An Audience With….Thomas Stoesser of Software AG

Thomas Stoesser is a Senior Product Manager at Software AG in Darmstadt, Germany. He is responsible for the areas of Composite Application Technologies and Social BPM. Thomas spends most of his time defining and driving AlignSpace, a social network for BPM and process discovery that will launch this year in March at CeBit. Before he joined Software AG, Thomas was working for Business Objects SA where he was in the role of a Product Manager for their SAP integration.

 

2009 was seen as a fairly turbulent for most but towards the end year many kicked off major change programs focused on process transformation. How do you expect 2010 will unfold for the BPM industry generally and for BPM Vendors?

 

2009 was indeed a turbulent year, but it also proved that BPM is an area that companies invest in even in a weak economic climate as we had it last year. During such times investments into BPM help customers to streamline their processes and to save costs – exactly what you want to achieve in order to get through tough times. I think 2010 will be a good year as the economy is slowly recovering and many companies see a light at the end of the tunnel. For us it will be an incredibly exciting year as we’ll be releasing the AlignSpace open beta during CeBit in March. Actually it’s going be announced under a slightly different name, but you’ll recognize it when you hear the name. I think that our release will make people start to realize how important the “social factor” is in BPM going forward.

 

Do you expect clients to alter their buying criteria as a result of the downturn and concentrate on initial cost first rather than ROI or the need for BPM itself to support strategy?

There will definitely be clients that will look more closely at the initial cost, but I believe that the latter point is much more important. Our ability to not just deliver a bunch of technologies, but to support corporate strategy has always been extremely important and continues to be. Especially large clients value this as most of them are looking for a long-term partner instead of a vendor that can complete one or two projects for them. Long-term partnerships are important in a world where corporate goals and strategy may have to change as a response to the market. If such a strategy change happens you definitely want to have a trusted relationship with your partners that support your strategy and that can help you to implement changes as quickly as possible.

 

Forrester recently said they’ll be turning to the process professionals more in 2010 and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant underwent a makeover in how they approached their analysis last year. Do you still see a need for the kind of research which is perceived to be vendor led given the rise of independent professional blogs and insights?

 

That is a great question! Just like for every other part of the industry the environment and the markets are changing. I think that all the large research firms are already reacting to these changes and their participation in the blogosphere and other social media channels proves that they understand in which direction they must be headed. It is very true that independent research is on the rise and I think this will not change for a long time. However, I don’t think that this means that research from established analysts will become irrelevant because of that. It just means that clients can get input from more different researchers and that we’ll see some healthy competition going on in that area.

 

Tell me more about AlignSpace and your vision for it. 

 

Right now, AlignSpace is a platform that is going to help during the first stage of a BPM project – process discovery. At this stage you basically do nothing else but collect information from many different people. A lot of them are not technical, but simply participants of the process. Think of an office clerk who performs a manual step in a process. Who else could better describe this manual step? Now give this person the means to contribute their input to the project without being forced to think about a process model and without having to learn a complicated new tool to do so. Of course there are also other personas that can contribute in the same way: business & tech analysts, excellence committees, project stakeholders, developers and so on. All of them can easily participate and collaborate supported by AlignSpace. I am not a fan of the term Web 2.0, but I do like one of the definitions that I read somewhere which said “web of participation”. This is exactly what we are focusing on with AlignSpace – to provide a platform that enables and fosters participation of all involved parties in a BPM project. For something like that, simplicity is the key ingredient.

 

The vision of AlignSpace goes beyond just process discovery. We want to establish an independent BPM community, a central place to go to for everyone who is interested in BPM. Groups, discussions and social networking capabilities are the tools of the trade to enable a lively community that focuses on BPM, but independence is a key term here because we don’t want to limit this community to users of our BPM stack. If you want to have discussions about Tibco, Oracle, SAP, IBM or technology-independent methodologies you are just as welcome. 

 

Another big piece that we have in the pipeline is a marketplace. Think of this marketplace as an online dating site for BPM vendors & professionals and companies that are looking for external expertise. It will be possible to post work that you want to get done and it will be possible to post services that you are offering. That way BPM professionals and companies in need of BPM expertise have a great way of finding each other on AlignSpace. The marketplace will not only be used for bringing parties together but also as a distribution channel for all kinds of products and services. If you are an independent researcher and you have a paper that you would like to sell, you’ll be able to do that over our marketplace. Or if you are a BPM services company and you have a methodology or framework that you want to sell, you can use the AlignSpace marketplace as a channel for that.

 

Do you see the meteoric rise of the Social Media platform as something vendors should engage with as a development path for BPM generally?

 

I think that this goes way further than just BPM. Social Media platforms have changed the way how people interact and while this was limited to young people for a while, statistics show that the generation 50+ is one of the fastest growing groups on social sites. So we are not just talking about a hyped trend, but a reality that every industry must seriously consider as part of their strategy. Think a few years ahead and watch all the people that are now between 10 and 25 entering work life. They will have expectations in terms of communica

tion, participation and collaboration that are different from yours a
nd mine. You and I feel comfortable with social media, but those guys grew up with it. 

 

Many see BPM and process modelling already as a collaborative endeavour with various parties, process owners etc so there’s no need for a specific tool to create this environment. Others see it as an internal social media gimmick and will detract from the actual process improvement activity itself. How does AlignSpace seek to overcome these hurdles ?

 

First of all, I agree with everyone who says that there is no need for a tool to create a collaborative environment. Actually I would even say that it isn’t possible to create such an environment with a tool. However, a tool can support the collaborative efforts and as such the environment that you are describing. The hurdle that you are describing is one that other ideas like instant messaging had to overcome as well. Instant Messaging is an accepted form of communication in most companies these days. It is going to take time, newer forms of communication and interaction will become more and more accepted in the Enterprise.

 

What strikes me every time with this type of question is the fact that no one complains about employees being able to spend time writing personal emails. I wonder how long it took for us to get to this point?

 

What’s Software AG’s definition and philosophy for BPM ?


We want to enable complete measurement in an Enterprise. It’s a common phrase that you can only improve what you measure or that you can only manage what you measure. But what do you need in order to measure the effectiveness of a company? We have learned in the past that digitizing data facilitates the availability of information anywhere, anytime. The digitization of business logic in applications enabled us to measure how well this logic performs. With BPM we have the opportunity to go one step further by digitizing processes that span across multiple applications as well as human workflow. This opens the door to complete business measurement in an Enterprise. When you achieve this, you are able to identify all the areas where your business needs to improve. You can see if processes that you have already formally defined and implemented need to be optimized and you get a clear picture of parts of your business that do not have defined processes and that probably have lots of room for improvement.

 

Now for all three areas – measuring business performance, process optimization and process discovery – BPM technology helps companies reach their goals. However, a solid technology stack alone won’t solve all the problems though. In order to successfully execute a strategy for ongoing business performance optimization, there needs to be a common methodology that all stakeholders agree upon. In my mind it doesn’t even matter as much which methodology gets chosen, as long as it creates a common understanding between all involved parties and as long as there is buy-in from all sides.

 

So to summarize, BPM is a combination of technology and methodology and it serves the purpose to measure and improve business performance.

 

With a growing number of Cloud and Social Platform enabled BPM tools and services coming onto the market how do you see AlignSpace staying ahead of the game ? 

 

As mentioned before, we are striving to be not just a cloud enabled BPM tool, but also an independent social community around BPM. AlignSpace will combine tooling, content and community under one umbrella. This platform will not only support the existing BPM market, but it will help to grow it overall. Of course we will have to continuously keep innovating in order to make BPM as accessible and simple as possible. 

 

IDS have released ARIS Express recently, a free version of their ARIS Professional modelling tool. Do you see a growing trend for BPM vendors to release free versions of their higher end products ?

 

I am not sure if I would call it a growing trend, but it is something that you see in many parts of the Software business. If you have a powerful, professional tool that comes at a high price point, you want to make sure that cost sensitive prospects can still get a taste of what you have to offer. At the same time you might be able to steal market share from other tools that become less interesting even if they aren’t expensive. I think free versions like this are a good thing for prospects as they get the chance to “play around” with different products without having to invest in licenses and without having the time constraints that typically come with evaluation versions.

 

Also, I think that free BPM tools are a driver for BPM market growth overall and for an acceleration of the maturity of this discipline. The more people get access to BPM without having to do an investment upfront, the more intelligent young minds with great ideas you’ll have and they will take BPM to the next level.

 

The mobile platform has taken off and a growing number of vendors are joining the ranks to develop for the Apple, Blackberry and Android platforms. Do you see a future for BPM in this area ?

 

Yes, I do. I think mobile devices will soon be involved in any aspect of BPM. No matter if you are talking about a user interface for a manual process interaction or if you are talking about the definition and implementation of a BPM project where team members create, contribute and review while they are on the road.

I am well aware of the fact that mobile was a hype term some time ago and when it didn’t entrench every facet of our lives immediately, people started to think that it was really nothing else than just a hype. I believe that mobile had to first get introduced successfully to the consumer markets so that the general mindset about mobile interaction could evolve. Blackberry and especially Apple’s iPhone have made a huge impact. And follow-on products will make sure that this impact is permanent. I know lots of people today that interact especially on social platforms via mobile devices. This was not the case even two or three years ago.

 

With so many people using a mobile device – not just for text messaging and speaking on the phone -, you can expect that this will have an impact on Enterprise markets, including BPM, as well.

 

Obviously the question on everyone’s lips after the SoftwareAG acquisition of IDS is “how will this affect AlignSpace and ARIS ?” What’s your vision for how the AlignSpace platform should be integrated with the IDS suite ?

 

I can’t really give you too many details at this point, but I think that we have some great ideas of how the two can come together. Especially IDS Scheer’s lightweight tool, ARIS Express, fits nicely into the vision of AlignSpace and I am looking forward to the developments in this area. Generally, IDS Scheer and their set of products is a very good fit to a platform that is aiming at an independent approach to BPM. If you want to use Align

Space and ARIS products you are right if you expe
ct them to work seamlessly.

 

I think ARIS can bring a lot to the table when it comes to methodology and tooling for end-to-end modelling – they key will be to align it with the simplicity approach that AlignSpace is taking.

 

And following on from this, do you think there will be more M&A activity in 2010 across the BPM space and do you think this will improve solutions on offer or weaken the market ?

 

It is hard to imagine that there will be no M&A activity in the coming 12 months. I wish I had a crystal ball that allows me to be more exact. How these activities will impact the market remains to be seen. It even remains to be seen how the most recent acquisitions will impact the market. Even for those, it will take at least a few months until either improved solutions can be seen – or the actions that result in a reduced number of available solutions on the market.

 

Either way, from my evasive answer you can probably see that I don’t really want to speculate too much. 

 

What’s the next big step you’d like to see in BPM ?

 

I would like to see BPM usage maturing overall. What I mean by that is that companies need to come to a point where they involve dependant external parties into their process definition efforts. Collaboration with suppliers, distributors or other partners – even customers will be crucial to reach a state where processes are not only optimized for their operation inside a company, but across organizational boundaries. Researchers call this an Intelligent Operating Network which will increase productivity by increasing the effectiveness of separate parties working together where processes span across organizations.

 

This is not only a big step, but a giant step that I would like to see in BPM and it has less to do with technology than it has to do with mindset.

Of course, a collaborative platform like AlignSpace could help greatly in such scenarios. 😉

 

Would you like to expand on your thoughts iro your recent post on the Alignspace blog around Process Intelligence and Simplifying BPM ?

 

I think what will be seen more near-term are two other aspects.

 

First, the BPM market is in dire need of simplification. Sure, there are technology related aspects that could be easier, but more importantly there are numerous challenges that today’s BPM project leads face and those have to do with common agreement through methodology, transparency issues and corporate politics. If vendors want the market to further grow, they have to make sure that customers get real value from their BPM endeavours. Providing tools that help to facilitate communication and collaboration will be one part of the solution, but I think we will see an increasing need for for BPM consultants that are “facilitators of change” and that are not just experts of the technology stack that is being used to implement BPM. Facilitating change is much more difficult than simply defining and developing a process model – it requires a mix of subject matter expertise of the given industry, leadership and diplomacy. 

 

Secondly, Process Intelligence is going to become a hot topic and I think it has the potential to meet the expectations that BI, or Business Intelligence, never could. Let me explain this: BI didn’t really evolve into something where “intelligent” actions would automatically be taken by a system based on some business event. It was and is about reporting, analysis and dashboarding. BI never really went beyond triggering a notification to somebody when a value on some report or dashboard went above or below a defined threshold. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like people in the BI industry never thought of this, but they simply didn’t have the right hooks into the systems that execute business processes and business logic. But recently we have seen many big vendors of BPM and Application stacks absorb BI technologies. I think that these technologies are now finally being provided with the hooks into process and application logic that they need to evolve further. So Process Intelligence, the combination of BI and BPM has the potential to really live up to its name.

 

When can we get our hands on the Beta ?

 

Very soon. At CeBit we will launch the public Open Beta which will be available for everybody. We had planned a closed beta but decided it would be better to have a stable and polished Open Beta than a half-baked closed one. There will be a lot going on at the Software AG booth at CeBit with a pretty exciting demo of what we have developed over the last 11 months.

 

Of course, there are also going to be a number of very cool showcases and demos of all the other products that we have. I am very much looking forward to that.

 

Finally, what next for Thomas Stoesser ?

 

I wish I could say a holiday, but the launch of AlignSpace at CeBit will just be the beginning. I have tons of ideas for the platform and those will keep the team and me busy for quite a while. So taking AlignSpace from being a new idea to an established community is next for me.

 

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