On Sunday I sat through a day of SAP sponsored discussions around business process management as part of the company's ramp up to Sapphire08. In and among the presentations, Ginger Gatling, SAP NetWeaver BPM product manager introduced the packed room to Galaxy - aka SAP's NetWeaver Business Process Management environment. I was less than impressed, given that unless customers are 'green field' sites, then there is limited value to be derived from this offering compared to what is already on the table from SAP or from competitors Lombardi and others. This was a view subsequently confirmed by Sandy Kemsley who said:
My immediate impression is that in the near term, they’re creating a BPM platform that’s fairly loosely coupled (via web services) with core SAP applications, which doesn’t appear to provide any advantage over using a third-party BPMS with SAP applications; in fact, more mature BPM suites are likely to provide greater functionality. In the longer term, however, there will be much tighter integration of BPM and SAP core applications, moving to a common process model and platform: this will be a significant driver for the adoption of this product by existing SAP customers.
As companies' IT infrastructures and systems mature, the need to orchestrate and manage business processes becomes a natural next step. This inevitably moves the discussion away from a pure IT play to one where the business - and not just business architects or process experts - have a major say in what happens. That conversation is barely (if ever) happening yet process bottlenecks represent one of the main sources of operational friction, especially in the supply chain.
While the notion of BPM as articulated is laudable, SAP NetWeaver BPM only addresses the issue of internal and what I call 'peripheral' supply chain efficiency. It's a tidying up job.
Intel, which spoke at the day's event painted a more interesting picture, pointing to a complex inward facing scenario map that discussed the assessment of process investment. Even so, I'd argue that solves a fraction of supply/value chain pain and may not be a long term optimal solution. There was for instance no immediate evidence of prediction market benchmark testing. I see this as adding huge value into the assessment equation and which can have the beneficial side effect of surfacing the true process experts, not just those tagged in the process maps.
Purists will argue that SAP NetWeaver BPM is addressing a clear and present need for a customer base that is 5 years behind my thinking. That's fine. But from this vantage point it seems odd that a software vendor should put out a product that, according to one of its kinder critics, will not deliver serious hard dollar value through 2010 for many customers.
To its credit, SAP is positioning BPM as a way of integrating processes regardless of their origin. In other words, SAP has finally acknowledged that it doesn't own the whole end to end process for most of its customers. Some of us have been saying this for years. Logically, TIBCO and IBM would not have viable BPM businesses if the monolithic myth was true. But sometimes an incumbent provider of core transaction process has to realize that for itself. SAP's announcement is that recognition.