Nimbus broadens Tibco’s BPM stable to appeal to business users
Tibco, an integration middleware vendor that traditionally had a software engineering focus, has been striving in recent years to add tooling that appeals to the business. The latest move is the acquisition of UK-based Nimbus Partners, a specialist provider of business process management (BPM) software and services geared towards general business users. Tibco already has its own BPM assets, which are geared towards technical users with an emphasis on automating structured processes. Nimbus’s technology provides an opportunity for Tibco to engage business users in BPM, in line with the extended functionality offered by other vendors in the BPM space. Given the contrasting styles of each vendor in orchestrating and managing processes, this merger gives Tibco an opportunity to send unstructured and structured process design, execution, and management tools to market in conjunction with one another. Nimbus does not replace Tibco Active Matrix BPM, but complements it. The challenge for Tibco will be to make the integration of automated (highly structured) and manual (loosely structured) BPM seamless.
Tibco is adding in the pieces
This move is part of Tibco’s recent strategy to expand outside its heritage middleware business by acquiring in complementary areas. Many of the recent acquisitions follow the pattern of adding business-focused tools that fit atop Tibco’s integration products. Numbus is a small acquisition; the privately held company has approximately $15m in annual turnover and 100 employees. Given Tibco’s size, that points to a modest and easily digestible price tag. Nimbus will initially be operated as an independent business unit. Ovum expects Tibco to retain Nimbus’s UK office and staff and merge it with its own Staffware-based engineering unit, which is also based in the UK. Nimbus has been steadily expanding its investments during the past year to build up stronger presence in North America. The company’s marketing engine should now allow it to ramp up its global presence much more quickly. In addition, Nimbus gives Tibco a firmer BPM foothold in Europe and penetration into more industries.
Nimbus’s flagship product, Control, automates and optimizes the flow of data between web services to support applications and business processes. Other BPM platforms, such as ARIS from Software AG (which acquired IDS Sheer), do more or less the same thing; however, ARIS uses a highly complex process language that is not very accessible to casual users. Nimbus claims it designed Control to be business user-centric, offering collaborative BPM discovery and analysis capabilities directly to front-line knowledge workers. There are many approaches to making BPM more collaborative; IBM and Software AG have adopted social networking-like approaches with cloud-based services. Tibco’s tibbr, which is a more general-purpose internal social networking tool, could also be used for this purpose and, in fact, would provide a logical outlet for business users to share and comment on the work performed via Nimbus.
The attempt to democratize BPM through collaboration (which relates to knowledge capture and documentation) is the underlying driver of Control’s claim to be a “process knowledge management” platform.
There is little overlap with Tibco’s existing BPM offerings
Although Nimbus was billed as a BPM vendor like Tibco, Ovum sees little overlap. This acquisition brings together two different yet complementary approaches to BPM. Nimbus’s Control is designed as a business user-focused BPM tool – it uses a friendly graphical interface to allow non-technical users (business managers) to design and tweak workflows. That is in stark contrast to Tibco’s BPM offerings – sold under the ActiveMatrix brand – which take a more technical approach that is largely dictated by its “speed-and-feed,” event-enabled infrastructure.
Tibco’s BPM offerings have largely focused on automation of data, systems, and processes. That is not surprising given Tibco’s background as a provider of integration middleware and its traditional focus on IT. Nimbus, on the other hand, takes a more business-centric approach that goes beyond just simple automation. For instance, Nimbus allows business users to collaboratively describe, document, and model all aspects of a business – from operational best practices to organizational and system models – to create, in Nimbus parlance, a process-focused “interactive operations manual” across the enterprise that is linked to supporting data and applications. Process governance is a key aspect of the tool. This approach is ideally suited for unstructured and unpredictable business processes that do not fit well with the rigid automated workflows associated with enterprise applications, yet still require some degree of structure and repeatability. These typically include compliance and business transformation and process improvement projects.
Tibco’s next logical step is to integrate Nimbus with tibbr
There is significant potential to integrate Nimbus’s document-centric BPM content with Tibco’s collaboration messaging tool, tibbr. Launched in January 2011, tibbr is Tibco’s answer to solving social networking sprawl in organizations. Its purpose is simple: to follow activity streams from individuals, discussions, and applications and bring all of these together in a single, easy-to-use interface. The software taps into process data in a company, using Tibco’s middleware and messaging systems to track information via SOA.
In the short term, that opportunity is where Tibco could get the biggest bang out of this acquisition. It represents a fertile opportunity for relatively simple integration and promotional pricing to get tangible penetration of this tool into the Tibco installed base. The benefits to Tibco customers will be visible, although not readily quantified through ROI. Ovum expects more ambitious efforts such as bidirectional repository-level integration to come next year.
Tibco will be able broaden its user audience for BPM beyond its current developer-centric focus
Nimbus will allow Tibco to expand its user base for BPM software from IT to business stakeholders. Until now Tibco’s BPM technology has primarily been marketed and sold to IT. Conversely, Nimbus has found it hard to sell to IT, which can slow sales cycles. Control is aimed largely at line-of-business managers – employees who are kept awake at night by words such as “governance” and “compliance.” The net benefits are that Nimbus provides Tibco with another offering for its arsenal to address the business; it is in line with like-minded acquisitions such as Spotfire, which offers a business user-focused analytics visualization tool.
However, having a product suited to business stakeholders and being able to sell it are two different matters. For the sales force, it means addressing new entry points to the organization, and for marketing, it means a higher level of messaging. Tibco has struggled with making its message intelligible to the business. However, in recent years the company’s emphasis on “the two second advantage,” which asks the question “What would you do if you had just enough information two seconds before your rivals?” has helped the company to start turning this trend around.
Overall, the broadened BPM focus and dual integration and unstructured process-centric capabilities will allow Tibco to compete better against business-focused BPM tool providers such as IBM Lombardi and Appian.
Consolidation continues to cull the market of independent BPM vendors
Many well-known BPM providers have been acquired recently. For example, OpenText acquired two of the largest remaining independent players, Global 360 and MetaStorm, earlier this year. This is a natural evolution of the market, and follows on from Progress Software’s acquisition of Savvion, IBM’s move for Lombardi, and the deal by Software AG for IDS Sheer. It also demonstrates that organizations are seeing process as the underpinning of other solution areas such as enterprise content management and business intelligence.
For smaller vendors to survive for any length of time, they will have to specialize. This could cover two key areas. Firstly, we will probably see specialization within technology, such as focusing on mobile and multi-platform delivery (for example, provided by Appian) alongside cloud-based solutions. Secondly, the ability to deliver domain expertise in vertical markets not dominated by larger stack vendors will become more important. This will allow niche players some leeway in maintaining their own business models – at least until the big boys want to enter those markets themselves, at which point we are likely to see more consolidation.
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