IBM pushes biz agility with slew of new process tools

LAS VEGAS—There was a medley of more than 60 new offerings and enhancements discussed at IBM Corp.’s Impact conference that share the theme of allowing IT departments, through business process management (BPM), to deliver existing capabilities through new delivery models such as cloud and mobile.

Embracing transformational change by being an agile business was the theme of this year’s keynote, which coincided with IBM’s centennial year and featured actor and comedian Larry Miller.

Festivities aside, the Armonk, New York vendor believes that transforming a business is made possible with good business process management. Among the new offerings in this area, is IBM Business Process Manager version 7.5 with new rules and analytics, a software-as-a-service called IBM Blueworks Live for better visibility across the business to accelerate processes, IBM BPM Industry Packs for industry-specific ways to design processes for banking, health care and telecommunications, and a global consulting BPM service.

There was also mention of the newest version of the company’s middleware, WebSphere 8, due out this summer with enhancements including a new install manager, migration tool kit, extension to new mobile apps such as Android, Apple and BlackBerry, and security and performance boosts.

Onstage, Caterpillar Inc., an IBM customer who is a vendor of cat machines and engines based in Peoria, Ill., explained how it has been focusing on transforming various parts of its business including supply chain optimization, inventory reduction and labour cost across its 500 locations in 50 countries.


Caterpillar’s chief information officer, John Hellar, said connecting the digital and physical worlds allows the company to manage a smart fleet of trucks that applies analytics to track scheduling and cost.  

“We are confident we will deliver more than one hundred million dollars in annual benefit through those set of processes,” said Hellar.

The convergence of technology and the physical world is what underlies IBM’s Smarter Planet vision for the integration of smart systems into everyday living such as health care and transportation. John Iwata, senior vice-president of marketing and communications with IBM, told the audience that, across the company’s hundred-year history, technology has gradually moved from the data centre to the mobile devices and now to the world.

“Some call it smart dust,” said Iwata. “We’re putting computing into things you would never recognize as a computer.”

Later at a press conference, Hellar, who has been with Caterpillar for 38 years and has seen his fair share of IT projects, said that transformational change can only be achieved if the initiative aligns with strategy, and if there is leadership support. Chasing technology, he said, won’t bring success.

In fact, a recent academic study found 70 per cent of transformational projects fail. Hellar said his IT organization doesn’t use the term “IT projects” anymore, preferring instead to make reference to “business transformational projects.”

At Caterpillar, Hellar said IT staff are placed in business process areas “as one of them” across the organization to prevent fragmentation of effort.

Robert LeBlanc, senior vice-president for IBM’s software and middleware group, told a group of reporters that organizations understand their business processes much less than they think. While the IT leaders may understand the processes, given they are built into the applications, they don’t necessarily know how to improve them, said LeBlanc.

In 2010, BPM was one of the fastest growing areas for IBM.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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