What a Difference a BPM Software Acquisition Makes: A Look into the Wayback Machine

The thing parents keep telling their kids about the internet – about how once you put something up, it never goes away – is equally good advice for all of us. That Wayback Machine never forgets. A trip through the BPM software world of the internet archives is an interesting thing, because it shows what a difference a corporate acquisition can make in someone’s opinions. Let’s hop in the machine and take a little trip:

“Today one of our customers said they were told by IBM: “why spend your money with Lombardi, we’ll give you our BPMS for free.” I finally agree 100% with IBM on something: their BPMS is worth nothing. Getting a cheap BPMS is like buying a dancing elephant for a dollar: cool, but who can afford to feed it?”

That’s Phil Gilbert talking. Or rather, Phil Gilbert back when he was president and CTO of Lombardi. Today’s Phil Gilbert is head of BPM at IBM. Say it again, Phil: “Their BPMS is worth nothing.”

Here’s another echo from former-Phil Gilbert that shouldn’t be forgotten:

“The choice isn’t between pure-play vendors and stack vendors, the choice is between BPM or IBM…What is BPM? I think it’s pretty simple: put the business back in charge of its business assets. And what is IBM? Keep that control in IT.”

They say the only way to achieve real change is from the inside, and I have no doubt that is what Mr. Gilbert would like to do at IBM. I don’t doubt his intentions for a second. I’m also sure Captain Edward Smith intended to miss the iceberg.

The fact is that nearly two years after its acquisition of Lombardi, IBM has still failed to outline a clear path for its BPM customers. Yes, it made a marketing-oriented announcement about a roll-up of its disparate BPM portfolio into IBM BPM 7.5, but that is a unified offering in marketing-speak only.

As Forrester analyst Clay Richardson rightly pointed out, IBM slapped on a new coat of paint, but hasn’t done anything substantial to rev the engine. He wrote: “While this is not surprising — we predicted that it would take three to four years for IBM to completely integrate Lombardi and WPS into a single unified environment — we expected IBM to communicate a strategy or vision for merging the engines as part of this announcement.”

In the absence of even a strategy, let alone any significant action around BPM engine integration, IBM customers are forced to figure out their own path. Their choices are what was WebSphere BPM (itself not a single engine, but the product of several acquisitions and internal development), and the additional Lombardi engine. The former is what pre-acquisition Phil Gilbert said was “worth nothing.” The latter is what IBM described as merely a “departmental BPM” solution in their acquisition analyst call.

If I were an IBM BPM customer I would certainly be confused. And worried. And wishing for a different kind of Wayback Machine of my own.

-Ben Farrell, Director, Corporate Communications