Big Ideas, Big Process, and little Social Apps

Connie Moore from Forrester Research blogged about a big idea that she has been working on for several months about the future of enterprise suites versus business process management suites.   I imagine that her paper will touch an interesting nerve because I get the feeling that this is a subject on many minds right now.

I broached the subjected in my blog article Who is to Blame for Social BPM?  There were some interesting responses to my blog on EbizQ.  Max Pucher responded by providing an intriguing glimpse of a brave new world circa 2020 when the war between the process suites and the enterprise suites has been fully played out to the finish and the result is an über platform similar to the one that Connie is trying to define.

This tension is being played out daily.  I am often asked by analysts who our biggest competitor is.  My answer is almost invariably “custom projects” or “custom code” or “specialized software.”  Sure, we lose a few deals here and there to other BPMS vendors, but not really very often and not consistently to the same player(s).

There are a few possible explanations for this:

1) The BPM market is much more fragmented than we think;

2) The BPM market is not nearly as well delineated as we think;

3) The BPM market is not as stable as we think.

If the market were truly dominated at all levels by clear winners, then I would hear about this on every sales phone call I make.  In the world of CRM, for example, if you are competing against SalesForce, you will hear about them on every sales call without fail – it is that simple.  Regarding point #2, people still don’t fully understand what BPM is or what it really means (philosophy, software, way of life, etc).  CRM and ERP, on the other hand, draw up much more concrete associations.  Most people can describe what their CRM or ERP systems do in a few simple sentences.  However, I can absolutely guarantee that the initial sales calls regarding BPM systems are much more varied, much more amorphous, and much less clear.  People just aren’t sure where the market begins or ends or what is included in it.  Point #3, though, is the point that rings a bell when I read Connie’s blog.  Although the BPM market is big and growing, I think that BPM is quite possibly a temporary phenomenon.  In some senses, it is like an atomic configuration with an extra electron – that electron simply can’t exist for very long (microseconds actually) because the configuration is unstable and the forces at work will move the atomic configuration back to stability.  The same can be said of BPM software.  When it coexists with other enterprise software there is a natural tension, and this tension is something that the market seems to be trying to work out.  This is more or less the conclusion that Connie draws when she says how it will turn out in 2015,

“BPM suites will keep making bigger and bigger inroads, but they will fill in the spaces for ‘untamed processes’ that big software packages can’t touch.” 

In other words, BPM is filling in spaces that are left unfilled by the enterprise suites, but those processes are going to tend to be more and more “untamed” (I like her use of that word).  The reason for this is that the enterprise suites are also expanding, and they currently occupy the pole position in the enterprise.  In the case of the real behemoths like Oracle and SAP, you also have to consider the enormous political clout they exercise.  If you add this all up, you will continue to see more enterprises dominated by the big vendors and by the enterprise systems – i.e. the crystal ball seems to say that the BPM suites lose the war.

All of this makes sense, and I agree.  Then Connie goes on to talk about Big Process (playing on the the ideas of Big Data – ironically a term made popular by Gartner…whoops).  Honestly, I think the “big process” concept starts to divert from the interesting initial tension that she identifies and that all of us are thinking about.  From the blog, the big process concept sounds a lot like some of the normal hum-drum BPM/Six Sigma/SOA/Organizational change stuff that everyone talks about (especially at BPM conferences) and that always seems to get people in the crowd snoring.  Then again, let’s wait and see when the actual report comes out – I could be totally wrong.

But this is like one of those choose your own ending stories, and there are definitely more possible endings to the story.  So, on the surface there is an overriding tension between the enterprise suites and the BPM suites.  And yes, if we run this through Deep Blue, 9 out of 10 times, the enterprise suites come up victorious.  But Connie and others seem to be thinking too much about the bipolar war between BPM vs. Enterprise Apps while a much more interesting guerrilla war is taking place being led by “social.”

In my blog Who is to Blame for Social BPM, I make the point that the appification of the world is part of this same “social” phenomenon.  So, while BPM may in some scenarios may go head to head with ERP – Social is biting at both of them.  Remember, in the Social world, it is all about the long tail and the Generation Y philosophy whereby there is an APP for everything no matter how far down the long tail you go.

Think about it this way – have you ever seen a BPM suite do expense reports as well as expensify does expense reports?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  Ok, so you just paid a quarter of a million dollars for your BPM [insert IBM, Oracle, or SAP], now why can’t you make a decent expense reports workflow?  Oh, and it isn’t that your ERP does the job any better – no, their expense reports management sucks to.  That’s why an upstart like expensify can come along and kick butt.  And they aren’t the only one, take any workflow you want – HR, RMA, Credit apps, etc – and there is some micro startup that does it better for some paltry monthly fee.

Get it – this is the real war.  The bipolar face off between BPM and Enterprise Software (ERP) is not the real story.  Achmmm….well, unless you are an analyst firm getting paid 6 figure sums to cover these firms, or a Fortune 1,000 corporation that just laid out a few million [insert dollars, euros, pounds] to acquire software from one of the big vendors.  In other words, there is a status quo that is very powerful especially when we talk about BPM, ERP, and CRM.  But if you read beyond the front page, there is something more more interesting going on…and it is changing just about everything.


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  • I think you’re on the money. I’ve covered a post recently as well. It has even watered down the BPM initiative to it becoming software dependent.