Chris Geier is a 15 year veteran of the IT industry, specializing in security and Microsoft product lines. For the past five years he has been working in the workflow and business process management (BPM) space for K2. Chris also dabbles in community development and Social Media.
2009 was seen as a fairly turbulent year for most, but towards the end of the year many kicked off major change programs focused on process transformation. How do you expect 2010 will unfold for the BPM industry, generally?
I don’t think 2009 was as bad as people thought it would be or even as bad some reported it was. But all the talk, and fear, seemed to drive people to be introspective about their strategy. Now more and more companies are looking not just to cut costs through the obvious channels — head count, travel expenses, etc. — but many are looking more holistically. So workflow, process automation and BPM are really making headway into corporate mindsets as a way to streamline. In 2009, we saw this trend continue to take shape, and I think 2010 will see more and more companies understanding the value of these kinds of technologies and, at a minimum, dipping their toes and testing the BPM waters.
Do you expect clients to alter their BPM criteria as a result of the downturn and concentrate on initial upfront cost first rather than full ROI or the indeed the need for BPM itself to support strategy ?
I think companies are going to have to prioritize. Many companies feel they cannot afford to throw huge dollars and resources at any project, no matter the promised ROI. Some will use high profile projects and/or “low hanging fruit” to kick off their BPM journey. These are the kinds of projects that may only require a small upfront cost, and they get BPM in the door. Then when the value of BPM becomes glaringly obvious, companies can feel justified in continuing to make these kinds of investments.
What’s your definition of BPM, is it a business discipline, technical solution or both?
I don’t think they can be completely separated, but if I have to choose, I’d say it’s a business discipline. Maybe even a culture or a mindset. If you think of what BPM can mean in a historical perspective, you could have had BPM 50 years ago — a paper-and-envelope process, defined by the business, based on its needs.
Today’s technology automates your business processes, gives you tools to manage them better, gives you full visibility and prevents mistakes. The technology better enables BPM, I’d say, but BPM is not defined by it.
With a growing number of Cloud enable BPM tools and services coming onto the market how do you see K2 staying ahead of the game ?
We have a great leadership team and R&D engine that is constantly looking for opportunities to improve. Seriously, our guys obsess on innovation. I don’t think we worry as much about what others are doing or even factor that in very much in our decision process. We want to do the right things for our current and potential customers based on our strategy and direction. I have no doubts that we will continue this pattern.
As for the cloud prospect, it’s an interesting play but at this point I think there are still a few issues that we need to be very cautious about — namely performance and security. Performance is performance and every application and or company may have different needs for transfer rates and or latency. But the data security side of things is MUCH different. People need to be very careful about who has access to data, where it is stored and how it is accessed and maintained. Business Process data will be a crucial component of any organizations over all data. The importance of keeping business process safe cannot be overstated.
We have done some great work with the Azure team, as you can see here.
We will continue to investigate cloud applications, and we’ll do what’s right for our customer base, I’m sure.
IDS have released ARIS Express recently, a free version of their ARIS Professional modeling tool. Do you see a growing trend for BPM vendors to release free versions of their higher end products ?
That’s a tough one for me. There are many different approaches to this, and varied objectives in why you do one versus another. At ARIS, they’ve essentially separated the modeling tool, from what I understand. Rather, K2 focuses on delivering multiple design experiences for users of different skill levels, roles and needs. These design tools allow you to not only layout the process but also assemble it, set up rules and policies, and deploy that process straight away. Taking this approach still allows the user to be involved in the process design, and eliminates some of the middle work involved in having separate tool sets for process modeling, assembly and deployment.
Now back to the free idea. It seems this idea is gaining some momentum in the marketplace, and I think many vendors are evaluating different strategies for putting software in peoples’ hands. As BPM truly gains momentum companies are going to want an easy way to evaluate different vendors, and having a free piece can dramatically help. Companies have to balance that approach with different methods of evaluation such as online trials, 30-day demos etc.
The bottom line is that there is more than one approach, but companies today absolutely HAVE to make their products simple to test, evaluate, demo, experiment with, etc. Putting up any significant barrier, will not only affect your sales but also your reputation.
You’re fairly active on Twitter, how successful has that been as a platform for raising awareness of K2’s capabilities ?
Well, it gets me hooked up with AWESOME people like you, right? (shucks ! ~ Ed)
In all seriousness, my intent with Twitter and other social media isn’t to broadcast messages or create awareness of K2 and its capabilities. These venues allow us to interact with our community and listen to what people are saying about K2 and other products, as well, like SharePoint. It can clue us in to what roadblocks people are having, what successes they are having, what problems they are trying to solve, etc. Social media is fantastic for enabling conversation.
Do you see the meteoric rise of the Social Media platform as something vendors should engage with as a development path, marketing purposes only or is it a “watching brief” for now until it matures ?
Every company should be out there participating in some kind of social media, more for the ideas than the technology. Social media enables you to have a conversation with people about your product or related topics in ways that are best suited to the customer or potential customer. Having a software product that makes it easy for a customer to add social media interaction into his or her solutions is essential — product extensibility and flexibility. One of our consultants in the UK did just that. Check it out here.
The K2 Underground is an interesting community led forum. I especially like the ‘Blackmarket’ conce
pt. Can you tell us more where the ideas came from a
nd how successful has it been in fostering a collaborative base ?
The K2 Underground has come a long way since its inception. We started it with a very basic idea: Our community needs a way to easily interact, — ask questions; share information, ideas and solutions; and hopefully get answers — and the K2 Underground is an attempt to facilitate that. We still have a long way to go to grow this community, but we feel it’s a great start. As you pointed out the K2 blackmarket is a key piece of the story, and it’s become quite a go-to for many people. We need a way for people to share what they have built and let that benefit their peers. Be it a simple code sample, or an end-to-end solution, K2 blackmarket is the venue for sharing that.
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 tools in this area ?
Yes, although I don’t think mobile devices are suited for process modeling and design, at this point. People using mobile technology and platforms must be enabled to participate in, manage and report on applications. From a tool vendor/BPM platform perspective it’s difficult to bet on any one platform and even more difficult to try and do them all. Thus you have to allow for flexibility and even provide guidance to companies who undertake efforts to factor this technology into their process building.
There were two notable acquisitions last year, IBM and Lombardi and SoftwareAG and IDS-Scheer, and now Progress and Savvion this year. Do you think there will be more M&A activity in 2010 across the BPM space and do you think this will improve BPM solutions on offer or weaken the market ?
Well, I am not a business or economics expert, but I believe that competition is good, and more competition can be better, but not always. I see the M&A activity as validation of the importance of the BPM market. More and more technology companies are trying to get their story straight and strengthen their offerings. As this happens I believe it will cause the market to mature even further. This will also prompt companies to offer more and more features as part of their product set, thus increasing the value for the customers in the end. This is a good thing for everyone.
What’s the next big step you’d like to see in BPM?
I think I am going to surprise a few people, maybe even you, with this answer, as it has nothing to do with features, functionality or even technology. The next big step I would like to see in BPM is education. The biggest gap I see in the overall BPM marketplace is in the understanding of what it is and what its potential is. I am very hopeful that 2010 we will start to see this ramp up dramatically.
Finally, what next for Chris Geier ?
I’m hoping I can continue to learn more about BPM and use that knowledge to help others understand it. I am planning to focus quite a bit on fulfilling the needs I expressed in question 8. So I will be out there at user groups, on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, listening and trying to participate in the conversation. Come find me.