IBM Buying Lombardi: A Bauble on their BPM Christmas Tree?

I was on the analyst call this morning to hear about IBM’s acquisition of Lombardi – a pretty significant acquisition in the BPM space. Lombardi is the best known of the mid-range BPMS vendors, and if the economic climate weren’t quite so dreary, I imagine that they’d be doing an IPO rather than being acquired, or at least staying as an independent rather than become part of an organization that offers what Phil Gilbert (president of Lombardi) recently described as not BPM, but “Orwellian marketing rhetoric”. Given that Phil has done everything except call IBM the “evil empire”, it’s hard to imagine the drivers behind this acquisition.

Lombardi will become part of the WebSphere team, which is what I said that they should have done with FileNet’s BPM three years ago when that acquisition happened; maybe they’ll do this one right so that the product actually becomes an integral part of IBM’s BPM offering rather than a poor cousin. Obviously, the motivations for this acquisition are much different than that of FileNet: in FileNet’s case, they were buying it more for the content management capabilities, and I think that they just didn’t know what to do with the BPM product except reposition it as content-centric and leave it there; they were also buying a huge portfolio of FileNet enterprise customers where they were directly competing. With Lombardi, however, they’re clearly after the great software, both Blueprint for collaborative process modeling (which will benefit GBS, IBM’s professional services arm) and Teamworks for human-centric process execution. IBM already has a strong integration-centric offering with WebSphere Process Server (WPS), to which they’ve been attempting to add human-centric capabilities; done right, they will slide Teamworks in as a fully-integrated, human-centric part of WPS rather than keep it as a separate product offering. Neil Ward-Dutton’s first reactions this morning (prior to the analyst call) make some excellent points about the overlap in IBM’s BPM portfolio:

Although the strengths of Lombardi’s tools are different from IBM’s there is almost 100% product overlap. What’s more the design philosophy of Lombardi’s offering is almost diametrically opposed to that of IBM’s offering – many of Lombardi’s strengths come from its tightly-integrated toolset and repository. It’s not straightforward to see how these things can come together to form a coherent portfolio – unless they’re basically fenced off from each other and positioned as supporting different kinds of BPM scenario (with Lombardi focused on “people centric” processes, WebSphere on “system centric” processes). That brings its own challenges though, particularly for FileNet.

When Judith Hurwitz asked about the alignment of this with the existing IBM BPM portfolio, IBM responded with how they’ve done a lot of work already to integrate Lombardi with WebSphere (which, of course, doesn’t answer the question), then firmly upheld IBM’s position of having multiple overlapping products that will make it difficult for customers to decide which product is best for them, and easy for customers with a big pocketbook to buy multiple products to do almost the same thing, much as they do now with FileNet BPM and WebSphere Process Server. Sure, there are some use cases that are particularly well-matched to one of the three, but Lombardi’s position has always been (and many of the analysts agree, to a point) that they can manage the full range of BPMS functionality, and adding the ability to use the WPS underpinnings for better SOA management governance should be used to improve that position, not make it a competitive offering.

Amy Wohl asked about how IBM will position the Lombardi offering within the market; they see it as a BPM entry route into departments, which might then be shifted to another BPM platform as it works out. IBM’s GBS sees it as filling the layer between business and application development, rather than as an end in itself, and one of the IBM slides stated that Lombardi “brings simple, collaborative and business-driven capabilities for departmental BPM”. That seems to indicate that IBM plans to use this as a relatively low-end offering to get their foot in the door, then bring in the big WPS guns along with a huge portfolio of GBS services. That seems completely counter to the Lombardi philosophy, although I’m sure that they’re not driving the bus at this point.

Tony Baer asked about Blueprint versus BlueWorks; although there is some overlap, I see this as less of an issue since BlueWorks has been somewhat light on process modeling and more about the community. To do this right, I think that they can bring Blueprint’s modeling capabilities into BlueWorks community to replace the BlueWorks modeling; if not, there’s going to be a lot of confusion around this.

James Governer asked about the potential for integration with Lotus, where IBM’s collaboration capabilities are centered; it seems that Lombardi is being positioned as part of the WebSphere suite, so although there might be some synergies (as IBM replied in a somewhat hand-waving way), I’m not sure that that potential will be fully realized.

You can find IBM’s press release here, Lombardi’s press release here, and Phil Gilbert’s blog post about the acquisition here which, somewhat shockingly, finishes with “And remember, like I’ve always said, ‘if it’s BPM, it’s IBM.’”, an interesting counterpoint to his post that I refer to above where he states the “IBM doesn’t do BPM” as part of his long-running anti-stack vendor campaign. That about-face is definitely Orwellian.

I did have to laugh at the email from IBM to analysts this morning, which invited us to tweet using the hashtag #BPM, as if this were the only thing happening in the BPM space today. On the other hand, maybe it is.

32 thoughts on “IBM Buying Lombardi: A Bauble on their BPM Christmas Tree?

  1. Do you thinks IBM folks read Gartner research note before make their port follio shopping ?
    With this buy,after IBM will become “de-facto” leader in BPM/EA eco-systems. ?
    IMHO the next “acquisition” will be MS-SAP.
    Wait and see
    Djebar

  2. Sandy –

    Interesting shiny bauble, isn’t it? :)
    A few thoughts I’d like to share :

    Regarding Phil’s previous lambasting of IBM – one thing I know about Phil, he just doesn’t hold a grudge. You can argue til your blue in the face and then go have a beer or listen to some bluegrass music and be friends. Many times at lombardi we had pretty good arguments, so even though I don’t drink beer and can’t quote lyrics from bluegrass classics, we could still laugh about it afterward and argue about something else later. The takeaway is, Phil is a fighter and he believes in his team and what he’s doing. If he’s fighting on behalf of IBM, and evangelizing on their behalf, then I’ll feel good about the likelihood that this was a healthy acquisition for both parties. It means he’s sold that this really is a Good Thing, and that he’s behind it.

    I think his “if it’s BPM, it’s IBM” comment was a tongue-in-cheek reference to his previous rants on the subject, and shows a refreshing sense of humor about his about-face :)

    As for using the #BPM hashtag… this is standard IBM practice if you follow a search on that tag! and… well, it is the only news today in BPM besides bpmCamp (www.bpmcamp.org) :) (I noticed a few other news items but they weren’t nearly as interesting).

    Best,
    Scott

  3. It is too bad that there is such a gulf btween the Websphere and Lotus groups. Lotus has the email, portal and activity management piece and Websphere+Filenet has the structured process model+DMS piece togther they could be the killer infrastructure for knowledge workers and blow SharePoint out of the water.

  4. Jakob, there is definitely a problem in siloing at IBM. The division between WebSphere (with WPS) and the Information Management/ECM (with FileNet) groups is vast, with nothing being done to close that gap, as far as I can tell, even though they are both more traditional enterprise software areas. Lotus, with its collaboration focus, is even farther away from those two. It appears that IBM plans to maintain three separate BPM platforms, and keep collaboration quite a distance away from all three of them.

  5. Another one bites the dust?

    Quoting Phil Gilbert, July 22, 2009 (http://blog.lombardicto.com/2009/07/it-isnt-bpm-its-ibm.html): "IBM doesn’t do BPM… This isn’t BPM, it’s IBM… This is nothing less than a strategy to kill real BPM, and IBM executes that strategy every day in every way…"

    Phil also stated that "This has to change". Sure. But here is my bet: IBM will change Lombardi rather than itself. Obviously IBM has changed Phil already -

    Quoting Phil Gilbert, December 16, 2009 (http://blog.lombardicto.com/2009/12/welcome-to-the-second-decade-of-bpm.html): "I’ve always said, "if it’s BPM, it’s IBM."

  6. Mark, I suspect that part of the reason for this acquisition is that IBM is feeling the heat from Pega, which has a more friendly business-facing persona than WPS. What’s sad is that IBM didn’t realize the potential back in 2006 to move FileNet BPM over to become part of what is now WPS: they could be winning the BPM game rather than playing perpetual catch-up through acquisitions.

  7. > what I said that they should have done with FileNet’s BPM three years ago when that acquisition happened

    You also said “I’m not convinced that FileNet’s content management has much of a future within IBM” and the reality turned out completely different. So I suggest you should leave this “what I said” since it is way off all too often.

  8. Went, when I review that post from the time of the IBM-FileNet acquisition, I believe that I was thinking that their process management (rather than content management) didn’t have much of a future. If you check the link to Phil Ayres post that I referenced in the same sentence, and my comment about Connie Moore’s opinion on FileNet’s BPM immediately after that, those are both about process rather than content.

    Of course, none of us can be right all the time. :)

  9. Sandy, there are rumours circulating inside IBM that Lobmardi was acquired to simply take out the competitor out of the game. What do you think?

  10. Tom, I don’t think that Lombardi was nearly big enough to be considered a real competitor by IBM, so I don’t think that they were acquired just to take them out of the game. I think that it’s more of a marketing move, to be able to say that they have something that’s business-friendly in their WebSphere BPM portfolio.

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