Embrace BPM open source, embrace innovation: Interview with Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat (Transcript)

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Craig Sharp

The following is a transcript of our podcast interview, Embrace BPM open source, embrace innovation. To listen to the full audio interview CLICK HERE.

Craig Sharp: Hello, and welcome to Process Perspectives, a podcast series produced by the Process Excellence Network. PEX Network is an online and events community for process professionals. I'm your host, Craig Sharp, editor of PEXNetwork.com. Coming in today’s program, we're talking to Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat about increasing BPM software adoption across industry, and Red Hat’s foray into the BPM software space. Red Hat, known historically for their Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system, are the developer of JBoss BPM Suite. Jim, welcome and thank you for joining us today.

Jim Whitehurst: Thank you, Craig. It's great to be here.

Craig Sharp: The first question I have for you, Jim, is why do you think companies from all industries are now beginning to embrace BPM software?

Jim Whitehurst: I think we see several things happening in parallel that are driving adoption. First off, just in general, across industries the speed of business continues to accelerate, and so the speed with which companies need to react to changes in competitive situations, new products, new channels, is just extraordinary. And so, being able to leverage BPM to help define, automate those processes to much more quickly be able to react is certainly driving need for BPM. And secondly, more processes have technology involved in them now, which generally makes it more amenable to BPM. And finally, the technology itself is just getting better and easier to use. You know, I think the fact that Red Hat’s in there, is now involved and has a BPM product, isn't just a statement around Red Hat seeing this as an attractive and growing market, it also says the open source community sees this as an area to be involved, and that generally happens when there’s common interest across a lot of different users across a lot of different companies. So, I think if you put all that together, you know, it's lower costs, more technical processes, along with the speed of business and it's a perfect storm to see an acceleration in BPM.

Craig Sharp: Do you feel there’s much more growth in the BPM software space? Is it still in its infancy, or is it about as widespread as it's going to get?

Jim Whitehurst: I'd characterise somewhere, really, between the two. The Worldwide BPM market forecast by IDC is expected to grow to a little over $4.5 billion by 2016. That represents significant adoption. That growth rate is still low double-digits, and we think a lot of that’s, frankly, been because traditional systems have been very expensive and complex. In the same way when open source has entered other product categories, we've seen dramatic increase in usage; we expect to see that happen here as well. All of a sudden you have easier to use, easier to acquire, much cheaper alternatives out there, and it’s basic supply and demand, you see demand go up when costs go down. And so, we would hope to see and we believe that having a viable open source solution will help accelerate market adoption.

Craig Sharp: Do you feel BPM software is more applicable to some industries than it is to others, or are the key principles transferable across industry?

Jim Whitehurst: Generally we see it as transferable across industries. Really, virtually any business can benefit from improvements in operational efficiency and agility that BPM brings. Traditionally the financial services sector has embraced BPM earlier and more enthusiastically. And if we look at other technologies that we've been involved in, that’s been true in the past. Financial services, generally a little more technically sophisticated and a little more willing to take risks, try things first. So, I actually think that’s a good barometer, if the financial services industry has adopted something then we'll see it spread out. Certainly, we can see from our broad customer base, virtually all of the Fortune 500 are our customers, so we have visibility across our portfolio products in companies. And the same frustrations and issues that have made BPM attractive in the financial sector are transferable across industry. In fact, some of our customers really cut across industries, from Mitsubishi Research, to a mobile services operator, to healthcare. We really see adoption across a number of industries and we've only been in the market a few months.

Craig Sharp: BPM solutions are a relatively new field for Red Hat, which is known predominately, as I said before, for its Linux platform. Was BPM a natural area of interest for Red Hat?

Jim Whitehurst: Well certainly, and really for two reasons. I think most importantly, Red Hat as a company is defined by the fact that we are open source and 100% of what we do is open source. And generally, rather than starting off saying, "what problems do we want to solve for our customers, and therefore how to we develop open source technology to do that", we actually start the other way and say, "where are there communities developing to solve problems? Where are users getting together and starting to solve their own problems in open source?" And then we work to get involved in those communities, to help catalyse those, to accelerate them, and ultimately bring a rock-solid, enterprise-ready product to market. So, we became involved because we started seeing a growing interest in a broader community wanting, being involved in, and contributing to open source solutions.

Secondly, it's also a logical fit in the sense that we have a broad portfolio of middleware products. As you said, I think we're certainly very well known for Linux where we are by far the largest enterprise Linux player, but depending on the measures, we are one of the largest broad middleware players as well. Our JBoss portfolio covers a number of areas, from the application server where, depending on how you want to count it, it's the most deployed application server in the market. We have a SOA solution. We've had tremendous adoption on the rules management side, and obviously BPM and rules are often tightly integrated. And so it's a logical commercial extension for us, but importantly, you know, there was clear interest among users in contributing to open source. And so when those two things came together it became obviously logical for us to be involved.

We rarely ever start an open source community. We generally get involved in existing open source communities and try to accelerate those because our general belief is, if a community formed there’s clearly a need where users believe that the traditional proprietary vendors aren't solving their problems, or the way they're solving them is too complex or too costly. So, we prefer to have the market validation in the fact that an open source community’s developed, and then we work to get involved and help accelerate that community. That’s how we got involved in virtualization, or OpenStack, or the other areas that we're involved in, it's been the same across our middleware portfolio as well, and certainly that’s true with BPM.

Craig Sharp: The Red Hat BPM software is open source as you’ve said. Can you describe how that model works? I mean, open source, to me, is code which is open to everybody. How does the open source model work for the BPM software that Red Hat are distributing?

Jim Whitehurst: Yes, that’s actually a very good question. The reason Red Hat exists as a company, and this is true of all of our product categories, is we've recognised that open source is a powerful, and we would argue the most powerful, development model. Now, a development model, obviously, develops code or functionality, and typically for an enterprise you're buying more than the functionality when you're buying software. So, certainly the functionality is a component in the say way whether that’s Linux, or JBoss, or our virtualization, or OpenStack, but what we then work to do is all the other things that an enterprise expects. We have a defined life, right? So, if you think about an open source community, if there’s a bug fix, that gets fixed upstream in the latest version. Well, most companies, if you have a business process up and running that is a production, you know, a business critical process, you don’t want to reintegrate the latest version of the software every two weeks when there’s been security fixes or bug fixes. You want to be able to continue to run your current version but you want to feel confident that it's safe, that it's secure. Well, that’s what Red Hat does.

So, what we do with all of our products is, depending on the product, anywhere from every year to three years we freeze the spec and we commit to supporting that frozen spec for a defined life, and we write documentation. We work to make sure that it will run on various types of hardware and infrastructure so if you have any problems you can not only call us, you can call your other vendors that you're working with. We work to build the commercial ecosystem around snapshotted, defined versions with a defined life. Open source doesn’t do that; open source is a development model. So, for any of our products, we are 100% open source. For any of our products you can go get the source code, but for most companies and most enterprises, they're actually looking to be able to run something confidently in production. And then the way open source’s development model works, which is, you know, release early, release often, fast changes, fix it upstream, it's great for developing new functionality, but it makes it very difficult to implement in production. And so we basically do all those other things, as I mentioned, to make it ready for production applications.

Craig Sharp: Where should a business start if they're just embarking on the search for a software solution that meets their needs?

Jim Whitehurst: Well first, and this isn't just for BPM, I would say across the board, you should clearly understand what needs you're trying to solve before embarking on an evaluation. In the case BPM, what types of workflow are most critical to the business. You know, structured or unstructured, what kind of scale of deployment, right? A critical factor that’s often overlooked is the skillsets necessary to deploy BPM, right? You know, some business analysis expertise is likely to be necessary, with knowledge of topics like business process modelling and rules analysis. So, I would say we strongly recommend engaging outside expertise. Unless you're a very large company and have that internally, we would suggest engaging outside expertise that can be obtained from a number consulting firms including Red Hat.

Secondly, we obviously believe that you should seriously consider open source alternatives, and the reason we say that is couple-fold. First off, the single biggest frustration we hear with people with their installed base of software is they feel that they're locked in. They feel like they're stuck. They feel like their vendors no longer deliver the innovation that they're looking for but they're locked in. With open source, you're never locked in. If you don’t believe you're getting value from the vendor, like Red Hat, you can continue to use the software and say, "you know what, I'm no longer going to pay for the support and the other things out there."

And then if you just look in general, as an innovation model, I would argue in the last two years, open source has surpassed proprietary. If you look in all kinds of areas, in big data every innovation is happening first in open source. If you look in mobile, every innovation is happening in open source. And so, we move to this model where you start saying, "where do I want to be in five year’s time? Decisions I make now will be part of my legacy install base in five years", do you feel like you’ve chosen the innovation model that will ensure that you continue to have the stream of innovation that you need going forward, and we would argue that open source does that.

Craig Sharp: Open source offer the users the freedom to choose?

Jim Whitehurst: Well, it's both the freedom to choose long term and it's also a stream of innovation. You know, one of the things I always talk about is when you subscribe to a Red Hat product you don’t but a version of the software, right? You don’t buy a version 2.0 or version 3.0. You buy the stream to that software, and one of the ways that we make sure that customers believe that they're continuing to get value for that subscription is we need to continue to push new innovation more often than our competitors do, because it's not like you're stuck as a customer, and then you have to buy another version. The way we work is, you buy a subscription to an innovation stream and we need to continue to drive that. So, the power of the open source model is it drives a continuous stream of innovation, and Red Hat, from a business perspective, needs to make sure that we continue to drive that stream of innovation otherwise why would continue to renew your subscription? So our business model, we believe, is because the functionality itself is free, we need to make sure that we're very, very focused on continuing to drive that stream of innovation so people continue to want to maintain a relationship and renew a subscription with us.

Craig Sharp: Okay, that’s all from us here today at the Process Excellence Network. I'd like to thank Jim for joining us.

Jim Whitehurst: Thank you, Craig. It's been great to be here.

Craig Sharp: And as always, don’t forget that for additional process related resources, including podcasts, articles, webinars, and more, log on to PEXNetwork.com. I'm Craig Sharp. Thank you. Goodbye.