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Blogs > MWD Advisors

Moving IBM's $100bn needle with Smarter Process
Neil Ward-Dutton By: Neil Ward-Dutton, Research Director, MWD Advisors
Published: 15th May 2013
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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As Sandy, Bruce and David have already highlighted, one of the very biggest themes at this year’s IMPACT conference for IBM middleware customers was ‘Smarter Process’.

BPM in some form has been a significant feature of the previous two IMPACT events, and this year its position was elevated even further—although IBM is now using a different term to describe it. As Bruce notes, the term ‘BPM’ was very rarely heard.

Very briefly, and in my own words rather than IBM’s, the Smarter Process setup goes a bit like this: Mobile, Social, Cloud and Big Data trends are changing the art of the possible in business, as well as changing the expectations that customers have. Globalisation means it’s very hard to compete purely on the basis of efficiency. Mix this in with changes in customer expectations, and you get a situation where any forward-looking enterprise needs to be looking at ways of focusing on customer experience excellence (as well as continuing to focus on efficiency). Business Processes need to be Smarter—and for IBM that means “instant, seamless and insightful”. It’s not enough to try to improve processes by mapping or modeling alone; you need systems in place that can operationalise improvements at scale and with intelligence. These processes need to bridge organisational gaps between marketing, sales, operations and their value chains, and customer service silos—because customer centricity can’t be just about delivering more tailored promises; it has to be able delivering on or exceeding delivery against those promises.

For anyone interested in how the market for business process management tools and systems is evolving, it’s worthwhile quickly exploring why IBM has changed the way it tells its story and sets out its stall. The change is very deliberate.

Partly the shift to ‘Smarter Process’ is a result of IBM being a victim of its own success regarding its use of the term BPM. IBM is hardly alone in this as a technology vendor, but it’s spent a lot of time conflating the discipline of Business Process Management with BPMS technology (as delivered by what’s known as IBM Business Process Manager).

As its engagements with its customer base have matured and as industry expectations have changed, it needs a way to get out of the corner it’s painted itself into—because the answer can’t be about just continuing to add new capabilities into whatever it sells as a ‘BPMS’ (although some analyst firms might like it that way ;-). It needs a way to show how lots of different technology capabilities—not only those provided by core BPMS functionality but also business rules and event processing, content and document management and business analytics, to name a few—can be brought to bear to address the big business challenges of the day. The Smarter Process marketecture overview encompasses IBM BPM, ODM (Operational Decision Management, which combines business rules and event processing) and Case Manager; an embryonic Operational Intelligence offering being built on Business Monitor; together with business intelligence, predictive analytics, ECM and MDM capabilities… and quite a lot more besides.

However this isn’t the whole story—Smarter Process isn’t a ‘BPM++’ product bundling initiative. There’s a clue in the name: Smarter.

For the past couple of years IBM has been completely rebuilding the way it creates and executes marketing initiatives, and the majority of its marketing resources are now directed towards a relatively small number of cross-IBM programs that are judged as having the potential to add billions of dollars to IBM’s top line every year—stuff that will really move the needle. In the main, these programs are labelled ‘Smarter XYZ’.

Over the past couple of years we’ve had Smarter Analytics, Smarter Commerce and more; now we also have Smarter Process (and others, like Smarter Computing). Smarter Process is a signal from IBM that it sees a very significant revenue opportunity in helping companies reinvent their business processes with technology. It’s trying to tell a story that shows how technology can help improve customer centricity while also delivering on operational expectations; it’s pitching this story not only to CIOs and line-of-business heads, but also to COOs. It expects that this initiative will move the revenue needle, against a backdrop annual revenue haul of over $100bn.

IBM is more serious than ever about BPM in its broad sense, even though it uses a different term.

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