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In BPM vendor merger, is anybody afraid of the Big Blue wolf?

IBM announced this week that it was buying Lombardi, a successful and well-known BPM technology vendor. Lombardi has a range of tools that are both innovative and affordable for midmarket organizations (a few of which I’ve spoken to this year). But with some overlap between the two BPM portfolios, I wonder what this means for Lombardi’s midmarket customers – will IBM keep the products separate, or will it try to blend and rebrand Lombardi’s offerings into a more expensive piece of technology?

Why did IBM decide to make this pre-holiday purchase? According to IDC, the market opportunity for BPM software will grow to $3 billion by 2013. IBM was looking to fill out its portfolio and extend its reach beyond enterprise-wide process management software. Lombardi tends to take a more bottom-up and departmental approach, with a human-centric perspective; IBM’s take is more of a top-down, enterprise approach. The combination of the two could pave the way for an organization to start at either end and grow its BPM initiative and strategy in the direction it needs to.

Lombardi’s senior director of analyst and press relations, Wayne Snell, told me via email that the partnering will benefit organizations of all sizes. For Lombardi, joining the IBM portfolio means getting companies started with process improvement more quickly, “at a business problem level.”

But that’s for future customers. As always with technology vendor acquisitions, the issue for existing customers is continued support and upgrade paths. According to Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester Research, in his recent blog post, few vendors integrate and unify acquired software assets successfully.

“In particular, stack vendors often alienate legacy customers (i.e., customers using the platform prior to acquisition) in lieu of cross-selling to their installed customer base (i.e., customers using the stack vendor’s other assets),” he writes. Take Oracle’s acquisition of BEA, where simplicity was swallowed up by a larger corporation.

With the IBM deal, there will be some overlap. Lombardi Blueprint and IBM BlueWorks are good options for organizations starting out with BPM, as a way to guide strategy. Will IBM keep both, adding yet another decision to be made when navigating the already complex IBM BPM portfolio (WebSphere Process Server or FileNet P8?), or will it replace BlueWorks with Blueprint?

If you are an existing Lombardi customer, how much does this concern you?

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