An Audience With….Sandy Kemsley of Column2

Sandy is an independent analyst, systems architect and blogger, specializing in business process management and Enterprise 2.0.  During her career of more than 20 years, she has started and run successful product and service companies, including a desktop workflow and document management product company and a 40-person services firm specializing in BPM and e-commerce. She was FileNet’s (now IBM) Director of eBusiness Evangelism during the launch of their eProcess BPM product, and has been a featured speaker on BPM and its impact on business at conferences and customer sites in several countries. Currently, she practices as a BPM analyst and architect, performing engagements for end-user organizations and BPM vendors; she also writes the popular “Column 2” BPM blog  and is a contributing author on several social media-related blogs.


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 ?

With many parts of the world still crawling out of a recession, we’ll see some customer activity in BPM projects, but they may continue to be cases of the customers starting to deploy the shelfware that they previously purchased in order to save money, rather than buying a lot of new software. That’s not great news for the vendors: although they get marketing mileage out of these projects, they don’t necessarily generate a lot of revenue unless the vendor is providing the implementation services. Process transformation is most likely going to occur in areas where it can be implemented without a major expenditure for software or services, potentially using cloud-based BPMS or Enterprise 2.0 tools.

There was a succession of acquisitions between larger vendors in 2009 and the beginning of 2010, do you think there’ll be more M&A activity this year and what’s your take on it’s affect on the general market for clients ?

The recent acquisitions of Lombardi and Savvion are going to impact the market significantly, initially by confusing the customer base. The platform vendors will be focusing their marketing efforts on discrediting the standalone vendors as not being able to provide a complete solution, while the standalone vendors will be discrediting the platform vendors as being poorly integrated and too heavy. Customers, as usual, are caught in the crossfire, not knowing who to believe. To confuse things further, although Progress can clearly position Savvion in their portfolio, IBM has already made a misstep by attempting to position Lombardi as “departmental”, making it unclear how the WebSphere-FileNet-Lombardi BPM lines will be drawn in the end. 

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/ driven given the rise of independent professional blogs and insight columns ?

There’s a lot of problems with the current models of the large analyst firms. Although they state that it’s not a “pay for play” model, almost everyone outside of those firms believes that to be untrue, and thinks that it’s pretty rare for a vendor to make it into a Magic Quadrant if they’re not a paying customer of Gartner. There needs to be much greater disclosure and transparency by those firms before most people will start to believe that they can truly offer independent opinions. That being said, there’s still value in what they provide, since they spend a significant amount of time with the vendors in order to understand their offerings. Customers these days realize that they need to bring together analysis and opinions from a number of sources — large analyst firms, independent analysts/consultants, professional services firms, and practitioners at other customers — in order to inform their own opinions about a particular vendor or product. Some of these resources will be paid, others will be free.

Column 2 has been running for a while now and your opinions are highly regarded in the BPM/ ECM space. How did that all really kick off ?

I started Column 2 almost five years ago, mostly to have a venue for conversations about what’s happening in the BPM space. I’ve worked for myself for over 20 years (except for a brief stint with FileNet in 2000-1) in three different companies that I’ve started, but my current company is the first where I’ve worked alone. Although I spend a lot of time with clients or doing vendor research and briefings, much of my time is spent heads-down in my home office, researching and working on projects. Five years ago, with no peers at the next desk to have a conversation with, blogging and commenting on others’ blogs was the best way to have discussions about specific topics such as BPM. Today, we have the potentially constant online interaction of platforms such as Twitter, which explains why I’m blogging less: the short links and conversations end up on my Twitter feed @skemsley. I like the long form of blogging, however, and have a number of unfinished posts that I want to get back to before they become too stale.

Has there been anything that’s made you question why do you bother ?

There have been a few trolls over the years, but not so many to make it unbearable; mostly, the benefits vastly outweigh any negatives. One of the reasons that I like writing is that it’s part of my thinking and design process, so I blog as much for myself as for others. It’s a great online portfolio of ideas, and much of my new business comes to me because someone read my blog. It also makes me part of loosely-knit group of BPM bloggers, many of whom are also independents, that freely exchange ideas. Those things will probably always make blogging worthwhile, even though the frequency may wax and wane.

Tell us a BPM related joke.

I don’t really have a joke, but have a funny anecdote from a BPM conference that I was at recently. The very charismatic CEO of a BPM vendor gave a lengthy and heartfelt presentation on how we had to empower the business users to design their own processes. I happened to be sitting next to one of the vendor’s customers, and after the presentation, I asked him if they gave that vendor’s BPM tools to their users or analysts in order to design their own processes. His response: “Hell, no!” The dichotomy between what the vendors are marketing and what their customers actually do with the products always makes me laugh. And cry.

What’s your definition and philosophy for BPM ?

Like most analysts, I see BPM as being both the management/governance process around business processes, as well as the technology used to enable those processes. As a technologist, however, I often tend to focus a lot on the technology side of things. I’m not really sure I have a BPM philosophy, except that I believe it can make people’s work lives better by removing a lot of the mindless grunt work that can be automated.

If there was one thing you could tell someone who is just starting out on the BPM journey what would it be ?

Do the simplest thing possible and get it into production as soon as possible, since using BPM changes your entire view on what it can do, often invalidating your previous requirements. Use an Agile development methodology; i

f possible, use your process maps as your req
uirements for the first version. Minimize custom code. Involve the users in the process design stage as much as possible.

Tell us about the cat. Can she draw a process map for us ?

She’s not much for drawing process maps — no opposable thumbs, you know — but is a serious efficiency expert, having perfected the task of sleeping on the desk.

What’s your take on the number of vendors jumping on the ‘Social BPM’ scene ?

Social BPM has a few different dimensions: primarily, I see it manifesting in the areas of collaborative process modeling, and collaborative process execution. There are few vendors doing interactive collaborative modeling; most are positioning themselves for collaborative modeling via a shared repository requiring a save/check-in after editing before others can see the changes. However, I think that fully interactive collaborative modeling is more cool than useful in many situations. Collaborative process execution, however, is a real game-changer, especially when it allows a process participant to design their own subprocess to execute at a step within a structured process. There are a few players on the market with this capability now, and many others claiming that functionality but really just allowing a task to be reassigned to another user. Since there’s a great deal of confusion about what “social BPM” really is, the vendors will be able to get away with that for a while. I’ve written a couple of papers on this recently — one for the Springer BPM Handbook, and one for the Cutter IT Journal — as well as giving conference presentations, it’s a bit of a favorite topic for me.

There’s been a wide range of comments made in the interviews about what people would like to see happen next in BPM, ranging from Virtual Worlds, Education, Simplification….What’s the next big thing you’d like to see happen in BPM, whether technical or business related ?

I’d like to see the BPM conference monopoly broken. There’s a definite place for a high quality, vendor-independent (and analyst-independent), relatively inexpensive conference that provides some real value to BPM practitioners. There’s also a place for a vendor-only conference, much like what the BPM Think Tank used to be, to help drive out BPM standards and provide opportunities for networking.

Wes Chung from Lombardi made reference to ‘unconferences’ in his interview, have you been involved in any and what was your experience ?

I’ve done a lot of unconferences since about 2006 — MashupCamp in Silicon Valley, Enterprise2Open in conjunction with the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, and several here in Toronto where we have a really vibrant and slightly subversive tech community (BarCamp, EnterpriseCamp, TransitCamp, CloudCamp, ChangeCamp, CrisisCamp) — search my blog for “unconference” for some of my experiences. I really like unconferences, since they provide the opportunity to hear about ideas that likely wouldn’t see the light of day in a regular conference format. You can find out more at

Finally, what next for Sandy Kemsley ?

Good question. I’ve just come off two fairly large projects for end-customer organizations that took most of my time in 2009, and I’m thinking that I’d like to spend a bit more time on the industry analyst part of my business. I’ve also been spending some time on some non-profit initiatives, such as the Crisis Commons projects that have come up in response to the earthquake in Haiti. I think that 2010 will be a year of diversification for me.



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