Returning home after IBM’s Impact user conference (Impact 2010). I’ve been to a lot of BPM conferences in my time, but never one this big. 6,000 miles (to Las Vegas) there and 6,000 miles home again to see 6,000 people going through a few of days of indoctrination and engage in a few meetings with important execs. From the point of view of a busy analyst, one has to wonder whether it was all worth it. But putting aside the sore back/neck and the lack of sleep, I think that, on reflection, it was worth the trip. I am sure other pundits will have already posted their own interpretations of the conference, so this is just one report to add to your perspective of Impact 2010.

The Message

6,000 people all gathered to hear the carefully scripted message. Well that is what it seemed like; a scripted story that was supposed to sound spontaneous. Even the Q&A was scripted on the teleprompter, which, quite apart from the wooden presentation style of one or two of the speakers, sort of took away from the central message.

There was a pretty important message there. A message that was being communicated to the faithful. And whether you like it or not, IBM has a lot, and I mean a lot, of faithful followers. I didn’t do a scientific assessment of the number of IBM badges versus non IBM badges, but even if half of the attendees were internal, there were plenty of customers there too. And those internal folks were also being recruited as emissaries and evangelists for the new mantra.

The message was made plain and simple – that BPM was the way to run your business. That in the modern era of organizational dog eat dog, you needed to understand that process models were central to the way in which the firm operated. Process models to communicate and models to automate; models against which to measure performance; and process models around which the organization can engage customers, partners, and suppliers.

Proof Of The Pudding

For all those naysayers that have previously tried to pass BPM off as an aberration that will go away, this conference was a defining point in history. It provided proof that the modern corporation is now reliant on the management of processes to survive and thrive; to sense and respond to the needs of customers; and to cut its costs while at the same time working on the new behaviors required to keep those customers in an age when switching costs are plummeting all the time.

Yes, in industry after industry, we heard about the problems of increased customer churn; how cycle times were shrinking; how the days of the old dinosaurs were numbered. Firms now need to be nimble, fleet of foot, agile and responsive. We heard stories of how business and IT folks were coming together to overcome adversity, delivering better services and more effective customer experiences. We heard of the importance of agility and transformational stories of all sorts.

Problems With Dialect

But it always worries me when we have that word (transformation) used interchangeably to describe the transmutation of data; the replacement of rusty old tin with shiny new blade servers; the standardization of processes across business units in different parts of the world; the re-engineering of tired old processes to remove cost; and the creation of entirely new customer experiences, coordinating up and down the value chain and out into the wider business ecosystem. You could say that this later theme was the intended message, but methinks that the reality of some of the projects cited were in reality some of my earlier definitions. In the end, the messaging was about delivering better outcomes using BPM as the core principle – which I liked. But it smacked just a little of buzzwords du jour.

Surprises In Store

The thing that really surprised me was quite how quickly the Lombardi acquisition had been “blue-washed” – taken to heart and internalized, and now, very much part of the proposition that IBM is taking to the market.

We didn’t hear a deep articulation of a combined road map for how BlueWorks, Blueprint, WebSphere, and the core Lombardi product will be merged into a coherent whole, but clearly that is being worked on. Neither did we hear of departmental versus enterprise split (between WebSphere and Teamworks). I might add that neither did we hear about FileNet (at all – never mentioned), which I suppose is not so surprising, given that the content play is in another division of IBM.

But what we did hear about, time and again, was the core value that Blueprint and Teamworks (now WebSphere Lombardi Edition V7.1) bring to the party and the central role that these products will be playing in empowering business users as they struggle to meet the challenges of the modern, competitive world. In quick demos and multiple mentions, it quickly became clear what IBM’s intentions were with regard to the once fiercely independent BPM pure play vendor.

I think the Lombardi folks have been surprised by the power and reach of the IBM brand. They are now being taken into places that previously were inaccessible to them; and now they have access to resources and relationships that are really accelerating adoption of their technology.

BT Now A Reality

But this conference was also powerful proof that BT was now a reality. BT, or Business Technology, is a big idea that Forrester CEO George Colony started talking about in 2006. The central tenet was that “business will become so deeply embodied in technology, and the technology so deeply embedded in the business, that IT will need to be managed quite differently.” Indeed, the traditional notion of IT focused on data processing, would start to disappear, taking on a more collaborative and business-focused stance, helping the firm succeed.

Central to the BT concept is the notion of process models – used to drive how work happens; speeding deployment from idea to reality, from drawing board to value. Expect more on that subject from our team – I am working in collaboration with other Forrester analysts around “BPM – the language of IT to BT”.