2010 was a good year for BPM – more firms took to BPM, while many firms already using BPM set off to unlock more value from BPM; most top vendors posted another year of great growth; overall BPM visibility increased significantly and it is gradually becoming less of a concept understood only by few and defined differently by many.

What most purists and proponents fundamentally think and opine on BPM tends to get a little muddled – if I may say so – by various influences in the space itself. Although we have categorized BPM into Content Centric, Integration Centric, Human Centric and so on, everyone (vendors) wants to be everything and this is probably where some of the promise of BPM gets diluted – maybe even getting subjected to confusion – True there’s vendor consolidation and some amount of convergence going on, but we are evolving and not at the destination yet. A lot of chaff has to be shed. “Not yet in the promised land, but slowly getting there”, as Adam Deane put it in his post on trends that will change BPM in 2011.

Through 2009, BPM vendor consolidation was something everyone was expecting and in 2010, sure enough, Lombardi and Savvion acquisitions went on to become among the most significant milestones of the year for BPM.

Significant, because pure-play BPM products like Savvion saw BPM from a purist view and the trail they took contributed to the foundations of honest-to-goodness BPMS that other product vendors evolving from seemingly peripheral realms like content management and middleware areas were trying to overlap into.

Significant, also because acquisitions of products like Savvion and Lombardi did not just mean two pure-play vendors & tools less, but also two companies – IBM and Progress, viewing the same BPM tools based on the influence of their own philosophies, products, more familiar markets and customer experiences. But that’s understandable – it surely can’t be only their love and commitment to the cause of Business Process Management that drove them to the acquisition in any case!

In some way, it is a lot like the view through a kaleidoscope – each vendor will see different visions of BPM. When the IBM-Lombardi acquisition was announced, at some level this is really what creased the foreheads of many die-hard proponents of BPM. What did/would IBM see when they looked into the kaleidoscope? The sense of assurance a pure-play BPM vendor like Lombardi or Savvion provided to the concept of BPM is comforting and many of us were anxious about what the acquisition would do to the product we loved so much. To a large extent IBM has done well to ease the crease. But immediately after the announcements though there was inevitably quite a buzz.

Here are some interesting discussions around the time the news came out

  • Bruce Silver’s reaction to the Lombardi acquisition
  • Bruce’s post a few weeks later when Progress bought over Savvion represents really how everyone felt
  • Scott Francis’ excellently presented consolidated summary of thoughts by various BPM thinkers, industry analysts and practitioners, including his own.
  • “Holy crap, IBM is buying Lombardi!” was what Niel Ward-dutton of  WMD advisors called the post giving his first reactions to the news
  • And then, my own thoughts
  • And finally probably the most interesting – a cross section of reactions from various thinkers in the space on the EbizQ Forum.

But while pure-plays generally had great anchors on BPM fundamentals, such acquisitions need not spell doom for BPM. In a response to a comment on his post, Bruce Silver’s response captures it thus –

While many BPMS vendors talk about “enterprise BPM,” very few have developed product features geared to marrying business empowerment with an enterprise-scale effort comprising dozens of projects simultaneously under development. Lombardi is one of those, and so it will be interesting to see if IBM can harness those features or consign Lombardi to the “departmental” box. If the big middleware vendors try to incorporate the good parts of the BPMS pureplays they acquire (instead of crushing the life out of them), all this consolidation could prove a good thing for BPM.

As we go forward in 2011, the market still holds potential for more acquisitions. After every acquisition, an acquiring vendor is going to pick up the kaleidoscope and decide a plan and a positioning.

But by and large though, the concept of BPM will continue to evolve around the fundamentals all of us concur on. However, the differences between different BPMS will gradually dissolve – this will happen as the concepts around BPM become  better understood and appreciated by organizations, service providers, and, not to mention, vendors. Vendors will have a me-too pitches to attract more prospects and product promises and features may begin to look alike. The trend is already visible to some extent, but even as those concept/feature/functionality level differences merge, more vendors are going to see the value of operating in specific Niches to differentiate themselves.

But it is not all just about products, vendors and assessing spending on BPM. Success rates of and positive testimonials from BPM implementations are paramount for the followers and wait-and-watch spenders to look positively at BPM. As the market matures, this is going to be the most influential aspect contributing to growth of BPM. A post by the astute Clay Richardson on What to embrace in BPM next year puts the focus on the people and governance aspects as well –  most vital factors to ensure success and growth of the BPM space, going into 2011.

It certainly does seem like we are going have a great and exciting year ahead for BPM. I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

Hope you have a great year!


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