An Audience With….Chris Adams, VP of Ultimus

Chris Adams is the Vice President of Product and Technology at Ultimus, responsible for Ultimus’ product road map and product vision. He provides guidance and oversight for the Ultimus development team, international product management team, and overall product release strategy. Previously Chris oversaw global product marketing and product management direction and vision for Ultimus, identifying and prioritizing new product opportunities for new and existing applications. With extensive experience in software application management and leadership he now has specific interests researching social technologies and ways to integrate them with BPM. Chris has been with Ultimus since 2000. 


There’s been a lot of movement in the vendor space in the last 6 months, with M&A activity internally and Pega acquiring Chordiant to broaden it’s overall strategy, do you envisage more of the same in 2010 ? 

As BPM is becoming commoditized and BPM Suites are becoming a “portfolio play” for large IT stack vendors, I do see other BPM pure plays being bought (and some of the largest BPM vendor acquiring peripheral technologies to BPM).  This is a good and bad thing as I see it:  a good thing in that acquired companies may have a new influx of cash and a bad thing as product innovation could be stifled by requirement product alignment with other technologies in the stack.  Ultimus’ current day operations are focused on organic growth and economic responsibility.  Ultimus’ 2010 financial projections are based on self-sustenance and not having to rely on external investments.

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 ?

While Ultimus obviously is a business, a BPM software business, Ultimus listened hard to its customers in 2009 regarding economic uncertainty.  While Ultimus still worked on net-new software license deals, Ultimus set up a process improvement and transformation initiative to work with our existing customers.  Many of our customers had limited budgets in 2009 for new software growth, but were being challenged by their executives to ensure all existing operations were streamlined and optimized (and had identified operational budgets for this optimization effort).  Ultimus established new BPM / BPMS training programs and a road show into our existing customers to identify a number of transformation and optimization opportunities:

–          Process modeling and RTO – to further analyze their existing processes to identify optimization changes

–          Reporting, Alerts, and iBAM (Ultimus’ BI offering) – to ensure customers were getting the real-time information they needed from their processes to understand how they are working for them

–          COEs – despite being a cliché, Ultimus has found that while many customers understand the power of a BPMS, they do not understand how to grow it and sell it internally.  Ultimus’ COE-assistance program has helped customers recognize the value and power of process

With these transformation and optimization opportunities, Ultimus achieved two points:

–          Helping existing Ultimus customers sustain economic turbulence via process optimization, growth, and maturation

–          Setting seeds for process and revenue growth opportunities in 2010 

This plan has already worked well for Ultimus, as we easily achieved our Q1 revenue goals and have signed numerous large-sized deals with existing customers on new process growth opportunities.

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 indeed the need for BPM itself to support strategy ?

Ultimus has seen customers exercise control and constraint on new software purchases in 2009.  Ultimus’ licensing model for our BPMS allows customers to purchase our BPMS by the process, by the user, and/or by the CPU.  This allows customers to make a smaller initial investment in Ultimus for just a single process or just a small group of departmental users.  With the first process up and running, and initial ROI goals met, Ultimus is seeing customers upgrade their licenses to larger process and user package deals.  Interestingly enough, Ultimus is also seeing customers ask for costs for upgrades to the enterprise licensing tier (to determine how much more it would cost to invest in a BPMS platform to ensure no future licensing costs would ever have to be purchased again).

What’s your definition and philosophy towards BPM ?

There are two things I always keep in mind when I think about BPM and talk about BPM to customers, partners, and opportunities:

–          People

–          Simplicity 

We both know that BPM is not a technology, per se….but even when it comes down to a BPMS, the technology is not the most important thing in my mind.  Yes, the BPMS needs to cater to the core fundamental concepts of BPM, but frankly, most BPMS’ do at this point.  I find that BPM projects where technology is the main driver ultimately become IT pet projects and become misaligned with the business needs of a company.  Ultimus’ legacy is human / people based BPM and that will continue to be Ultimus’ focus.  From an implementation perspective, Ultimus feels initial departmental BPM projects, growing upwards and outwards towards the enterprise level, makes the most sense and can be the most successful. 

Ultimus talks about Adaptive BPM, can you elaborate on what you mean and how it differs from traditional BPM ?

Despite the fact that process simulation methodologies have been part of BPMS’ for many years, many BPM initiatives start without process modeling.  This is the case for numerous reasons:

–          After taking the time to agree on a BPM initiative, once the decision is made, there is a strong desire to get “live” as fast as possible

–          Executive pressures to see BPM results

–          Often, the measure of a BPM initiative is how fast ROI can be achieved

–          At the SMB level, business analysts (or people trained in BA) are not staffed

Even if BPM initiatives are not employing process modeling, Ultimus customers’ need BPM success.  Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite provides the ability to:

–          Rapidly develop business processes (even if the business process is not developed fully)

–          Publish these processes as “live” quickly

–          Get real-time alerts and emails on how well the processes are executing (bottlenecks, process stalls, invalid recipients, etc)

–          Make incremental rule changes to fix these “unruly” process exceptions to live processes…..essentially, making the proc

esses smarter the longer you use them

ately, the processes “adapt” to how the businesses need them to run.  This adaptive methodology feeds back into the process life-cycle model, as the process model ultimately is shaped after how the process is used in real-life scenarios (rather than a business analyst to impose a model upon the business operation teams on how a process should be executed).

An  article in Forrester talked about  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 high brow research which is perceived to be vendor led/ driven given the rise of independent professional blogs and insight columns ?

I personally feel that the state of BPM today is best a “bottom up” approach rather than a “top down” approach.  Rather than “think tank” and high-level trending of BPM, what is important and current in today’s BPM space is a culmination of an understanding of how businesses are executing their processes.  While business process professionals are responsible for understanding how processes are executed, not enough time is spent talking to the people actually involved in executing the processes (these people are rarely interviewed by high brow research firms and do not get the opportunity to attend large-scale BPM conferences). 

Independent analysts, insight columns, and getting out of the office to visit customers is, in my opinion, the best way to understand how BPM needs to grow in 2010.  The BPM space needs a equalized and independent forum where:

–          Time and attention cannot be overly-influenced by funding

–          Independent product and market reviews can be posted by analysts knowledgeable of the space

–          Individuals (customers, partners, etc) can have access to this information freely and can also post to the site

–          Vendors can have access to this site and post information that is not sales or marketing driven

There’s a shift towards Cloud offerings, Social BPM fever is starting to take hold after a few years in the wilderness and some are venturing into the Mobile space, are these viable roadmaps for vendors to look into or just hype for now ?

I think the answers depend on the technologies:

·         Mobile space:  I feel this is absolutely critical for today’s business processes.  With international work teams and the majority of office workers outside of the office 4-walls, web-based access to business processes through mobile devices is critical

·         Social BPM:  I feel this is rapidly growing in important because of the fact that the old “structured” business process model from years ago abandoned the informal data exchange model.  In the old process model structure, technology forced users to formally connect into the process to record data exchange.  The reality of today’s work methodologies is that vital business information is exchanged in chats, emails, and side-conversations.  Today’s BPMS needs to offered less-structured ways to get users involved and connected to business processes and the abilities to “attach” any data medium used (documents, chat logs, emails, forms, etc) to the permanent process record

·         Cloud:  It is interesting to see how long the BPM space has been discussing this concept.  I think this is a case where the concept is easier than the reality was.  I feel integrations have really limited how fast and how deep the Cloud BPM model has moved.  Simple processes that do not require constant integration (Employee Onboarding, Purchase Request, etc) make for good process models in the cloud.  Business processes where sensitive information from other applications is required (Health processes, banking, etc) are process models where Ultimus’ customers desire to run them on premise (and control where the data is maintained and the protocols on how applications integrate with the processes)

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

Remember what the “B” in “BPM” stands for…  IT and Technology serve to support the business needs, and the business should not be up-ended because of a technology decision.  I am not saying here that business should have totalitarian control over IT (there are times where compromises must be made), but the right tool for the right job should be used when it comes to BPM.

What’s the next big thing you would like to see happening in BPM ?

It is my vision that BPM evolves into something that everyone in a company, at all levels, becomes involved with (without the need of formalized software).  I would like to see any action (receiving an email, saving an important document, scheduling a meeting) have the potential to impact or start business processes.  At the highest of levels in a company, I see executives shy away from technologies because they cannot learn to use them, do not have time to learn them, or simply prefer to stick to emails and chats.  At the other end of the spectrum, office workers are heads-down in a select few applications, over-worked, and do not have the time to incorporate yet another application into their day-to-day.  This leaves today’s BPM applications to the “middle ground” worker….yet business processes often involve EVERYONE in the company at some point.  While most every BPMS has an open architecture / API where by external events can impact business processes, I would like to see processes integrate with day-to-day operations without exact reliance on APIs. 

Finally, what next for Chris Adams ?

Being in the BPM space for 10 years has reinforced what I was taught to be true when I got my first software job….listen to your customer.  I love the field of software development, but from the customer advocacy angle (and less regarding the IT angle).  What I have been good at up to this point in my life is listening to people, understanding problems, and bringing the right solutions / people / technology to the table to develop a resolution.  My major interests in this point in my professional career is overseeing the development of insanely easy-to-use, adaptive solutions that can be easily picked up by anyone on any device.  In my opinion, new software adoption should not require training classes or manuals.  The software should learn the work patterns of its users, and from there, make suggestions on how the users can better leverage the software and become more productive with it.  



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