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February 16, 2010

Q&A with Progress Software CTO John Bates

Progress CTO John Bates discusses the future of business process management (BPM) and why buying Savvion was important to company's strategy.

By CBR Staff Writer

Q Why did you buy Savvion?
A We did an exhaustive search for a BPM company that would be a perfect fit for us and we felt Savvion was that perfect fit. We’d been partnering with Lombardi for years, but they are not really an enterprise company, more departmental. They are a good bunch of people but it didn’t fit what we needed. Our customers want to be able to respond and dynamically change and react to their customers before their competition does – they are looking for operational responsiveness.

We’ve got a real opportunity because we’ve put together our products in terms of operational responsiveness. Although you might find a company that has all the same pieces we have, they are not integrated and you would have to bring in professional services to help you. The whole point of operational responsiveness is that you can respond to the market quickly.

Q Can we expect to see more acquisitions in this space, particularly as IBM recently bought Lombardi?
A The fact that IBM bought Lombardi exposes the fact that IBM’s BPM was not as good and was very systems focused, so Lombardi bought human-centric BPM to IBM.

We are always open to new acquisitions and will monitor the space. But in the market there is no doubt there will be further consolidation. If you’re a pure-play BPM player you’re going to miss the boat unless you get some momentum. Savvion was a great company, but it didn’t have the momentum of a big company. We’ll be able to take it to the next level.

Q What’s the difference between ‘human-centric’ and ‘systems-centric’ BPM?
A With systems-centric BPM you are orchestrating a number of systems based on business processes. You might detect something in CRM and the call centre and when the customer calls you might look up information in customer accounts. With the human-centric approach you’d bring in the operator in the call centre and highlight through a dashboard something that that they should look at. The human-centric approach is about fusing the human being and systems with business processes.

Q What trends can we expect to see in the BPM space?
A Certainly the BPM space is about to enter a new phase. It’s already proven its importance as more than a technology and becoming part of the business. The world has changed and you can’t be a siloed IT person. Business people also want to be empowered. They don’t want to describe what they want to IT, who then go away and work in a vacuum and then come back. They want to be able to see what’s going on and be involved, which is why graphical modelling and business modelling is important.

Q What influence is cloud computing having on the BPM space?
A It’s clearly very, very important. We certainly take the approach of not only offering on-premise but in-cloud. Everything we build is multi-tenant and able to be deployed in the cloud. So, yes, BPM is going to be in the cloud. Particularly for smaller sized organisations who don’t want to have the expense of hardware and software expertise in-house. We encourage solutions in cloud built on BPM or CEP [complex event processing] and are working with partners on that.

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Q How important is it for BPM to be real-time?
A Real-time is becoming a more and more essential for BPM, but not everything needs to be real-time. An insurance process claim is not really real time and a claim can take weeks or months to clear. But a real-time element might alter parts of that process.

Q What are the challenges facing your customers?
A The biggest problem companies have is gaining visibility into how effective they are in their business processes. If you go in and talk about CEP, a company will often have no idea of how effective their business is in the first place as they have a mixture of legacy apps, SAP, web services and so on. So the main thing we’ve done is we come in and discover what processes they have and where the bottlenecks and threats are. We turn these into events and detail the opportunities and threats to companies. Then they are able to dynamically change business processes.

Q How did the recession impact the demand for BPM and your business?
A The key thing last year for customers was how do we do more with less and so they needed to find ways to be more productive and make the business more highly responsive. They were also looking to add new revenue opportunities both for upselling and for increasing customer loyalty. So if you’re an airline and a valued customer’s bag goes missing, you might send a message saying their bag will be delivered to their hotel. BPM fitted in with that view of doing more with less very well.

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