IBM has signed a deal to buy Lombardi, a BPM (business process management) vendor. 

BPM software helps companies develop, implement and manage business processes, such as the steps involved in hiring help or buying supplies. IBM's WebSphere product portfolio already includes a wide range of BPM software.

There is "a great fit" in IBM's portfolio for Lombardi's Teamworks and Blueprint software products, which already support WebSphere, Lombardi CEO Rod Favaron said in a blog post.

"We also have many joint customers and partners - so we understand the types of expanded product and service offerings that are needed to drive enterprise level success with BPM," he added.

The pending acquisition, terms of which were not disclosed,  is one of more than 90 IBM has made since 2003.

IBM has been looking for an acquisition that could help it sell BPM to line-of-business executives, rather than IT staffers, "and Lombardi surely fills that gap," Forrester Research analyst Clay Richardson said. "Of course, this will introduce further stack confusion, but if executed properly it could parachute IBM into successful deals led by line of business managers."

Craig Hayman, general manager, IBM application and integration middleware, seemed to echo that assessment during a conference call, saying Lombardi's technology will specifically improve IBM's ability to "bring about the human-centric automation of business processes."

Big Blue sees big business in BPM down the road. It already has 5,000 BPM customers, according to Hayman.

The BPM market is set to grow from US$1.7 billion this year to roughly $3 billion by 2013, according to an IDC report released in August.

As BPM sales grow, buyers will become more sophisticated about their needs, meaning "the market will begin to segment itself even further than it has," IDC analyst Maureen Fleming wrote. "Generalised BPM offerings are likely to begin specialising for competitive differentiation, while the offerings from larger vendors will increasingly be integrated with their application platforms."

BPM providers will also need to ensure their products "broadly support process applications," Fleming added. "That means strong interoperability with business intelligence tools, as well as the ability to create and adapt user interfaces - or directly support third-party development environments."

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