End of the Road for Business Process Analysis?

Ian Gotts

Is this the last time Business Process Analysis will be considered a stand alone category? asks columnist Ian Gotts, as research firm Gartner releases its latest BPA Magic Quadrant.

The 2011 Gartner Business Process Analysis (BPA) Magic Quadrant (MQ) has just been published. (Side note: you can download a complimentary copy of the report from us here).

The vendors in this space eagerly await the results of the MQ in the same way anxious schoolchildren crowd the noticeboard to see their exam results. A good placement – that would be the Leaders quadrant, top right - can mean additional millions in revenue. Why? Because clients look to Gartner when selecting software applications and tools. If they want a quick shortlist of products they simply chose the vendors in the Leaders quadrant, possible overlooking more innovative, but potentially riskier, vendors in the Visionary or Niche quadrants. Gartner suggest that this is a simplisitic approach and clients should use the MQ as just one factor, but as vendors we all know the importance of appearing in the MQ.

All good things come to an end

There is a question whether this is the last BPA MQ to be produced. Certainly over the last 5 years the requirements to be considered for the BPA MQ have changed with a greater emphasis on ‘BPA for the masses" rather than a specialist, highly analytical (read complicated) tool for Business Process Analysts. This possibly reflects the change in business pressures. More and more clients are striving to be more agile and hence the mantra "I don’t want it perfect, I want it Tuesday" is the norm. This means delegating more of the analysis work to the line managers and operational staff, coached and guided by business process professionals and driving a culture of continuous improvement.

But this sounds like BPA is more important, not less. So why is the BPA MQ disappearing, just when companies need Gartner’s advice most? Firstly, the BPA MQ is researched and developed every 18 months or so. The last was February 2010. So this one will still be used and referred to for years to come, especially by those vendors who are well positioned in the MQ.

Best of breed or integrated suite?

But there is another shift. Most of the top BPA vendors have now been acquired by the more IT-centric BPMS (Business Process Management Suite) / automation / SOA vendors. IDS was bought by Software AG, Proforma by Metastorm , Lombardi by IBM and more recently my own company, Nimbus by TIBCO. These larger vendors see the critical need for analysis prior to automation, but also see the bigger picture of reaching the wider end user audience.

However, this does leave a large question mark over the future viability of the BPA vendors who are still independent. Find a strategic partner or acquirer, or hunker down and become a specialist in a particular niche seem to the options open to them if they want to survive.

The Consolidation

There are some interesting parallels with the ERP marketplace. Originally there were a series of best of breed vendors in Finance, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Inventory Control, Purchasing and so on. Then SAP and Oracle acquired them, integrated them and offered them as an integrated suite. With this approach, clients may need to compromise on the exact functionality that they wanted, but the gain was the elimination of multiple integrations between applications, a common database for better reporting and a consistent user interface which reduces training time.

The same consolidation is happening the BPM space. The mega-BPM vendors are now acquiring the components to provide all the tools that required to manage a business alongside the core Enterprise Applications (e.g. ERP and CRM). So far the shopping list seems to be BPA, social media, event / business activity monitoring, metrics and analytics, compliance, workflow automation, active case management and messaging. These components are shown in the lighter blue in the diagram below.

The diagram shows every process performed in a company; launching new products, selling them and delivering, invoicing, hiring and firing staff and so on. Every one of them is represented somewhere on the box. To achieve a task - e.g. to get a product shipped to a customer - requires a combination of automated and manual tasks as shown in yellow.

All of these process activities need to be documented and where possible automated. So these new mega-BPM vendors are providing all the capabilities in the paler blue area, which is arguably a far larger market than the enterprise applications because it deals with 100% of the business processes not less than 20%, and touches every employee.

More Confusing or Less?

Does this consolidation make it easier for clients or more difficult? Whilst it reduces the risks on a number of fronts, it does mean that the vendor decision has just become more critical. Clients are now choosing a long term partner.

First the risks. The risk of selecting a small vendor who is likely to run into financial problems has been reduced. The problem of trying to integrate a number of products with different architectures, database platforms and release cycles is now the vendor’s problem. Finally, the risk of having multiple competing tools across the organization decreases as the chosen vendor can be declared the standard.

Choosing the vendor has just become immeasurably harder – or very easy. It will follow the traditional software selection approach. Clients need to gather user requirements for each of the component areas (BPA, events, compliance, etc.), but they will have a huge list with massively conflicting needs and priorities. And that is assuming that the users even know what they want. This then needs to be prioritized so that an RFP (Request for Proposals) can be produced for the vendors to respond. And so on until selection.

Make the Right Decision or Make the Decision Right?

It seems that come clients are constantly searching for the perfect set of software solutions and therefore acquire more and more new products but are never able to kill off the old ones as there are pockets of support in the organisation. You only need to look at 5-6 of the BPMS vendors and you will see that the same clients appear as references on all of them; each in a different area of the business.

As vendors continue to evolve their product ranges organically and by acquisition picking the "perfect answer’ is always going to be a moving target. If you add up the man-hours burnt through the requirement capture, vendor selection, and piloting phases it is immense. Then add in the effort of managing the different vendors, integrating the products and the time wasted through the political infighting as business units protect their favourite.

Al alternative approach is pick a vendor – ANY vendor in the Leaders Quadrant - because their functionality is broadly similar. Then use the saves effort form multiple product selections to make sure that the vendor’s products are exploited consistently across the entire organisation. Part of this is migrating and sun-setting the other similar products being used throughout the organisation.

A bold move – maybe. But that is what is required. Competitive advantage is based on a culture of operational excellence visibly championed from senior management, with great processes used and improved by line staff, supported by BPM software.

Editor's Note: We recently interviewed Ian Gotts at the Nimbus Inspiring Performance Conference in London. If you'd like to hear more about this topic and the changing BPM landscape watch the video interview: The End of BPA As We Know It? Nimbus Founder Ian Gotts Discusses Acquisition By TIBCO