Damned if you do; damned if you don't. That's pretty much the situation IBM is in as it announces today the integration of its two core business process management products.
Customers should like that it's bringing the IBM WebSphere Lombardi Edition and WebSphere Process Server closer together. But the company is also sure to be criticized, as it was last year, for failing to completely integrate these two separate products. Of course, had IBM gone all the way, some customers might have complained that they weren't ready to make a major investment in new underlying infrastructure.
IBM Business Process Manager, which will be announced on Monday at IBM's Impact Event in Las Vegas, is described as the "unified platform" customers are after. The product does provide a new shared process repository and administrative interface that will serve as the new front end of IBM's BPM portfolio. But the separate process engines, which actually run the processes, and the associated development environments, used to create and modify the processes, are all still there behind the scenes.
BPM systems give business and IT a shared environment in which they can collaborate around process models -- visual diagrams that are easy for business analysts to understand, but that also enable IT to add executable code. These systems then let you monitor and quickly change processes to improve performance or adapt to new business conditions, but without the extensive coding and development work associated with conventional application development.
Historically, BPM vendors have tended to cater to different types of processes. Some have focused on workflow technology for people-driven processes, such as resolving invoice disputes or approving complex loans. Other vendors and products have focused on integration and automation for processes handled entirely through hand-offs between back-end systems, such as straight-through insurance or banking transactions.
However, customers are increasingly demanding a blend of capabilities, and that has helped drive a wave of acquisitions in the BPM market. So even though IBM had integration-oriented WebSphere Process server, it acquired workflow-oriented Lombardi in 2010 and dubbed it WebSphere Lombardi Edition. IBM's new shared repository and administrative interface is meant to give users and administrators a single place to deal with both types of processes, either independently or combined within a single process.
The new environment can also tap into content management systems and, in particular, IBM FileNet BPM (a product acquired along with FileNet in 2006 and used for content-intensive processes such as insurance-claim approvals).
Rounding out the new capabilities, the shared repository and interface can also access business rules from IBM's iLog business rules management system, acquired in 2009, and dashboard and process-monitoring capabilities from Cognos, a business intelligence vendor acquired in 2007.