"Big Blue."  That's the image of IBM I grew up with – bloated, rigid, complicated.  Come on, you've heard the joke, "How many IBM engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb?  More than you can afford!"  And I've seen this first hand in the past with IBM Websphere Process Server (WPS). 

In 2006, I supported a major enterprise BPM evaluation for a large federal agency.  Several vendors were brought in, including Big Blue, to demo BPM functionality.  I have to admit, the functionality and depth presented by IBM the federal customer – they literally shook their heads with disappointment.  At that time, IBM was force fitting the WPS product to be a human-centric BPM platform.  I described it as a "headless horseman" – nice integration functionality under the covers, but missing the required interface for users to interact with their tasks and workflow.  The end result of the evaluation:  IBM lived up to its Big Blue image and the agency decided that Big Blue was not the right platform for their fledgling BPM initiative (which would go on to become a multi-million dollar, multi-year BPM program).

Fast forward three years later.  I think IBM got the message.  Somehow they transformed themselves from "Goliath" to "David."  IBM is placing very large bets on WPS leading them to the BPM promised land and has invested heavily to make the platform more business-friendly and accessible.  This might not seem a big deal for those of us in the BPM world – we've seen plenty of cool tools from vendors that are geared towards the business.  But this is IBM; a company not known for making cool things.  Is the mainframe cool? Is DB2 cool?  Maybe my dad still thinks those technologies are cool, but the current generation of Web 2.0 whiz kids don't.  Actually, I just yawned while typing "DB2" (seriously).

So, what has me thinking IBM is so cool nowadays?  This week, during their annual user conference, IBM made three key announcements that caught my attention:

  • Business Space – The head has finally been sewn on to the headless horseman.  Business Space is a new WPS component that allows teams to create highly-interactive and collaborative user experiences around business processes.  What's so cool about it?  It really is a mashup environment that allows business users to create and modify their own user experiences.  This addresses one of the major complaints from BPM developers: rigid out-of-the-box experiences that have to be thrown out in favor of custom development using Spring or Struts in order to create rich user experiences.  By using a mashup and widget approach, Business Space could save development teams significant development time and provide process users more control and flexibility over their user experiences.
  • BPM BlueWorks – At this week's IBM Impact conference, IBM unveiled its first foray into SaaS-based BPM.  The BPM BlueWorks offering will allow customers to model, document, and define business processes in the cloud.  Best part of all – its free.  Now that's cool.  By providing a free process community/wiki in the cloud, IBM is demonstrating that "Big Blue" is accessible to the masses.  BlueWorks will go head-to-head with tools like Lombardi Blueprint and Software AG AlignSpace – much smaller competitors that IBM would have ignored or laughed at three years ago.  While I don't expect IBM to push the rest of WPS into the cloud, BlueWorks will help expand the market for BPM skills and customers.
  • Cloud Burst – Okay, this is outside of my BPM comfort zone, but I think its pretty cool.  Larger BPM initiatives always struggle with managing a dizzying collection of databases and app servers across dev, test, staging, and production environments.  One of my customers lost several employees (the employees quit) due to frustration standing up and tearing down increasingly complex clustered BPM environments (across several BPM projects running in parallel).  Although Cloud Burst does not specifically target BPM environments, BPM initiatives should explore using tools like Cloud Burst to streamline the deployment and configuration process. 

Why It Matters

IBM has upped its game in BPM and is becoming a stronger human-centric BPM contender.  Business Space and BPM BlueWorks paint a new face on IBM that will attract more business-oriented customers that we're frightened by the previous generation of tech-heavy IBM BPM offerings. 

Sound Off

I want to hear from you.  Let me know what you think about IBM's new BPM offerings.  Do you think these new offerings will help IBM develop a more business-friendly image?  Do these products change your impression of IBM?  Post your thoughts in the comment section or feel free to shoot me a quick e-mail at crichardson@forrester.com.