Put to the Test: Lombardi Takes BPM Mainstream

With Outlook integration and an on-demand modeling tool, Lombardi exposes business process management to ordinary business users. It's what analysts can do with process data that sets the technology apart.

Providing an Outlook on Processes

Lombardi for Office (LFO) delivers all the functionality of the TeamWorks portal inside Microsoft Outlook. The idea is to let business people do their work in an environment that is familiar to them. Indeed, many would not even realize they are interacting with a formal process. Thus, LFO extends the reach of the TeamWorks within the enterprise. Other BPMS vendors provide access to processes via Outlook, but what they usually mean is "click this link to go to SharePoint to instantiate the work item or look at a performance dashboard." With LFO, the Outlook client renders all relevant process data and performance information and displays it directly within that environment. From an administrative standpoint, the LFO add-in can be distributed using the Microsoft System Management Server (SMS) and managed using settings in Active Directory, greatly simplifying large-scale deployment.

An update of LFO now in the works (and due by the end of March) will include additional elements of the Office platform, most notably presence-based and skills-based routing. With this new version, LFO functionality will also be embedded in the Smart Tags of Microsoft Office documents; rather than having to look for the latest budget data, user will be able to open a document and Lombardi will automatically retrieve and update the relevant information.

Documenting Processes On Demand

Launched on February 12, Blueprint is an on-demand service aimed at doing for process modeling what LFO does for the process execution environment: extend usage to the rest of the enterprise. To start, Blueprint is software as a service, accessible to anyone with a standard Web browser. It's focused on the problem of discovering and documenting processes. The objective is to ensure that project/process participants and users agree on high-level goals. It does so by letting users list issues and objectives for a process or improvement cycle. For example, business users could enter notes detailing that customer satisfaction within a given part of a process was poor and that the next iteration of process improvement should focus on that problem.

Think of Blueprint as a process capture tool that blends Wiki-style editing with WebEx collaboration and a Six Sigma-problem-solving focus. Alternatively, you could just regard Blueprint as an on-demand Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) standard environment that lets a project team (including modeling neophytes) collaborate over process development.

The project team and users work together to capture process steps, substeps and related problems using two different approaches for representing processes: mapping and modeling. The process mapping view is for business users, and it lets them describe process activities and responsibilities while identifying potential problems. Users simply detail step-by-step process tasks in an outline format—much like outlining college essays with sections and subsections. The modeling view provides a BPMN-compliant environment that more sophisticated business users, business analysts and IT folks can use to embellish the model with detailed process flow, business rules and events.

As you would expect, the process models created in Blueprint are accessible to TeamWorks, so they can, in theory, be deployed as executable processes, but it's likely that a user-developed model will require additional work to deploy. The model storage format is based on OMG's new Business Process Description Metamodel (BPDM) standard, so models can potentially be moved to any other BPDM-enabled modeling tool or deployment environment. Although BPDM has not yet been formally released or adopted, Lombardi has been very active in its development. Look for more vendors to adopt this standard in the coming months.

Putting it all Together

With TeamWorks, LFO and Blueprint, Lombardi's focus is on helping companies manage variation in processes. Rather than concentrating on process control, TeamWorks and Blueprint support ongoing process improvement and change by identifying performance shortfalls. Moreover, with the ability to support unforeseen exceptions at run time, TeamWorks adapts to special cases and changing business conditions.

With LFO and Blueprint, Lombardi looks beyond BPMS power users and engages ordinary business users that need and want the benefits of process improvement. The collaborative, on-demand nature of Blueprint demonstrates a new direction that may help take BPM mainstream.

• TeamWorks (Web portal, BPM engine, Modeling performance server, etc) is sold on a per server basis and starts at $150,000. LFO for Office is $350 per named user. Blueprint is free for two collaborators working on a single process. The team version supports 10 named users and unlimited processes/projects at $500 per month (and $500 each additional 10 users).

Derek Miers is an independent business process management analyst and consultant. Write him at [email protected].