An Audience With….Dr John Bates, CTO at Progress Software

Dr. John Bates is Chief Technology Officer and Head of Corporate Development and Strategy at Progress Software.

In this role, John is responsible for the company’s vision, strategy, evangelism and M&A. Prior to joining Progress, John was the Co-Founder, President and Chief Technology Officer of Apama, the pioneering Complex Event Processing software vendor – ultimately acquired by Progress.

In the dim and distant past, John was a tenured academic at Cambridge University in the UK where he led research into distributed computing systems. 


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


There are reasons to believe that BPM vendors did not suffer from the down turn in 2009. Many believe this is so because BPM enables companies to increase their efficiencies and reduce cost.


We expect, and most analysts believe, that the BPM market will continue to grow double digit in 2010. The market consolidation will also continue and smaller BPM vendors will find it harder to compete with larger companies who will have comprehensive and competitive BPM offerings.


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 ?


With regard to BPM capabilities, customers are specializing their initial buying criteria and then expanding from there.


The 3 key capabilities of BPM are:


1. Business Process Analysis (BPA) — which is all about modeling, analyzing, simulating and optimizing the process designs.


2. Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) – which is about creating the process based applications


3. Business Process Improvement (BPI) — which is about improving the business processes by creating the process metrics or KPIs, monitoring them, analyzing them and getting process improvement information from that.


Customers have started identifying these needs separately and often elect to not buy a full BPMS suite if they need BPA or only BPI.  But they want to make sure that once they start with one approach, their efforts will not be wasted and can be leveraged, e.g. going to BPMS from BPA or BPI.  In a growing number of cases, BPI customers are asking for capabilities to help them avoid re-implementing their processes in a BPMS in order to get benefits from BPM. They want to model, monitor and improve the process without execution in BPM. This delivers very quick ROI and lower initial costs.


What’s your definition and philosophy towards BPM ?


BPM allows companies to :


Define, document and analyze business processes


Rapidly turn business processes into agile applications that provide visibility into operations 


Define, monitor and improve business metrics, and increase efficiency by managing daily work 


Encourage and facilitate collaboration and the interface between IT and business


The key business values of BPM are: visibility, agility, efficiency and business empowerment. 


VISIBILITY – It’s critical to have visibility into your business processes and monitor what is going on in the business. Timely notifications are key to steering clear of a disastrous situation or avoiding huge fines and liabilities if your system drifts out of regulatory compliance. 


AGILITY – Organizations don’t have the luxury of 12 to 18 month software upgrade cycles. Circumstances can change in a matter of weeks or a couple of months, and the processes that govern businesses need to adapt just as quickly. A BPM solution must provide the change management functionality to accomplish this in days rather than months.


EFFICIENCY – To maximize efficiencies, your business processes need to be “lean and mean” — devoid of wasted time and effort. That means knowing your processes: where are the redundant steps, where are the bottlenecks, removing  wasteful business activities and eliminating shadow processes that create systemic inefficiencies. 


BUSINESS EMPOWERMENT – People closest to the process are the most knowledgeable about it. It is critical, therefore, that business users are engaged in all process management and improvement activities. The tools they employ to describe their processes and document requirements must be suited for their use. Business empowerment is all about giving business users the capability to make decisions quickly on their own. 


These values are critically important for enterprises of all sizes and no other technology delivers them better than BPM Suites do. But can BPM Suites deliver these values better? We asked some of our customers this critical question and the answer was that while current BPM Suites deliver these values better than other alternative technologies do, their growing needs are not met fully, which is where Progress’ RPM (Responsive Process Management) comes in.


And what’s the difference between traditional BPM and Progess’ RPM (Responsive Process Management) ?


Let’s address that question in terms of the benefits of BPM: visibility, agility, efficiency and business empowerment. 


While the visibility afforded by current BPM Suites is very useful, it is not sufficient because it does not include visibility into business events and transactions that impact the execution of business processes. Our customers see the need to extend the “sensory nervous system” of BPM.


While the agility afforded by current BPM Suites is above and beyond traditional business applications, it is not enabling them to respond to critical events in and around their business. Businesses need to be responsive not just agile. The ability to change a process parameter or a process model to eliminate a process bottleneck is agility, but responding to the correlation of two trade events that indicate fraud by launching an investigation process achieves operational responsiveness.


While enterprises achieve significant efficiency by using current BPM Suites and improve their bottom line positively, they are not able to take advantage of opportunities for improving their top line.


While current BPM Suites increase and enhance the role of the business community in defining their business processes, it does not allow them to express the impact of business events on their business metrics, and conversely the impact of process events on their overall business objectives.


Recognizing that BPM is a vitally important capability for business and IT decision makers within the enterprise, Progress Software takes the perspective that BPM combined with Event Processing and Business Transaction Assurance enables enterprises to achieve the highest levels of operational responsiveness.  This is what RPM provides. 


With RPM enterprises are able to:


Achieve end-to-end business process visibility to detect and resolve any system bottlenecks and exceptions ensuring every business process is completed successfully. 


Capture, analyze and respond to opportunities and threats to the business through business event processing in real-time; 


Analyze the data, events and transactions to continuously improve the business processes.


Do you see an eventual convergence between BPM, CRM, ECM and other similar process-centric markets given recent activities with Pega and Salesforce ?


We believe that for any enterprise class BPMS it is important to support 7 usage patterns.


1. Human Centric


2. Document Centric


3. System Centric


4. Decision Centric


5. Event Centric


6. Case Management


7. Project Oriented processes


Progress|Savvion BPM supports all these and the document centric processes, case management processes and project oriented processes represent the convergence of BPM towards ECM, CRM and PPM respectively. There will still be a place for CRM, ERP solutions but BPM will make those more process oriented and help to orchestrate the process activities across multiple of heterogeneous and geographically distributed systems.


A lot of mention has been made of dynamic and ad-hoc processes and workflow in Case Management, do you see a shift in traditional structured vs. unstructured happening ?


As businesses become more responsive to their environment there is realization of the need for more unstructured processes. This is not a total shift as there will still be processes that are not that ad hoc and will be quite structured and can be easily defined at the design time with reasonable certainty. But for more dynamic and agile processes there is a need for unstructured processes, late binding of sub-processes, adhoc routing, intelligent work allocation and collaboration – all of which allows for delivering case management usage patterns. These usage patterns are already provided by Progress|Savvion BPM.


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 ?


We believe there is. While those who know the space do not need analysts’ reports/evals, which are sometimes outdated by the time they are published, many people who are new to BPM and want to learn about it and decide how they should go about selecting a BPM for their enterprise rely on analysts’ reports and evaluations.


It is also very exciting that the independent blogs, insight columns and tweets have emerged in the BPM space. They keep one up-to-date with the latest happenings and opinions in the industry – and indeed accelerate its evolution.


There’s a shift towards Cloud/ SaaS 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 ?


SaaS is here to stay. More and more applications will be delivered in SaaS model as it just makes good economic sense. Social BPM is interesting and we’ll see how it matures. We believe these capabilities will be needed – and indeed Savvion BPM offers a lot of collaborative and social features like collaboration, chats, discussion threads, wikis etc. The true test of social behavior will come if people start sharing their processes and even exchanging processes outside of their organization — but it will take time to get there. Process is a very significant part of a company’s intellectual property and a source of competitive advantage. Why would you share that? Social BPM (outside your organization), for now, seems to be limited to non-differentiated processes or driven by some standard organizations like eTOM, SCOR, ITIL etc.


CEBP (Communication enabled business processes) is another interesting and very real space and we are seeing a lot of customer interest in this area. We have solutions that add voice to your process and processes can be completed via your mobile phone — through a UI, or by pressing buttons, or by just speaking into it. Imagine you applied for a loan and a call comes in for you to say “Yes” to accept or “No” to reject the offer which is one step of a loan origination process.  We just delivered a prototype of such a process on the iPhone to one of our customers.


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


First of all make sure what the need is — is it BPA, BPMS or BPI? Make sure you can start from any of these and move to the other ensuring a rapid ROI and without throwing out all your work. Make sure you have a well defined, well contained “First Project” for a quick first win. Make sure that you have some governance defined around process definition and process improvement. Make sure that your BPM does not become your new legacy.


And if that is too much, I’d tell them to “just start modeling and analyzing your processes using a good BPA tool like Progress|Savvion BPA. Also, remember that a business process is more than just a flow diagram!”


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


Well, with RPM we have delivered visibility, responsiveness and continuous process improvement not only for processes implemented in BPMS but across your business eco-system. BPM should not be limited to processes automated in a BPMS. BPM needs to deliver visibility beyond processes within BPMS. Businesses not only need to be agile but more responsive. Just cost efficiencies are not enough, we also need to identify and leverage revenue opportunities. Business will not only monitor their processes but will need to control them.


These benefits can only be achieved by a sound architecture that includes processes, events, business rules and visibility.


I, along with others, have waited many years to see a true next generation application platform that enables code-free development, uniting business and technical users. I believe BPM has provided us with the starter framework for this. RPM has “operationalized” this framework – giving it a sensory nervous system. Our ultimate goal is to prove that through enabling a wide range of real operational customer use cases with rapid time to market, and scalability suitable for the “cloud era”, that a true next generation of app platform has arrived.


Finally, what next for Dr John Bates ?


My colleagues tell me that I’m either too old, too ugly or too uncoordinated to achieve some of my dreams, including astronaut, film star and racing driver. I haven’t given up yet šŸ˜‰ But the goal I’m focusing on right now is helping to transform Progress Software into a solutions-led company, selling to the business – proving our unique value in the market through the ROI that can be delivered by RPM. Our acquisition of Savvion was one of the key steps on that road.


Beyond that, I do have a long-term desire to get back to my entrepreneurial roots and help to create another company. I made every mistake possible when starting my last company Apama (the Complex Event Processing pioneer) – so it should hopefully be easier next time!




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