Blueworks Live: A Curate’s Egg

Hat tip to IBM for creating some buzz about its launch of Blueworks Live this weekend. Sneak previews last week for excited analysts! Not BPM software as we had known it, more like the release of the new Harry Potter movie.

I’m reluctant to rain on IBM’s parade because much of the vision in Phil Gilbert’s gig at BPM2010 is spot on. But it seems to me that Blueworks Live has some serious design flaws. More on these below – let’s start with an independent assessment.

Sandy Kemsley has a characteristically sound review on her Column 2 blog, and her verdict on Blueworks Live is downbeat. She’s underwhelmed by the Twitter integration, the public and private streams, and the level of integration with the Blueprint BPMS engine.

Sandy is right that the real significance of Blueworks Live is what it signals about BPM cloud solutions: “They’re not the first to have cloud-based process execution, but they are IBM, and that lends some credibility to the whole notion of running your business processes outside the firewall. Like the entry of other large players into the cloud BPM marketplace, I believe that this will be a benefit to all cloud BPM providers since it will validate and enlarge the market. This validation of cloud-based BPM is a real game-changer, if not Blueworks Live itself.”

My own doubts about Blueworks Live center on two areas:

It’s Overly Democratic. Every enterprise wants its people engaged with process excellence and continuous improvement. But it’s a step too far to simply say that everyone should therefore be able to create and automate process. And it’s no excuse to say that the activities to be automated in this way are ‘the long tail’ of SG&A activities – in HR and Finance, for instance – that will never be reached by automation programs. Even if that were true, it denies the benefits of process expertise and process integration, the value of an enterprise process architecture – actually, the value that the IT mindset brings.

It’s a Governance Headache. I don’t see how governance, compliance, risks and controls can be efficiently managed in a world where an organization’s processes are automated in such a decentralized way by people who may be experts in their field but are novices in process design and management.

In a nutshell: operational excellence, continuous improvement and good governance depend upon joined-up thinking, an enterprise-wide collaborative framework that enables each part to make its specialist contribution to the whole.

And this requirement for a holistic process platform, owned and embraced by the entire business, will become even more crucial in the future as the enterprise becomes ever more virtual and multisourced.

In that context, it’s difficult to see how Blueworks Live helps at all. Would you dine at a restaurant where each chef did their own thing? A good menu has coherence. A good restaurant creates the perfect customer experience by harnessing the genius and creativity of each chef de partie and their team together with the skills of the maitre d’ and his or her team. I don’t want beetroot for a pudding, or filet be boeuf Wellington served Thai style and with popcorn.

Mike Gammage is VP and Principal Consultant at Nimbus Partners. Mike has worked in performance improvement consulting, and more recently the BPM space, for more than two decades. He is particularly interested in the overlap between two very dynamic worlds: BPM and perfomance improvement (the drive across all industries to standardise, improve and automate) and sourcing and the virtualisation of the enterprise (the drive to create more flexible and lower-cost service solutions through outsourcing, offshoring and shared services). In either case, Mike believes the enterprise needs a single source of truth about its end-to-end business processes, as well as a framework for the design and implementation of change. It also needs to connect the end-user and all other stakeholders to ensure the adoption of change. These are the keys to sustainable transformation and continuous improvement.

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