A conversation with Metastorm

(Note this is the first of what I hope to be a regular set of discussions with some of the leading BPM vendors)

Following my ill-fated attempt to speak with another BPM vendor recently, I was fortunate enough to get 30 minutes with Laura Mooney - Vice President of Corporate Communications at Metastorm - and I asked her a few questions about her company, their product and the BPM market as a whole.

Laura is a veteran of the BPM market having worked with IBM, Manugistics and smaller startup's in their sales and marketing function. She has been with Metastorm for a number of years now and was there during the recent rash of purchases including the one which brought the Provision toolset on board.

I started by asking her about whether she feels that Metastorm will take over the BPM market. Laura told me that Metastorm are the only vendor in the sector that can do the complete 'Enterprise Architecture - process definition - process execution' jump and close that loop. From that point of view they are in a great position within the marketplace. However there is currently a lot of competition in the sector. Newer players such as IBM/Oracle are investing a lot. This is creating a lot of opportunity but also lots of challenges. The problem is that some of those other companies can use their existing tools to integrate together to provide a solution which is 'familiar' to existing customers. Pure play BPM, though, has agility and speed. It allows the focus to land on the business users to provide solutions. This in turn reduces the burden on the IT function.

We moved on to discuss some of the key points that customers should be looking for when focusing on a BPM tool. This follows on from my recent post about the selection criteria for customers choosing a BPM tool. Laura said that their product is not sold on price. They have walked away from potential customers who were not willing to be realistic on the price it costs to implement an enterprise tool. She also said there are other smaller players in the market who can accommodate lower budget projects or smaller companies. In fact Metastorm have rarely lost a competitive bid based on price. The criteria that Laura believes customers use include items such as:

• The ability to support roundtrip process lifeycle with integration
• Creation dashboards and control mechanisms
• Existence of analysis tools
• The use of a proven vendor
• Existence of customer references
• Scalability of solution

Most importantly she quotes the need for a Proof of Concept. Laura is quite adamant that a proof of concept is important for any company wishing to implement a BPM toolset. It satisfies the need to understand whether the tool is entirely appropriate for the requirement before a large and costly purchase is made.

We went on to talk about the evolution of BPM. In a recent post I quoted Dr Geary Rummler as saying that he thought BPM conferences were turning very much into vendor fairs and that the technology was taking over the whole sector. I asked Laura how she replied to comments such as these. "I somewhat agree with that. Process improvement purists would say that BPM does not focus on technology, but this is the world we live in." She went on to say that she thought technology is needed to help with this. In today's environment, manual and paper based systems are usually messy and can only be appropriately managed through the use of a technology solution.

One of my concerns is that with the evolution of certain key tools in the space there has been a tendency to take what was, essentially, a great little 'niche' tool and expand it to meet lots of needs, but in the process of doing so to lose what made the tool great in the first place. Laura replied "I disagree with that : Metastorm has been reacting to demand from customer base about what they wanted in the tool. In conversation with Gartner there has definitely been a difference of opinion about where the market is going. Metastorm is trying to invest in areas where there are gaps in the market not where there are existing systems that can fulfill the task already. Document management systems are an example of this. Metastorm provides the linkages into these".

Those of you who read this blog and my 'Musings Cafe' blog will know of my distrust of the corporate behemoth that is Microsoft (I've been quoted as saying that I think Visio is 'The Devils Tool'), and I know that Metastorm are a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner so I was interested to know what the future direction is for Metastorm and "The House of Redmond". I was told that Metastorm is a member of the Microsoft Business Process Alliance. They have regular communication with Microsoft. The relationship with Microsoft is a very strategic relationship, in act Laura went so far as to say it is THE key relationship. Metastorm get early copies of specific new software capabilities to allow them to work those into the tool. In addition Microsoft are very supportive of their work: They have invested money in the Metastorm organisation to include Microsoft technology into the Metatstorm BPM tool, they provide marketing resource and they help with webinars and at analyst conferences. So there's probably no possibility of a Mac based version soon then..

We talked about the next BIG development in BPM (either from a technology or a capability POV?) Theo Priestley is looking at BPM linked with virtual worlds for simulation etc. I asked if Metastorm are looking at anything like this? Laura said "Its fun and interesting thing but ultimately something like this will rest on the results not the execution. It's like the simulation functionality. Previously customers were telling Metastorm they needed the animated displays to show the throughput of work but when it was provided they didn't use it, merely wishing to see the final output. People are not there yet with things like this virtual world technology. There is not a lot of value in something like this right now." But Laura did go on to say "However there is potential within the world of Social Media. The value is on the collaboration side. Imagine using Twitter etc. for business decisions and having this integrated into the business process. Linking strategy to execution is the ultimate value for customers. Marrying organisation structures with the process execution and feedback loop to understand where objectives were met and why - if they weren't."

I changed tack slightly and asked about BPM best practice in the following cases: 1. "Managing the Change" 2. "Changing Management". Specifically I wanted to know whether there is any form of best practice to manage either in terms of streamlining such activity under the framework of "Business Process Management"?

Regarding "managing the change" Laura talked about the following factors: From a change management point of view the benefit is in being agile enough to adapt. BPM can help you do that. It empowers users to participate. They become engaged early on. This reduces their frustration. Ultimately it frees them up to do other things. This then becomes viral "We can do this on Metastorm too" she says

"Changing management" is a more difficult prospect. The best implementations have an exec sponsor to push this forward. He or she is aligned with the strategy and sees the value and benefit. "Furthermore if you implement your tool and ensure you measure both before and after your implementations this will enable you to gain a value for ROI. This will get management attention." Laura concludes.

I was interested in the Metastorm position on Open source. Laura was of the opinion that Metastorm may leverage open source but had no big plans with the development team to do anything at the moment.

Dropping back into my old auditor mode I approached Laura with two questions that I always asked in interviews whilst performing an audit. These are "What keeps you awake at night?" and "What would you do if you were King or Queen for a day?". In response to the first question Laura was worried about whether or not people are going to see the opportunity of BPM. She believes that whenever you are making process improvements a BPM platform will make you more efficient and improve accuracy and it should be something that is leveraged by everybody.

Regarding being Queen for a day Laura would like to mandate that everyone implement a BPM technology. She also stated an opinion that President Obama should mandate that all bail-out companies implement this to ensure appropriate use of the bail-out money.

Once again I would like to thank Laura (and Nisha from Merritt PR) for providing their time to help me with this post. Hopefully there will be other vendors out there who would submit to a few pertinent questions about their company and it's products.

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