Dec 17, 2009 (04:12 PM EST)
IBM Buying Lombardi: A Bauble on Big Blue's Christmas Tree?

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

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 they'd be doing an IPO rather than being acquired. Or at least they'd be staying as an independent rather than becoming 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 Lombardi with the existing IBM BPM portfolio, IBM responded by saying 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 (WPS). 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. Adding the ability to use 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; 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 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.

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.'" That's 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 e-mail 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.