Posted by: Adam Deane | 18/09/2012

BPM: On Eloi and Morlocks

There was a small announcement a few weeks ago that IBM’s VP of Business Process Management was appointed to General Manager of Design.

“Congrats” I remember thinking to myself “but it’s really just an internal IBM affair”.

Or is it?

BPM is a small industry.
There is a handful of very large vendors. There are dozens of small ones.
There are a few hundred companies around them that consult, integrate, market and provide professional services.
But it is still a very small industry.

As far as influence goes, BPM is quite democratic. Anyone can speak their mind.
You don’t need to be a large vendor, you don’t need to be 20 years in the industry.
Everyone will listen, observe and form their own opinions on the topic.
We don’t have any Justin Biebers, Lady Gagas, or Kim Kardashians in our BPM world.

You get a feeling sometimes that size doesn’t matter… But it does.

In any given month, the large BPM vendors will bring in more revenue that the small ones bring in a year.
In any given month, the large BPM vendors will spend more money on marketing and educating the public on the advantages of BPM more than the small ones combined.

It’s usually the bigger vendors that push BPM into the public domain.
Their combined effort is what causes organizations around the world to say to themselves “we need to start doing BPM”

The smaller vendors tend to forget sometimes that a lot of their “food” comes from the larger vendors education and marketing efforts.
The Elois live a banal life of ease on the surface of the earth, while the Morlocks live underground, tending machinery and providing food, clothing and infrastructure and marketing for the Elois.

More importantly, the industry is very human-centric.
The saying “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without” does not apply here.
The industry is based on a few people making it move forward. Movers and Shakers..
Any decision they make ripples through the industry. A decision by one causes others to follow.
SaaS, Mobile, ACM, Simulation, ECM integration, Microsoft vs Java, BPMN vs BPEL…

It’s when these guys sneeze, the rest of us run to check our forehead to see if we are coming down with something.
And it’s when these guys succeed, the rest of us feel that we are on the right track.

So Mr Gilbert.. from one of the Elois.. Congrats on the promotion.


  1. No Bieber ? No Axel Rose ?
    Au contraire, there are quite a few rockstars in the BPM world. Whilst the industry may be what it is one man/ woman’s voice still carries weight. Yours does Adam. Mine does. If you squeak no one will hear, if you roar people will listen. Opinion is valuable. And decision by one does not mean a decision for the majority, nobody should dictate an industry like that.

    However if you’re content to be lead, forever will you be a follower.

  2. […] Adam Deane posted something this morning. I like a lot of Adam’s writing but this one struck a bit of a bum note for me. The industry is based on a few people making it move forward. Movers and Shakers.. Any decision they make ripples through the industry. A decision by one causes others to follow. SaaS, Mobile, ACM, Simulation, ECM integration, Microsoft vs Java, BPMN vs BPEL… […]

  3. “Dear Sir or Madam, you may be right.” ***

    I surely wish Mr. Gilbert all the best in his new job. But that’s it. Who knows why someone gets promoted in a large enterprise? It is more politics and who you know in most cases than actual skill or achievement.

    Yes, the huge marketing budgets of the mega-vendors define what the market hears. That is simply the way business goes. But they clearly do not do advertizing to help us little guys. Rather the opposite. The messages they spread are a lot of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt – to ensure that companies won’t go with the smaller, much more innovative vendors.

    I do not feel at all that the mega-vendors are doing their customers a favor. So I do not have to restrain myself to not applaud. Mega-vendors push for example standards as a means to keep innovators in check. Many smaller vendors jump on the bandwagon to at least get a little piece of the pie. Standards are always too little too late, but supposedly they make the customer independent from the vendors, which we all know is a HUGE LIE. There is not a single pair of vendors in the BPM world where customers can migrate processes from one vendor’s software to the other as a black box and by themselves. Even with BPMN and BPEL it does not work this way as they are just 20% of the complete process definition. Have you ever tried to do an XDPL import? We did and it is a huge mess. But clearly standards have a place and SOA is at least now where we were with CORBA 15 years ago. Forgive me for sounding jaded.

    The mega-vendors-monopolists also define what the analysts are saying, simply by their market share and the money they spend on them. It is a pay to play game. So that becomes the thing that everyone does by default, may it be right or wrong. These are no more than self-fulfilling prophecies. IT departments in large enterprises no longer have the skills to make these choices and to pick a vendor from an analyst rating is a safe bet for the CIO who doesn’t want to risk his job. CEOs struggle to understand IT and wish that it would simply be outsourced so it is no longer their problem.

    What happens is that there are a few innovators and as long as the mega-vendors can’t yet claim to offer the same, the novelty is positioned in sales and marketing as unnecessary or irrelevant. And certainly the small innovator is considered a risky proposition by the analysts. As it is new it has no market share and is as such not relevant. The same is happening with ACM much as I have proposed a few years ago.

    Yes, markets are democratic. Just like in politics anyone can speak their mind. But so what? If you don’t have a 100 million to buy airtime and advertizing then you won’t become a senator or even president. While in Europe that is a little better as donations to political parties are illegal, only if you are supported by a major party you stand a chance. So I am clearly not bemoaning a fact of life. I know that many in the ACM domain try not tread on the toes of the BPM incumbents but without someone saying things out loud there won’t be change happening. I know that many are happy that I speak out, because they won’t take the risk. In the end they don’t have a vision and stand up for nothing. But as COPYING is the most sincere form of flattery, it is ok that so many present my ideas as theirs under a new name. That too is a fact of life.

    But like in politics, I won’t clap or vote for the very corrupt incumbents who produced a big mess. If you want to fix something, why do you ask the people who produced the mess in the first place? Marc Andreessen recently said that software is eating the world and the CEOs and CIOs of large enterprises have no clue about it. They should be software experts and not accountants to lead. Instead they outsource IT infrastructure and knowledge and consider it a commodity .. that too was an analyst recommendation and widely promoted by IBM and others.

    “And so Good Night, and Good Luck!” ***

    *** Edward R. Murrow was an influential radio and TV reporter in the 50s who was the only with the guts to stand up against Senator McCarthy and his corrupt anti-communist campaign. He used these signature lines for letter replies and to end his shows.

  4. Theo is right. It is the smaller more nimble players who move the game on. However, some peole in the large companies make have the time and space for “bigger more visionary thoughts”, but the companies they work for are not able to but those ideas into code. Be judged by the size of your vision and ambition, not your headcount or revenue.

  5. I’m with Theo, Ian and Max on this one…the world was looking for the automobile in the early 1900’s…if you asked just about anyone, it was looking for a faster horse. Innovation comes quite often from the other side…from the non-established players coming up with brand-new ideas. They have to fight their way into the marketplace despite the broad reach of the large incumbents. They have to overcome the marketing efforts of the buggy whip companies that benefit from the status quo and are seriously threatened by any change.

    The larger the company, the more bureaucratic…that means the career people have taken over and the innovators have mostly moved on. IBM may have more innovators than most thanks to their size, but as a percentage, it goes down. Innovators flock to SOMA, Silicon Valley, London, Hong Kong and other ‘idea hotspots’ in the world. There, their ideas can be amplified and tested against other innovators best new ideas. It creates a cycle of change that constantly brings new ways of thinking to the world.

    A small company has a high percentage of people willing to take a risk for a greater benefit. The large enterprise has the opposite. Salaries and stock options show this dichotomy, too.

    Personally, I would suspect any enormous enterprise of having the most benefit from a lack of significant change. After all, they can’t stop and turn their aircraft carrier of a company. I would suspect any small company to be driving change. After all, they need the world to change to give them an opportunity to grow despite the marketing spends.

  6. I get where you are all coming from in response to Adam’s post. In the end, he’s right to wish Phil well on his promotion.

    The shots across the bow of big companies just emphasize more how interesting the IBM-Lombardi partnership/acquisition is/was. The disruption represented by vendors like Lombardi (and others) was turned to IBM’s benefit in the acquisition. An advantage the big players have is that when their operations aren’t nimble enough, often their check book is, right Ian? 🙂

    And the fact that an upstart, outspoken, visionary – like Phil – gets promoted inside what we often view as a behemoth organization from the outside… this is even more reason to congratulate Phil (and IBM). They’re not only embracing an opportunity, they’re embracing an opportunity to introduce change. It seems that politics might not have had primacy over competency and execution. (or at the least, that the politics accounted for competency, execution, and track record, not just “who you know”).

    I don’t think you have to agree with everything Phil says or does to see this as a pretty interesting development. And like Max, I value the outliers who speak out and speak their minds (even when I disagree). And I can understand how he feels about the truly giant IT firms… but to me, that is precisely what made news of Phil’s promotion so interesting, rather than proving your generally accepted points of view, it contradicts it. Can’t wait to see how it works out.

  7. I agree, probably not for the same reason though:

  8. Let me add one more point: Lombardi is a typical example that some idea or concept only gets validated for the market once a large vendor decides to buy something which he can’t create themselves, which in most cases means that the innovative spirit of the people who created it gets lost in the enterprise political jungle and the shareholder, ROI and MBA bean counter mindset.

    I am all for entrepreneurs reaping the financial success of their work but in the end it kills many good companies and more than anything the spirit of some great teams that grew around the original idea and the struggle to achieve. Which is why companies who go from idea to greatness all the way are so much more customer oriented than the stockmarket financed ones.

    If someone takes however a position that doesn’t just improve one element of the software arena, but has the vision to go a completely different route, it does not matter how plausible the idea is. CEOs, CIOs and analysts turn out to be gutless and mindless chickens picking along a line of crumbs (money).

    On the other hand IBM’s software is so out of date in terms of usability thqt any entrepreneur would be able to improve it. The simple question is: Will the aircraft carrier change its course with one guy tugging at it in a rowboat?

  9. Max – in general I can’t argue with anything you’re saying 🙂 In specific, however, it is only more proof that this is an exceptional case, or the exception that proves the rule. Lombardi had decent market validation before being bought, which is why the price tag was considerably higher than for some other BPM purchases made within 12 months before or after. And Lombardi has made an impact on IBM. Their BPM suite is totally redesigned in the spirit of Lombardi. Their ODM suite was also redesigned in “Lombardi” BPM style – driven by the same Lombardi team, and IBMers who bought into their way of looking at enterprise software. At this point it isn’t about the “Lombardi” guys driving, it is about whether the Lombardi DNA has transferred to enough IBMers for it to stick or affect their approach to product, and approach to product design.

    This is why the move of Phil into this design role is so interesting. It is exactly the opposite of what I’d expect IBM to do. And it gives IBM a shot at really improving their enterprise software experience and making that part of their product culture… let’s see if they can do it. They’ve already put the most likely guy to get it done in charge.

  10. Its a bit more like they gave him the con, rather than have him tugging in a rowboat 🙂

    • Scott, I am not disagreeing with you. Lombardi had a good approach in principle, but it still lacks in overall BPM functionality. It made creating a list of tasks simple – thats it. it does do a number of things I see as ACM functionality, which is good. But it does oversimplify what is needed and that will be the hard part to make it do the more complex things needed. Let’s see if IBM will let him pull it off. IBM (Lombardi) BPM is way user-friendlier than anything IBM and many others had before.

      As I said before, it was most probably a good move for Phil to sell to IBM because with their marketing clout his vision stands the best chance to sustain in these difficult markets.

  11. “The smaller vendors tend to forget sometimes that a lot of their “food” comes from the larger vendors education and marketing efforts.”

    I think that happens in a lot of industries. The big players can afford to do a lot of the heavy lifting and information pushing, so they get a lot of attention. But the smaller vendors can respond a lot quicker to changing customer needs so they are still incredibly competitive.

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