Dec. 8 2009 12:00 AM

Everyone has a list of things they would like to do but never get around to doing them. One of mine has been to collect the market size projections of some of the research terms, for any given product segment, and then compare them years later to the actuals. I have a feeling that retrospective view would make you wonder about the next forecast.

Another has been to follow the proclamations for products in the BPM and workflow space from the software manufacturers. As I get calls from companies that want to pitch me on their updates, I get that feeling of "deja vu all over again," as Yogi Berra put it.

It helps to understand the variations of the "what's new" theme so that focus can be spent on the good, interesting stuff, and the rest can be noted and written off as marketing hype. Marketers have an obligation to get visibility for their products; announcements of "new" is Trade Craft 101 for them. And as a product market matures and becomes crowded, marketers have to make some noise to draw attention. The BPM space is so crowded now that even niches are being segmented along platform lines, business lines, process types, and on and on. Even when there is nothing to say, an announcement is needed to combat the other guy's announcement.

For a lot of products, the new disclosure sounds familiar simply because they have said it before, but this time it is true. We'll use the example of a product evolving in its newness. Let's look at the metaphorical marketing evolution of a Person. When you look at it retrospectively, you can see the fleshing out of what the product was supposed to have been all along. It goes something like this: "Announcing the completely new Person, an entirely new product." It walks and talks and does terrific things, but after you have had one for awhile, you realize you have had a skeleton. You recall the press release that announced a whole new set of features you thought you had, which turned out to be muscles and organs. Even another media blitz announces the all-new "Person, Version 3," featuring skin and hair. Finally, around version 10, a brain came along so that the Person actually did what you expected it to do since the beginning. Of course, by then, the marketers would claim this is a mature product with a long history and market leadership.

There are a lot of flavors of "new." There is the truly substantive new; an example in BPM would be the addition of process simulation. This is a function that no product came with originally, and once one had it, every other product was in a race to add it. Then there is the "sizzle without the steak" new. Here is where I would put the current fanfare about delivery of alerts to your mobile device. Some people will find something new that is meaningful to them, but elicits yawns from others interested in the same product. The big blitz about support for .NET, BPEL or Exclipse might get your software team jazzed, but it hardly causes a stir with the business users. Give that same business user an announcement about the all-new dashboards, and they might yawn yet again - that is, until they are installed.

Taking the exact same product and putting it on a different platform will often be cause for trumpets and the red carpet. Since many BPM products can inherently manage multiple process threads, a current trend is to offer the product in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment. In this case, both the product and the delivery mechanism are not new, except perhaps to each other. But I must confess, the photo above should be showing more gray than it does. Maybe I should send an updated headshot so that I, also, can become new again!

JIM MINIHAN [], a pioneer of workfl ow and process management, is an acknowledged expert on automation of service sector enterprises and their processes.

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