The State of BPM Part 2

This is the second in a set of three articles discussing the state of BPM today. In the first article we discussed the current state of the BPM capability and covered items such as training, project failure and the defintion (or lack thereof) of BPM.

In part three we will look at the future of BPM

But part 2 will discuss the state of the technology surrounding BPM. In particular we will look at the vendor segment and try to understand the impact of the consolidation that is occurring there.

For many people - especially IT people - the mention of the words Business Process Management is immediately equated to 'A business process management Tool'. This tool can be something as simple as a Visio diagram showing a workflow, right up to a complex BPMS package which integrates with Enterprise Architecture, process analysis and the automation of such tools.

As a result I feel the capability of process management has become inextricably linked with the underlying supporting tools to do that management. Unfortunately I feel this is something which is burdening the capability far too much.

In this week's discussion we are going to look at the state of the BPM tools market and try to decipher what issues or problems are occurring as a result.

If we cast our minds back not too many years the BPM tool market basically (at least according to Gartner) consisted of a number of the larger software providers such as Aris, Mega/Pega and Provision. Alongside these there were niche manufacturers who focused on particular segments of the market or particular functionality (Metastorm comes to mind as an automation provider that had very little - if no - process development capability)

Then in recent years there has been a consolidation in the market. Some of the larger vendors bought each other out. Other larger vendors purchased (or were purchased by) a niche vendor in order to create today's market, which basically consists of a smaller number of larger software vendors with fairly comprehensive offering covering many facets of process management. Metastorm, for example, purchased Provision which gave them the tools they needed to map processes and provide simulations appropriately (and Metastorm were, themselves purchased recently by another vendor. OpenText).

IBM got into the BPM market in a big way by buying one of the leaders in the sector, and Microsoft have made major moves into this area too.

But has this actually provided anything which is better for the end users? One complaint I hear constantly - both in person and in blogs/tweets etc - is that the tools are very much 'IT focused' or 'Business Process focused' and not 'user focused'. The ability of an end user to actually get in and use a lot of these tools in a meaningful way appears to be quite limited. I do not have detailed experience of all the tools on the market but I can tell you that for the tools I have experience of this is a valid comment. Recently Craig Reid, The Process Ninja, posted an article discussing the Nimbus tool which - in his opinion - appears to be more focused on the end user and less on process professionals. But I would suggest that this is more of an exception than the rule. A lot of tools are now starting to focus on using the BPMN standard for documenting processes and this is something which - in itself - is not completely intuitive and requires training to bring a user up to speed. The tools I have used have defined a minimum 5 day training session to bring everyone up to speed on them, and these factors lead me to believe that we do not have 'user focused' tools on the market

But do we need user focused tools? Should BPM be something which is managed and maintained by the end users or should it be looked after by a dedicated group of process management professionals? That is a subject of debate (and one which I, naturally, have my own opinions on), but suffice it to say the dichotomy between having users who know little about managing processes, using tools that help them manage processes in the way they wish to rather than how the process professional might wish to, is an interesting one and one which will keep process professionals in work for many years.

So where is the process tool market going in the next couple of years?

Of course nobody knows for sure. But if the current trend of consolidation in the market continues, it could safely be assumed that the market will come to be dominated by a small number of large vendors who provide integrated process management tools that can take a business from complete process novices right the way through to Level 5 process gurus.

Or it might go the other way. There is a case to say that integration of this sort is just constricting businesses. Do we really want all of our company running at the mercy of a single software vendor? This is - effectively - what happened with ERP systems back in the 1990's. Vendors such as Oracle, JDE (before they merged) and SAP provided single systems that whole organisations could align with, but can anyone say for sure whether this provided any sort of appropriate ROI? I, personally, worked with one organisation that spent the best part of $500m implementing an ERP system across the globe. Will they ever, realistically, make that return? I don't know. But I do know that when the main system went down at their HQ they were without a global system for almost 1 month - with the appropriate loss of business, reputation and earnings that this entailed.

Whichever way the tool market goes for BPM, one thing is for sure, There will always be people who will try to buck the tend and provide something else for the market. This is - after all - where the niche vendors come from. They have recognised that a unified, bloated, system which does everything, cannot make sense for every sort of business. It's for this reason that companies have now developed Visio add-ons which allow more integrated process mapping from their Visio tool. This removes the need for customers to purchase an extra process mapping tool and allows users who are trained on Visio - which is pretty much everyone in certain organisations - to transit over to process management quite easily.

Colleagues of mine in the BPM field are talking about other facets of the capability which are more 'niche' in themselves. Terms such as ACM and Social BPM are gaining traction in the community and I would expect tools that support these to become more widespread in the near future.

However, on the flip side many organizations remain "process ignorant" when it comes to BPM because many still don't necessarily understand exactly how things are getting done in their own business. Some cited issues such as a lack of interchange standards between process modeling and execution tools, which can render system interoperability difficult. One reason that this issue exists is that organizations are using modeling-only tools that lack an execution component. Organizations are finding the breadth of available BPM systems confusing in that each vendor interface will dictate how business processes are to be designed and applied. Could it be that a single unified interchange system will prevail in the future which will allow any modelling tool to interchange data with any execution tool? The salesman at some of the larger vendors will tell you that this already exists, but seeing the number of forum questions that appear from developers who are building these execution systems, it is apparent that all is not totally well from this point of view.

But are there positives to be taken away from this? Of course there are. The consolidation of the market is not being totally driven by the need of vendors to make more money although this is, indeed, one of the main factors. There does appear to be a push from customers to get vendors to provide a complete package that will minimise the issues mentioned earlier regarding interoperabilty. Vendors are identifying the weaknesses in their own products and purchasing niche products to fill those gaps (Metastorm buying Provision was a prime example of that). All of this is good for the overall market.

Newer capabilities - such as Social BPM, Adaptive process management, MDD etc. will force the vendors to once again review their offerings and provide something to support he end user needs. This will - in turn - create a number of niche vendors who will dominate their own segment of the market. Over time the larger vendors will probably seek to consolidate by purchasing these niche vendors and incorporating their functionality into existing offerings. In the long term this will, in my opinion, produce bloated, unfriendly, unstable software (I’m looking at you, Microsoft) and the market will fragment once again.

In the final section of this series we will look at the state of things to come in BPM and try to extrapolate where this will take us and what the problems are going to be with that.

Part three will be released next week.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford
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