Exclusive: IBM Takes Half Step Toward BPM Integration - InformationWeek
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Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Exclusive: IBM Takes Half Step Toward BPM Integration

It's announcing a new platform to unify separate business process management products. But the biggest integration step has yet to be taken.

What the new IBM Business Process Manager does not do is integrate and replace all the legacy development environments and process engines associated with the various BPM products, including Lombardi, WebSphere and FileNet.

So, for example, customers can now monitor and open a workflow-oriented process and an integration-oriented process from the new console, but those processes (or components of a single process) still run on separate engines. And to change each process, IT will do the work in the still-separate process development environments.

IBM's approach can be contrasted with that of Oracle, which took a decisive step in 2010 when it integrated the AquaLogic BPM system it acquired with BEA with its own legacy BPM product. That move yielded a single product and a clear roadmap, but it also forced existing customers of both products to do considerable migration work to move forward. The more process changes required to run on the new product, the more painful the migration.

IBM says its approach preserves legacy investments, but the downside is that IBM and its customers will eventually have to move to a consolidated engine. "Maintaining two separate engines is very costly for IBM, and customers also don't want to maintain two separate environments," says Clay Richardson, a BPM analyst with Forrester.

Will IBM be damned by customers for not integrating more aggressively? IBM points to recent Gartner sales statistics for 2010 that show dominant BPM marketshare for IBM and continued strong growth despite the lack of unified product roadmap.

But the longer the company delays the inevitable move to a single, consolidated engine, Richardson says, the more potential openings it creates for rivals including independents Pegasystems and Appian. Those two companies have added strong mobile and social collaboration features to support both people-driven workflow- and integration-oriented BPM.

With the latest announcements IBM has at least provided a single modeling approach and process structure, adhering to the BPMN modeling standard and supported by IBM's software-as-a-service-delivered BlueWorks Live process documentation and collaboration environment.

Richardson says IBM is also making other efforts to attract new customers with discounts and to allay the concerns of existing customers with steps such as the new shared repository and user interface.

In short, WebSphere and Lombardi customers know they're going to face heavy investments to migrate to a unified process engine within the next couple of years, but it appears IBM is easing the transition for now and saving the hardest changes for (hopefully) better economic conditions.

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