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6/9/2008
10:16 AM
Sandy Kemsley
Sandy Kemsley
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Oracle-BEA vs. IBM-FileNet: The Borg vs. Death by a Thousand Cuts

Unlike the death-from-a-thousand-cuts method inflicted by IBM on FileNet's business process management suite, Oracle is more like the Borg: BEA is being assimilated, and fast... Oracle is doing exactly what I thought IBM should have done with FileNet: split up the product where it made sense and merge those pieces into similar teams that already exist...

Almost two years ago, I reported on the IBM acquisition of FileNet, wherein I quoted their plan to "integrate IBM's BPM and SOA technologies with the FileNet platform." I interpreted this to mean that FileNet BPM could finally get separated from its document-centric chains, and become the product that it should have been years ago. Just as Jessica Rabbit said "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way," the FileNet BPM wasn't (isn't) document-centric, it's just marketed that way.

As the former director of e-business evangelism for FileNet in 2000-1 when they were launching this generation of the BPM product, I had some idea of what I was talking about - I saw that 40% of the BPM installations in some countries did not involve documents at all, and that this was due to the local sales and marketing messages and techniques rather than any inherently different BPM requirements between countries. So several years after I left FileNet, when the acquisition occurred and I saw that initial press release, I imagined that the best possible thing would be if the BPM product were to be separated out and made part of the IBM WebSphere suite, in order to flesh out the badly-needed human-facing workflow side of things over there. I realized that would mean some major surgery on the product, but a stronger unified BPM suite would emerge from that.A few days later, an analyst call with IBM set me straight on that: the GM of the IBM Information Management unit that would be absorbing FileNet referred to FileNet's BPM as "content-centric." Uh-oh. I knew that couldn't mean anything good for the product. I still have a lot of friends inside IBM-FileNet, and at first, it seemed like they were being allowed some degree of autonomy. Then, they gradually started being pulled into the "IBM way," and a lot of people started getting unhappy, and many eventually left. There were few explicit purges, except for some redundant administration, but that doesn't mean that there weren't losses.

Recently, IBM announced its grand plan for IBM; Bruce Silver covered it here, describing how they plan to bring together process and content:

[T]he steps that involve content operations (e.g. adding/revising/securing documents) are done by a FileNet P8 process, which is invoked via WSDL as a subprocess in the end-to-end WebSphere process.

In other words, after more than a year, my premonition about the FileNet BPM product was realized, and it became - from a marketing standpoint - a shadow of its former self. I'm sure that customers using FileNet BPM for end-to-end processes (which IBM thinks are more suitable for WebSphere Process Server) cringed as they see the future of their installed product atrophy. I can only imagine the impact on the (still fairly segregated) sales team: one day, they're selling FileNet BPM as a full BPM solution, the next day, it's a document-centric subprocess handler, to be called from WPS. In much the same way that other BPEL vendors handle human-facing tasks as second-class citizen, calling a subsystem using WSDL to manage them, IBM is demoting FileNet BPM to the same realm. Although I predicted this right from the first analyst call, it doesn't give me much satisfaction when I think about what it could have been.

The current monster acquisition in this space is Oracle and BEA, and it's interesting to see the contrast in acquisition styles. Unlike the death-from-a-thousand-cuts method inflicted by IBM on FileNet, Oracle is more like the Borg: BEA is being assimilated, and fast. The acquisition - from the first rejected offer last October to the final accepted offer this January - was completed in late April, less than two weeks before the BEA Participate user conference. At the conference, I found that many of my BEA acquaintances were not staying on with Oracle; many others have announced that they're leaving since then as well.

The Register reported last week on how Oracle is dismantling the AquaLogic product line: the AquaLogic web products (portals and Web 2.0) and, it appears, the WebLogic products will go one direction (hypothesized by the Register to be the Stellent team), with some rationalization of

AquaLogic and WebLogic finally occurring; AquaLogic BPM will be moved under the Fusion middleware team. I haven't dealt much with the WebLogic side of BEA, but when I dared to suggest that AquaLogic Pages could be used as a lightweight replacement for WebLogic Portal, I was "corrected" on the official party line. Given my confusion over this, I have to assume that some part of the market has also been confused over why BEA offers two different portal products. If it takes Oracle's firm hand to finally merge them, that's a good thing.

Oracle is doing exactly what I thought IBM should have done with FileNet: split up the product where it made sense and merge those pieces into similar teams that already exist, rather than try to maintain an intact semi-autonomous unit and brand, then gradually re-jig the product, potentially misleading customers about the final outcome.

As a member of the Enterprise Irregulars, I've been invited to a dinner hosted by Oracle at this week's Enterprise 2.0 conference; it will be interesting to see if BEA is so completely assimilated that the name isn't even uttered.Unlike the death-from-a-thousand-cuts method inflicted by IBM on FileNet's business process management suite, Oracle is more like the Borg: BEA is being assimilated, and fast... Oracle is doing exactly what I thought IBM should have done with FileNet: split up the product where it made sense and merge those pieces into similar teams that already exist...

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