On June 12th, IBM Southbank hosted a one-day version of its Impact 2012 conference. As one would expect, the event featured a set of corporate presentations showcasing the latest enhancements to the extended family of WebSphere products.

Equal billing was given to case studies and best practice, involving guest presenters from IBM customers and business partners, and these really brought the event to life.

The following represents my impressions and selected key take-aways.

Different customers and business partners clearly had diverse priorities and expectations.

For some it was all about mobile, for others business process management (BPM) was centre stage, and for at least one organisation, the most important aspect of the core WebSphere developments was the promise of WebSphere light in the form of Liberty Profile.

What they all had in common was a recognition that there is indeed a need for businesses to change the game (the tag line for the event), and that technology has a key part to play; but it has to be technology that delivers reliability, scalability, flexibility, security and the ability to integrate systems quickly.

IBM enhances its mobile portfolio
The announcement of the IBM Mobile Foundation was one of the most important developments of 2012.

As confirmed by discussions with both business partners and enterprise delegates at the event, companies are increasingly aware of the dangers inherent in the device-specific let’s-develop-an-app-for-that approach.

This typically involves using whatever tools come to hand, or outsourcing development, without having a mobile strategy in place, and without taking into consideration the security and process implications of such ad-hoc deployments.

And indeed, some of the companies present had already had their fingers burnt, while others had decided to take an ultra-cautious approach and were actually waiting for IBM to flesh out its offerings in the mobile arena.

From that perspective, the acquisition of Worklight earlier in the year was clearly a game changer, in that it plugged the biggest gap in IBM’s mobile portfolio.

The speed with which IBM brought an integrated offering to market has been impressive. Sure, more work remains to be done, and it certainly helped that Worklight already supported WebSphere.

Like any software product, Worklight isn’t perfect.

That said, the pros and cons slide shown by a developer from one of the business partners featured a much longer list of strengths than weaknesses. 

From a positioning perspective, IBM is making sure to emphasise that mobile capabilities are about business-to-enterprise (B2E, including business partners in IBM’s definition) as much as they are about business-to-consumer (B2C).

All in all, Mobile Foundation goes a long way towards meeting the needs of organisations wanting to put in place industrial-strength mobile capabilities.

One challenge that remains is for IBM to provide clear roadmaps of its existing mobile capabilities and how these relate to the Mobile Foundation portfolio, as well as to highlight where partnerships continue to plug remaining holes.
The increasing importance of Web APIs

Not all organisations can, or want to, provide every possible application that could be of use to their business partners or customers, regardless of delivery channel.

Equally, they don’t want to be exposed to the risks inherent in workarounds, such as third parties developing screen scraping applications.

What they can do is make APIs available that allow others to develop applications, but in a manner that ensures the integrity of the data and functions that are being accessed.

This is why the release of Cast Iron Live Web API Services is worth highlighting.

These not only facilitate the creation of secure APIs, but also mitigate the risks of uncontrolled API access by providing controls as well as analytics and developer management.

The benefits of BPM and process automation
In what was arguably the most compelling as well as entertaining presentation of the day, Natalie Semmes of KPMG shared her experiences on what it took to put in place the processes required to compensate UK banking customers for mis-sold products.

When asked for help by one of its banking clients, KPMG decided against the largely manual approach typical of the industry (and past remediation exercises).

Instead, the team opted for a BPM-driven approach, using IBM technology, and offered as a managed service. The results speak for themselves: Case worker productivity went from one or two cases per day to 17, of which only 1 per cent require rework, compared with an industry average of 10 per cent.

The level of automation and integration also has quality assurance baked into the process, which facilitates proof of compliance.  

The importance of putting in place a solid, BPM-supported foundation was also illustrated by Kitson Kelly of BSkyB, who shared his experience of what it meant not to be able to respond quickly enough to a business whose requirements are subject to constant change.

Following BPM deployment, Kit’s part of the business is now in a position to support rapid and frequent process amendments, and could well be setting an example for others in the organisation.

Aside from these two examples, many discussions revolved around the importance of automation and BPM in the current environment.

As one delegate put it: “Businesses change their minds because they have to.” He could have added: And they need IT to provide the technology foundation that allows them to either stay in the game, or change the game.

Martha Bennett, VP, Head of Strategy, Freeform Dynamics

Pic: morgaine cc2.0