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Exclusive Interview: Lombardi CTO Phil Gilbert on Effective BPM

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Exclusive Interview: Lombardi CTO Phil Gilbert on Effective BPM

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On January 26, IBM announced the close of its acquisition of Lombardi Software, a provider of Business Process Management (BPM) products aimed at streamlining workflow and automating business processes.  At IBM Impact 2010, it was announced that the Lombardi family of products had been officially incorporated into the IBM BPM product portfolio (Lombardi Blueprint has been renamed to IBM BPM Blueprint; Lombardi Teamworks is now IBM WebSphere Lombardi Edition.)

DZone caught up with Lombardi CTO Phil Gilbert at IBM Impact to learn more about the role of BPM in software development, industry trends that are driving BPM adoption, and how these trends are shaping the Lombardi-IBM product roadmap. 

DZone:  Architects and developers are perhaps more familiar with the concept of ‘workflow’ than they are BPM.  How does workflow relate to BPM?

Phil:  So workflow is a component of BPM and I would say that the biggest difference is that workflow is workflow. It is the automated execution of tasks. BPM includes that, but more to the point, what BPM does is it really strives to give the transparency and the visibility into what's going on in those workflows. That becomes as much a part of the BPM solution as the workflow itself. We need to shine a flashlight on these, what one of our customer's calls, the hidden factories in our businesses. You can have a hidden factory that's fully automated with workflow. What BPM tries to do is say, “Yeah, workflow is a part of it, and you're going to get a workflow system in your BPMS, but more to the point, you're going to get the ability to provide visibility into the tasks, and visibility into the process performance that a workflow engine doesn't give you.”

DZone:  At the project level, what can software architects do during the design phase to better facilitate effective process management?

Phil:  So our view is very simple. If you are modeling for execution, you should be modeling in a modeling environment, that has native execution behind it.

If you're modeling in something that then gets transformed into code, you're kind of in the old world, because at some point, you're going to go straight into that code, and you're going to edit it, and it's not going to work back in that modeling environment again. So I think the number one change that is going to happen pervasively, and it's already happened with Lombardi Edition, is if you're modeling for execution, all of those models live in a repository, and are shared in a system that directly executes that process model. That process model then has linkages to underlying services, that may be people services, or they may be rule services, or whatever they might be, the integration points. But that process model ought to be modeled in an execution ready environment. If you do that, then you're going to really drastically affect the economics of your development cycle.

DZone:  How do Cloud-based environments affect BPM deployments?

Phil:  Well, it's tough, because if you really do processes that matter they're always integrated. People are still a little bit leery of having Cloud based environments integrated into their on-premise systems. We’re starting to see some breakthroughs there but it's very early in that space.

Right now on the BPMS side, we're still seeing a strong preference for on premise solutions. On the Blueprint side, Blueprint is offered in the Cloud. One of the reasons it's offered in the Cloud is because business people find that that is the easiest way to go there.

There's no friction from IT. The systems are easy to access. They're used to going to Salesforce.com, they're used to going to Linked-in and now they go to Blueprint. So for the unintegrated productivity part of BPM, like the early definition of process models, the Cloud is changing everything. On the automation side of BPM, the workflow and visibility side, we're still seeing a preponderance of companies staying with the on premise deployments.

DZone:  How have the Lombardi products been incorporated into the IBM product portfolio?

Phil:  So there's actually two Lombardi products. Lombardi Blueprint is now IBM BPM Blueprint. That is our cloud-based offering for discovering and documenting processes. It's a very business friendly tool. It basically takes the early part of requirements gathering that business people used to do in Word or PowerPoint and it structures them and makes them more explicit.

The larger offering, which is our full BPM platform, used to be called Lombardi Teamworks; it's now called IBM WebSphere Lombardi Edition. So it's the Lombardi Edition of Webshpere. It comes bundled with WebSphere and DB2 Express. We support it end to end. That's really our full Enterprise class BPMS.

DZone:  How has the role of the business analyst changed with respect to improvements in BPM technology?

Phil:  The role of the business analyst in our first decade at BPM has probably been the role that's changed more than any other that we've seen. One of the roles of the business analyst is actually to put more work onto the business people. I think it's a mistake to think that agile development is only about IT developing applications differently. We also have to change the way that our customers, our internal business customers give us requirements. That probably seems to be a subtle difference, but it's actually the longest pole in the tent in terms of gaining the real efficiencies of BPM. The business analyst therefore becomes as much of a change agent in nurturing their business people along this maturity path, as they do at providing the technical skills of interviewing and translating requirements.

It's a fascinating role. We're seeing it change quite a bit, but we really need to change the behavior of our business customers. By the way, from what I've seen over these last 10 years, they want to change. They just don't know how to change. Blueprint's a great place to go to do that.

DZone:  Are there any trends you’re seeing around BPM adoption?

Phil:  More. We identified a trend about a year and a half ago. We call it moving from project to program. Typically the way these things start, BPM projects are typically funded completely out of business budget, and the business doesn't really want to fund huge infrastructure projects anymore. BPM typically moves one project at a time for a while. After successes under your belt, companies go through this, a bit flips in the company's mind and they start moving from project to program. Now they've got enough projects, there has been enough money spent that they've actually built a bit of an infrastructure and then the goal becomes, “Ok, how do we programatize this?

How do we do these projects at ever increasing speed and at scale instead of doing serially one project every 60 or 90 days? How do we do four projects at a time every 60 or 90 days?”

So that's really been the change. More and more of our customers have been moving from project to program. That presents its own set of governance issues and what have you.

DZone:  What does the product roadmap look like for the Lombardi suite of products?

Phil:   We're really excited about what we're bringing out now. It doesn't sound like a real innovative thing, but we are very proud of how setup and maintenance is done, on Teamworks, and so we think we're the first application out there, that has a one‑click installer of Teamworks, which is middleware, on top of WebSphere and on top of DB2. It is a black box to everybody, you have the power of that entire platform, and it is the easiest installation and upgrade. Customers who are used to dealing with middleware and application servers and databases, all of that pain has been taken away.

So on the Lombardi Edition, we're just super proud of how easy we have made the installation of a pretty complicated set of middleware in complex computing environments, and of course with Blueprint there's no setup at all, and there's no maintenance at all. We really focus on all aspects. This ease of use that the Lombardi Edition brings, is not just in the developer experience. It is in every aspect of the ownership, and the maintenance, and the administration of this middleware platform. We want to make every single job easier.

DZone:  Where can people go to learn more about the product, and I guess even provide contributions and feedback?

Phil:  Cool. For the time being www.lombardi.com is a great place to go. You can also see this stuff on the IBM website. So if you search IBM for Lombardi Edition, you can do that. If you want a free Lombardi Blueprint account, for a trial period, you can go blueprint.lombardi.com, and you can get the best BPM, the most successful BPM modeler on the planet, in about 30 seconds.

 

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