BPM 'A la Carte' or in the Stack Just Became a Tougher Choice


The Dec. 16 announcement that IBM has acquired business process management (BPM) software supplier Lombardi Software puts a nice cap on 2009 because it revives a discussion stream I had back and forth all during 2009. The discussion centered around whether it is better to get your BPM technology a la carte or from your stack supplier (or even from your application software supplier as discussed in a Nov. 27 blog post about Oracle AIA). That may be one of the major decisions you face in 2010 as 2009 IT spending freezes begin to thaw.


Ironically in 2009, one of the big proponents of the a la carte approach, not surprisingly, was Lombardi Software. But market consolidation is an inexorable force in any market (I should look up the meaning of 'inexorable,' but it sounds good!) and BPM software is no exception. Increasingly your options are being reduced.


What is not clear is whether the market is being efficient in the ongoing BPM software supplier-winnowing process or whether the consolidaton is the result of the 2009 economic condition, undue large-company influence on the software market (that is, IBM's deep pockets), because you in IT as a group are deciding that it is better to have one throat to choke, or some other factors. For example, I could not attend the analyst briefing but the tone of the slide deck IBM sent me hinted that IBM might want Lombardi to better run its Global Services consulting engagements, as opposed to wanting Lombardi's software functionality.


An interesting twist in the IBM press announcement is its positioning of Lombardi Software functionality as different than the existing WebSphere BPM products. IBM said:

Lombardi's department-level approach to delivering process management complements IBM's existing strengths in enterprise-wide process management software...

I don't recall Lombardi ever positioning itself as just departmental BPM. One of my rules of thumb is that the longer the press release, the more strained the synergy between the merging product lines. The IBM announcement document seemed long to me. In about 18 months, we will know whether the Lombardi BPM functionality rises within the IBM portfolio or fades away as IBM tries to migrate former Lombardi customers over to WebSphere BPM.


Meantime, whatever the reason, your BPM technology choices just got even slimmer. There are only about a dozen a la carte dishes left on a menu that looked like a buffet only five years ago.


I talked to TIBCO recently (and will post about its 2010 BPM plans shortly). TIBCO offers an interesting twist on the BPM stack vs. a la carte debate because it offers a more a la carte stack than the other large-company, multiple-market enterprise software suppliers. But of course, once a month it has to cool a rumor that it is an acquisition candidate.