New_photo by Clay Richardson

For many, IBM's announcement to acquire Lombardi came as a little pre-Christmas surprise. Over the past 24 hours, I've heard several arguments for and against this deal being a game changer.  Ultimately, if you look at this deal strictly as a software acquisition, then it presents many potential problems and hurdles for both IBM and Lombardi:

  • IBM's BPM portfolio is already confusing to customers, with customers and prospects struggling to reconcile whether they should buy Websphere Process Server or FileNet P8 (not to mention the peripheral workflow capabilities provided by Lotus).  From a software perspective, this acquisition makes IBM's BPM maze even more intimidating to navigate.

  • IBM's Websphere team was making notable progress towards shoring up key shortcomings in their human-centric capabilities.  With the introduction of Business Space and BlueWorksproducts, IBM was beginning to provide some glimmer of hope to business users that wanted to play a greater role in driving process improvement using the Websphere platform.  If the deal is purely a software deal, then this introduces internal conflict around whether to keep IBM BPM BlueWorks or replace it with Lombardi Blueprint.

  • There are very few examples of stack vendors that do a good job integrating and unifying acquired assets.  In particular, stack vendors often alienate legacy customers (i.e., customers using the platform prior to acquisition) in lieu of cross-selling to their installed customer base (i.e., customers using the stack vendor's other assets ).  We need only look at Oracle's acquisition of BEA – which included AquaLogic BPM in its portfolio – as the most recent example.

So, I hear you saying "Clay, if this wasn't a software acquisition, then exactly what was this deal about?"  I thought you'd never ask.

Ultimately, this deal centers on the need for IBM to develop a more compelling story for the business.  In many ways it is further validation of the IT-to-BT transition that we are seeing within the enterprise.  

IBM already had their story down for the CIO and needed to develop a more compelling story for the VP of Operations, and the VP of Customer Service, and the VP of Procurement – in other words IBM needed to establish a stronger voice into the business.  And this is what Lombardi does best as a leader in the human-centric BPM space.  

When viewed as a "capabilities" deal, the Lombardi acquisition strengthens IBM's capability to support business-led process improvement and transformation initiatives:

  • Last month I attended a breakfast with Lombardi President Phil Gilbert and chatted a little about where they were going with Teamworks and Blueprint. Most of our conversation centered on the fact that they planned to push the envelope even further with Blueprint.  Phil was basically saying that Lombardi is doubling down on delivering more powerful tools for business stakeholders to collaborate on scoping and discovery for enterprise process initiatives.  This is an area where IBM is weakest and there is very little overlap between the full range of what Lombardi Blueprint delivers and what IBM BPM BlueWorks provides.

  • Over the past year Lombardi has also doubled down on helping BPM teams shore up essential skills gaps.  With the introduction of Lombardi University earlier this year, Lombardi became one of the first BPM vendors to provide a comprehensive BPM training program that went beyond product-based training.  Lombardi University now provides baseline training for process analysts, change agents, and other roles critical to BPM success.  Again, there is little overlap here between what Lombardi University provides and the BPM education program provided by IBM.

  • One of the greatest challenges I hear from process professionals these days is around "process model incoherence".  In other words, process professionals are frustrated with maintaining different versions of process models for a single process project – the model generated during discovery is usually different from the final model delivered by the development team.  IBM would be wise to merge Lombardi's process design and discovery capabilities with Websphere's development capabilities to provide a holistic solution to this particular problem.  Business users could leverage Blueprint's features to collaboratively scope and discovery business processes, then use Websphere Process Server to further enrich the original model.

What's It Mean?

From a purely software perspective, this deal introduces further confusion into IBM's BPM stack.  However, from a BPM capabilities perspective, this deal shores up major gaps in IBM's message to the business.  With the recent acquisition of iLog, and the document-centric BPM capabilities provided by FileNet, IBM now credibly covers the full range of capabilities required by the business to improve and transform business processes.  To minimize stack confusion, IBM should proactively provide customers with a capabilities map that connects key capabilities required by the business to key capabilities provided by IBM's BPM portfolio.

For existing Lombardi customers, expect some bumps along the road as IBM figures out which pieces of the Lombardi stack to merge with the Websphsere stack and which pieces will remain standalone.  Lombardi Blueprint customers can probably breathe easy, as there will likely be little change or disruption to the Blueprint platform – in fact, expect to see further innovation from Lombardi in this area since they will have IBM’s R&D engine behind them.  For existing IBM customers, this means that you can introduce IBM to the business without worrying about whether the conversation will quickly turn into a discussion about Z/OS or DB2 or app servers.

What's Your Take?

I want to hear from you.  Let me know if you think IBM's acquistion of Lombardi was strictly a software deal, a capabilities buy, or driven from some other perspective?   If you're an existing Lombardi customer, let me know if you see this as a good development or have if you have concerns about how the deal will impact your process improvement initiative.  Post your thoughts in the comments section or feel free to shoot me a quick e-mail at