • Minimized handoffs have improved SLAs by 4%
  • Increased visibility into processes
  • Removed 180k pieces of paper per year from the operations area
  • 20% efficiency improvement
  • Standardized solution for future implementations in other areas

They also learned some lessons and best practices, such as establishing scope, tools for process discovery and brining in the right resources at the right time. Yesterday, when I met with them, I mentioned Nimbus to them, which they had not yet looked at; obviously, they had time to check it out since then, since Bijit called it out from the presentation, saying that it could have helped them during process discovery. Their next steps are to do more system integration to further improve efficiencies by automating where possible, add input channels, and integrate smart forms to drive processes.

Although they have seen a huge amount of improvement in their processes, this still feels a bit like an old-school document workflow implementation, with table-driven simple process flows. Undoubtedly, the service layer is more modern, but I’m left feeling like they could see a lot more benefit to their business if they were to take advantage of newer BPM capabilities. However, this was probably a necessary first step for such a paper-bound organization that was cautiously dipping its toe into the BPM waters.

Driving the Adoption of Business Process Initiatives With @NimbusIP

Mark Cotgrove and Clark Swain from Nimbus Partners presented in a breakout session on Nimbus and how it fits into the bigger TIBCO picture, as an expansion of the short presentation we saw from Cotgrove at the analyst session yesterday. To sum up the message from yesterday, Nimbus Control provides an essential bit of business-driven process discovery functionality that isn’t really covered in TIBCO’s AMX/BPM offering, but more importantly, the ability to create intelligent operations manuals that can then interact with AMX/BPM in a variety of ways.

Nimbus Control doesn’t do process automation: they do process and procedural documentation that can also be linked to supporting documentation and other content required to perform a manual process. Some of the manual steps may be to interact with systems in specific ways, such as entering an order on an ERP system; others may be to perform purely manual tasks such as having a customer sign a paper document. There are a few competitors in this space, such as BusinessGenetics and Business Optix (formerly ProcessMaster), and there is some overlap with BPA tools such as ARIS and Blueprint in terms of the process discovery side, but not the end-user procedural help.

Swain started on a demo, but due to the late session start (apparently the keynote went way overtime), I had to leave for another meeting, and will have to see a more detailed demo some other time.

TUCON 2011 Day 2 Keynote

Today’s keynotes were 1.5 hours less than yesterday’s, but still a hefty 2 hours long. Some of the highlights:

Ashok Vemuri of Infosys gave the opening keynote on innovation. He discussed how technology is making a difference in the developing world, such as mobile branchless banking in Kenya, and how the human qualities of mind, mindset, character and luck can have a huge impact if properly leveraged. Innovation is critical to maintain a competitive edge in any industry: new products, services and processes can lead to increased efficiencies and increased revenues. In many cases, innovation can end up transforming industries or even creating entirely new industries, and it’s necessary to take risks in order to embrace these sorts of disruptive conditions. To foster innovation, Infosys focuses on simplification, adaptability and collaboration as pervasive values within their own organization, and with their customers and partners. Although this was basically one big advertisement for Infosys, it was a good summary of some of the factors and environments that contribute to innovation. Not, however, particularly inspiring or uplifting (as Vinnie tweeted).

Continuing on the hit parade of major partners, Chris Robinson of KPMG was up next to talk about innovation in banana peeling. No, really. His point – which was one of the points also made by Vemuri – was that some of their important innovations come from their youngest employees. Instead of focusing on innovation, however, Robinson talked about recruiting and retaining employees, and the impact of social media on that. This was the usual pro-millennials crap: boomers are too old to learn the new ways of doing things, only digital natives can live comfortably with social, blah, blah, blah. It was exactly this argument that led me to abandon the Enterprise 2.0 conference over a year ago and stop attending Don Tapscott keynotes. The fact is that if you reward people for maintaining the status quo, as KPMG undoubtedly does with their partners and senior employees, then they will work hard at doing things in exactly the same way as they have been doing for years. Different incentives and different motivations lead to different results. News flash: even we old people can embrace and thrive on social media.

David Calhoun of Nielsen was the first customer on stage today, discussing how consumer behavior is changing. As a company that tracks what consumers watch and buy, they collect a massive amount of data on this and provide analytics and expertise about it. They have long relationships with customers (over 70 years in the case of P&G, for example), helping them to craft their marketing and promotion efforts based on multi-year domain knowledge. For Nielsen, information is money, quite literally. Calhoun talked about their road to innovation, which involved replacing some of their batch-oriented legacy systems in order to provide faster, better information to their employees and customers, including leveraging new platforms such as Facebook. He had a great quote on business transformation: make sure that the corporate culture supports your desired outcomes. Really good keynote, definitely the best of the morning.

As the time got a bit long and the Accenture speaker came to the stage, I ducked out. Only so much keynoting I can take at one time.

There are several good breakout sessions today that I plan to attend, including ones on Nimbus and AMX/BPM, plus a few 1:1 meetings with TIBCO customers, so watch for more on that. Also, you can follow the Twitter at three different hashtags: the official one is #tucon2011, but people have been using #tucon11 and #tucon as well, so you may want to use a compound search for all of them.

TIBCO Acquisitions With Tom Laffey: OpenSpirit, Loyalty Lab and Nimbus

Tom Laffey, EVP of products and technology, moderated a session highlighting three of TIBCO’s recent acquisitions: OpenSpirit, Loyalty Lab and Nimbus.

Clay Harter, CTO of OpenSpirit (which was acquired by TIBCO a year ago), discussed their focus on delivering data and integration applications to the oil and gas industry. Their runtime framework provided a canonical data model over a heterogeneous set of data stores, and their desktop applications integrated with spatial data products such as ESRI’s ArcGIS and Schlumberger’s remote sensing. Due to their knowledge of the specialized data sources, they have a huge penetration into 330+ oil companies and relationships into industry-specific ISVs. In October, they will release a BusinessWorks plugin for OpenSpirit to make oil and gas technical data available through the TIBCO ESB. They are also prototyping a Spotfire extension for OpenSpirit for visualizing and analyzing this data, which is pretty cool – I worked as a field engineer in oil and gas in the early 80’s, and the sensing and visualization of data was a whole different ball game then, mostly black magic. OpenSpirit’s focus is on reducing exploration costs and increasing safely through better analysis of the petrotechnical data, particularly through interdisciplinary collaboration. From TIBCO’s standpoint, they were building their energy vertical, and the acquisition of OpenSpirit brings them expertise and credibility in that domain.

Keith Rose, formerly president of Loyalty Lab and now leading the sales efforts in that area since their acquisition by TIBCO, presented on their event-driven view of managing customer loyalty, particularly loyalty programs such as those used by airlines and retailers. They have a suite of products that support marketers in terms of visualizing and analyzing loyalty-related data, and building loyalty programs that can leverage that information. Their focus on events – the core of real-time and one-to-one loyalty marketing programs – was likely the big reason for the TIBCO acquisition, since TIBCO’s event and messaging infrastructure seems like a natural fit to feed into Loyalty Lab’s analysis and programs. Spotfire for visualization and analysis of data also makes a lot of sense here, if they can work out how to integrate that with their existing offerings. With 99% of their customers on a hosted cloud solution, they may also want to consider how a move to TIBCO’s cloud platform can benefit them and integrate with other initiatives that their customers may have.

Less than a month ago, Nimbus was acquired by TIBCO, and Mark Cotgrove, a founder and EVP, gave us a briefing on their product and why it made sense for TIBCO to acquire them. Nimbus provides tools for process discovery and analysis, including the 80% (or so) of an organization’s activities that are manual and are likely to remain manual. Currently, the automated activities are handled with enterprise applications and automated BPM (such as AMX/BPM), but the manual ones are managed with a mix of office productivity software (Word, PowerPoint, Visio) and business process analysis tools. Furthermore, end-to-end processes range back and forth between manual and automated activities as they progress through their lifecycle, such that often a single process instance ends up being managed by a variety of different tools. Nimbus provides what are essentially storyboards or guided walkthroughs for business processes: like procedures manuals, but more interactive. These “intelligent operations manuals” can include steps that will instruct the user to interact with a system of some sort – for example, an ERP system, or a BPMS such as AMX/BPM – but documents all of the steps including paper handling and other manual activities. Just as a BPMS can be an orchestration of multiple integrated systems, Nimbus Control can be an orchestration of human activities, including manual steps and interaction with systems. There are a few potential integration points between Nimbus and a few different TIBCO products: metrics in the context of a process using Spotfire; exporting discovered processes from Nimbus to BusinessStudio; instantiating an AMX/BPM process from Nimbus; worker accessing a Nimbus operations manual for instructions at the step in an AMX/BPM process; collaborative process discovery using tibbr; and tibbr collaboration as part of a manual process execution. Some or all of these may not happen exactly like this, but there is some interesting potential here. There’s also potential within an organization for finding opportunities for AMX/BPM implementation through process discovery using Nimbus.

An interesting view of three different acquisitions, based on three very different rationales: industry vertical; horizontal application platform; and expansion of core product functionality. TIBCO is definitely moving from their pure technology focus to one that includes verticals and business applications.

TIBCO Product Strategy With Matt Quinn

Matt Quinn, CTO, gave us the product strategy presentation that will be seen in the general session tomorrow. He repeated the “capture many events, store few transactions” message as well as the five key components of a 21st century platform that we heard from Murrary Rode in the previous session; this is obviously a big part of the new messaging. He drilled into their four broad areas of interest from a product technology standpoint: event platform innovation, big data and analytics, social networking, and cloud enablement.

In the event platform innovation, they released BusinessEvents 5.0 in April this year, including the embedded TIBCO Datagrid technology, temporal pattern matching, stream processing and rules integration, and some performance and big data optimizations. One result is that application developers are now using BusinessEvents to build applications from the ground up, which is a change in usage patterns. For the future, they’re looking at supporting other models, such as BPMN and rule models, integrating statistical models, improving queries, improving the web design environment, and providing ActiveMatrix deployment options.

In ActiveMatrix, they’ve released a fully integrated stack of BusinessWorks, BPM and ServiceGrid with broader .Net and C++ support, optimized for large deployments and with better high-availability support and hot deployment capabilities. AXM/BPM has a number of new enhancements, mostly around the platform (such as the aforementioned HA and hot deployment), with their upcoming 1.2 release providing some functional enhancements such as customer forms and business rules based on BusinessEvents. We’ll see some Nimbus functionality integration before too much longer, although we didn’t see that roadmap; as Quinn pointed out, they need to be cautious about positioning which tools are for business users versus technical users. When asked about case management, he said that “case management brings us into areas where we haven’t yet gone as a company and aren’t sure that we want to go”. Interesting comment, given the rather wild bandwagon-leaping that has been going on in the ACM market by BPM and ECM vendors.

The MDM suite has also seen some enhancements, with ActiveSpaces integration and collaborative analytics with Spotfire, allowing MDM to become a hub for reference data from the other products. I’m very excited to see that one-click integration between MDM and AMX/BPM is on the roadmap; I think that MDM integration is going to be a huge productivity boost for overall process modeling, and when I reviewed AMX/BPM last year, I liked their process data modeling stated that “the link between MDM and process instance data needs to be firmly established so that you don’t end up with data definitions within your BPMS that don’t match up with the other data sources in your organization”. In fact, the design-time tool for MDM is now the same as that used for business object data models that I saw in AMX/BPM, which will make it easier for those who move across the data and process domains.

TIBCO is trying to build out vertical solutions in certain industries, particularly those where they have acquired or built expertise. This not only changes what they can package and offer as products, but changes who (at the customer) that they can have a relationship with: it’s now a VP of loyalty, for example, rather than (or in addition to) someone in IT.

Moving on to big data and analytics technology advances, they have released FTL 2.0 (low-latency messaging) to reduce inter-host latency below 2.2 microseconds as well as provide some user interface enhancements to make it easier to set up the message exchanges. They’re introducing TIBCO Web Messaging to integrate consumer mobile devices with TIBCO messaging. They’ve also introduced a new version of ActiveSpaces in-memory data grid, providing big data handling at in-memory speeds by easing the integration with other tools such as event processing and Spotfire.

They’ve also released Spotfire 4.0 visual analytics, with a bit focus on ease of use and dashboarding, plus tibbr integration for social collaboration. In fact, tibbr is being used as a cornerstone for collaboration, with many of the TIBCO products integrating with tibbr for that purpose. In the future, tibbr will include collaborative calendars and events, contextual notifications, and other functionality, plus better usability and speed. Formvine has been integrated with tibbr for forms-based routing, and Nimbus Control integrates with tibbr for lightweight processes.

Quinn finished up discussing their Silver Fabric cloud platform to be announced tomorrow (today, if you count telling a group of tweet-happy industry analysts) for public, private and hybrid cloud deployments.

Obviously, there was a lot more information here that I could possibly capture (or that he could even cover, some of the slides just flew past), and I may have to get out of bed in time for his keynote tomorrow morning since we didn’t even get to a lot of the forward-looking strategy. With a product suite as large as what TIBCO has now, we need much more than an hour to get through an analyst briefing.

TIBCO Corporate Strategy Session with Murray Rode

I’m in Vegas this week at TUCON, TIBCO’s user conference, and this afternoon I’m at the analyst event. For the corporate strategy session, they put the industry analysts and financial analysts together, meaning that there were way too many dark suits in the room for my taste (and my wardrobe).

Murray Rode, COO, gave us a good overview presentation on the corporate strategy, touching on market factors, their suite of products, and their growth in terms of products, geographies and verticals. Definitely, event-driven processes are a driving force behind businesses these days – matching with the “responsive business” message I saw at the Progress conference last week – and TIBCO sees their product suite as being ideally positioned to serve those needs.

Rode defined the key components of a 21st century platform as:

  • Automation (SOA, messaging, BPM) as core infrastructure
  • Event processing
  • Social collaboration
  • Analytics
  • Cloud

Their vision is to be the 21st century middleware company, continuing to redefine the scope and purpose of middleware, and to provide their customers with the “2-second advantage” based on event processing, real-time analytics and process management. They see the middleware market as taking a bite out of the application development platforms and out of the box suites by providing higher-functioning, more agile capabilities, and plan to continue their pure-play leadership in middleware.

Looking at their performance in verticals, financial services is now only 25% of their business as they diversify into telecom, government, energy, retail and other market segments. This is an interesting point, since many middleware (including many BPM) vendors grew primarily in financial services, and have struggled to break out of that sector in a significant way.

From a product standpoint, their highest growth is happening in CEP, analytics and MDM, while core stable growth continues in BPM and SOA. They are starting to see new growth in cloud, tibbr, low-latency messaging and Nimbus to drive their future innovation.

They see their key competitors as IBM and Oracle, and realize that they’re the small fish in that pond; however, they see themselves as being more innovative and in touch with current trends, and having a better pure-play focus on infrastructure. Their strategy is to keep defining the platform through a culture of continuous innovation, so as not to become a one-hit wonder like many other now-defunct (or acquired) middleware vendors of the past; to maximize sales execution strengths for growth by setting vertical go-to-market strategies across their product suite; to organize for innovation particularly through cross-selling the newer products into mature opportunities; to cultivate their brand; and to manage for growth and continued profitability, in part by branching beyond their direct sales force, which has been a significant strength for them in the past, to invest in partner and SI relationships to broaden their sales further.

Rode spoke briefly about acquisitions (we’re slated for a longer session on this later today), and positioned Nimbus as having applicability to core infrastructure in terms of analytics and events, not just BPM. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. In general, their focus is on smaller acquisitions to complement and enhance their core offering, rather than big ones that would be much harder to align with their current offerings.