IBM BPM Review

A very stable and powerful tool for handling lots of concurrent users, but it is expensive, and the Eclipse-based tool has performance issues when you have a lot of developers

What is our primary use case?

I used it in my previous company where we did a lot of work with banks, financial institutions, and accounting firms. We were primarily using it for automating business processes, but a lot of them were really custom applications that used the process engine for making things happen. We were using it in innovative ways to make that BPM process engine do lots of other things that I'm not sure it was really ever designed to do. There was a lot of financial stuff. There were financial calculations that would fire off a SQL process and then get the results back. 

What is most valuable?

I liked its robustness the most. It was a very robust platform in my experience. It seemed like a very stable and powerful tool for handling lots of concurrent users and hammering at the system. 

What needs improvement?

It is a really powerful tool, but its entry price is so high, which makes it a very exclusive club for who gets to use it. 

The thing that seemed to be the most intolerable was that you could put lots and lots of users on it, and it worked fine, but if you put lots and lots of developers on it, it sure seemed to have challenges. The biggest challenge was the development because of the Eclipse tool. It just seemed like irrespective of the development team that you put together, whether it had 10 or 50 people, you would end up having to reboot the development server throughout the day when you concurrently had lots of people hammering on the system. The development server just got sluggish. This was true for every project I was on. Once you got more than about five people working on the system at the same time, it would just get slower and slower during development work, and the only way to fix it was to reboot the server. It became just like a routine. Sometimes, we would reboot at lunch or dinner time, which is silly. After the cloud instances started rolling out, I never saw that again. That was probably the one big advantage of the cloud version. Instead of using an independent Eclipse-based process development tool, we moved to web-based process and design. The web-based tool definitely had greater performance than the Eclipse-based tool. I never got onto another project after that with 50 people, so I don't know how the performance is when you get a large team on it, but it definitely seems that the cloud design tool was a massive improvement.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using this solution for a little over seven years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It was very stable. 

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is a powerful system. It can scale to really big numbers in terms of the number of users. You can put lots and lots of users on it, and it works fine, but if you put lots and lots of developers on it, it seems to have challenges.

It was a development house, and we had 25 people using it, but now, because of COVID, they have cut back, and there are probably 14 or 15 people left.

How are customer service and technical support?

There are different kinds of tech support. There is the free knowledge-based stuff, and they also have really good development support if you have a high-end contract. I have used all that, and it is pretty fine. Sometimes, we would find bugs, and they would send us a fix that would get rolled in with the next version. I don't like to be the one that uncovers real bugs, but it has happened.

Support was superior and absolutely wonderful if you could afford it. It is IBM, so if you're in that ecosystem, they expect you to have lots of money and be prepared to let it go.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

My first exposure to BPM was with IBM BPM. I had never heard of it before I got the job.

How was the initial setup?

Having used lots of software over my life, I would say this one is pretty much on the complex side. Before the cloud version, it was challenging to make sure you've got the right versions downloaded. They had so many different variants with different licensing agreements, and then the patching has to be done in a particular order. The installation has always felt like a homebrew scripting system rather than a really robust installer. It always felt like if you made one mistake, it might take you an hour to back out of it. It was not a very forgiving and intuitive installation.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

I wish it was less expensive. I don't know why their pricing model is so high for a piece of software that could benefit so many. It just seems to me that they could have a lower cost, maybe with fewer features or whatever, but it should be possible to do a lower cost workflow software that uses the same interface and underlying engine but does not cost so much that you have to be a Fortune 50 company to buy it. It is annoying to me. There are a lot of solutions that IBM has that are really powerful but nobody can afford them. They know their business, but I still feel that there are a lot of customers who would benefit from this sort of thing. I don't know what this elitism is all about. I am sure they have people doing the money numbers, but it seems like you can make a lot more money by selling it to way more people for a little bit less.

What other advice do I have?

When it first started, one of the things that were clunky about it was that it was ugly out of the box. It was not a very pretty program. There was a whole ecosystem of people who would do development on top of this IBM business tool, and everybody was coming out with their own toolkits to have a better UI application-wise. That was a real big problem. Towards the end, they bought up something called SPARK UI, and that toolset was significantly prettier and made the applications that you produce with BPM look a lot nicer. There are definitely some improvements there, and they are heading in the right direction.

In my previous organization, we had mostly moved to the cloud. Originally, I was doing server implementation, so we were running everything on AWS and EC2 instances. After that, we moved over to cloud-based stuff. I've been doing IT work for 25 years, and I've always been a get inside and figure out what's going on kind of guy. Personally, for troubleshooting, I don't like the extra layer of abstraction. I like being able to dig in and go right for the logs and see exactly what's happening. I like being able to see exactly what's going on performance-wise. The cloud instances felt a little further away, but on the other hand, I didn't really see any of the performance issues, so there wasn't a lot of troubleshooting to do. Maybe it's just me being old-fashioned, but I do prefer the ability to get in as far as I want to go into troubleshooting. BPM in itself was already running in a big Java instance on IBM, so it was already isolated in the operating system into its own Java Virtual Machine. There were already abstraction issues, but I did enjoy having more detailed access.

IBM has clearly invested a lot of money in making the product robust in developing it. At the same time, as an IT professional within the same career field, it is risky to be a single vendor ecosystem participant. It is really much wiser to have BPM development skills that would transfer to other platforms. I would say don't forget that there are other systems besides IBM BPM to fix automation and workflow challenges.

I would rate IBM BPM a seven of ten. It is really good and powerful, and you can do a lot with it, but its price is hard, and there are challenges using it.

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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