Early thoughts on IBM buying Lombardi

This has been quite a busy day, having seen IBM’s announcement come over the wire barely after the alarm went off. Lombardi has always been the little BPM company that could. In contrast to rivals like Pegasystems, which has a very complex, rule-driven approach, Lombardi’s approach has always been characterized by simplicity. In that sense, its approach mimicked that of Fuego before it was acquired by BEA, which of course was eventually swallowed up by Oracle.

We’d echo Sandy Kemsley’s thoughts of letdown about hopes for Lombardi IPO. But even had the IPO been done, that would have postponed the inevitable. We agree with her that if IBM is doing this acquisition anyway, it makes sense to make Lombardi a first class citizen within the WebSphere unit.

Not surprisingly, IBM is viewing Lombardi for its simplicity. At first glance, it appears that Lombardi Teamworks, their flagship product, overlaps WebSphere BPM. Look under the hood, and WebSphere BPM is not a single engine, but the product of several acquisitions and internal development, including the document-oriented processes of FileNet and the application integration processes from Crossworlds. So in fact Lombardi is another leg of the stool, and one that is considerably simpler than what IBM already has. In fact, this is vey similar to how Oracle has positioned the old Fuego product alongside its enterprise BPM offering which is build around IDS Scheer’s ARIS modeling language and tooling.

IBM’s strategy is that Lombardi provides a good way to open the BPM discussion at department level. But significantly on the call, IBM stated that once the customer wants to scale up, that it would move the discussion to its existing enterprise-scale BPM technology. It provided an example of a joint engagement at Ford -– where Lombardi works with the engineering department while IBM works at the B2B trading partner integration level, as an example of how the two pieces would be positioned going forward.

James Governor of RedMonk had a very interesting suggestion that IBM could leverage the Lombardi technologies atop some of its Lotus collaboration tools. We also see good potential synergies with the vertical industry frameworks as well.

The challenge for IBM is preserving the simplicity of Lombardi products, which tend to be more department oriented bottom-up, vs. the IBM offerings that are enterprise-scale and top-down. Craig Hayman, general manager of the application and integration middleware (WebSphere) division, admitted on the announcement call that IBM has “struggled” in departmental, human-centric applications. In part that is due to IBM’s top-down enterprise focus, and also the fact that all too often, IBM’s software is known more for richness than ease of use.

A good barometer of how IBM handles the Lombardi integration will be reflected on how it handles Lombardi Blueprint and IBM WebSphere BlueWorks BPM. Blueprint is a wonderfully simple process definition hosted service while BlueWorks is also hosted, but is far more complex with heavy strains of social computing. We have tried Blueprint and found it to be a very straightforward offering that simply codifies your processes, generating Word or PowerPoint documentation, and BPMN models. The cool thing is that if you use it only for documentation, you have gotten good value out of it – and in fact roughly 80% of Blueprint customers simply use it for that. On the call, Hayman said that IBM plans to converge both products. Thats a logical move. But please, please, please, don’t screw up the simplicity of Blueprint. If necessary, make it a stripped down face of BlueWorks.

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