Maybe IDS Scheer is the hidden jewel of the software world. Maybe it is the hidden champion of the overall enterprise (and service-oriented architecture) infrastructure. Maybe it is not a bad thing to have more on the back than you have on the front.
So says Dr. August-Wilhelm Scheer, founder, chairman and chief technology advisor of IDS Scheer, a business process modeling software and services company based in Saarbr??cken, Germany. Scheer developed the ARIS concept at the Institut f??r Wirtschaftsinformatik (Institute for Information Systems), followed by the ARIS software, which helps diagram business processes. The process documents are created in ARISand then turned over to another vendor-IDS Scheer has partnerships with SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Tibco Software and Hewlett-Packard, among others-for translation into IT systems. Yet few people actually know the company’s name.
During a recent conversation with eWEEK Senior Writer Renee Boucher Ferguson at IDS Scheer’s ProcessWorld user conference Feb. 13 to 15 in Orlando, Fla., Scheer made a case for his company’s place at the center of the software world.
Maybe we are the hidden champion. Maybe it is not a bad thing to have more on the back than you have on the front. But you are right; we have big customers, big names, like Boeing. For a small company that’s not bad to have these customers. But in many cases we are not as well known as we wish. That’s true. Also in some cases the customers do not really understand how these partnerships with these big companies work. Do we support each other, or is there overlap between them, or is there some competition between them? So sometimes it’s very difficult for the customers to understand.
But our position is very clear. That we do not go to the level of execution in the sense that we want to run our business software like SAP or like Oracle. Our philosophy is to be on top of these systems. Our BPM [business process modeling] suite helps customers to optimize the BPM process and then they can implement the processes with these just-mentioned software packages.
On the other hand with our BPM suite we see that we more and more [we must] go to the execution layer, but in a different sense. You see many customers have some issues which are not covered by SAP, which are not covered by Oracle, and so I think in the future-the future is not in the next month, maybe in a year-it will be possible that we can directly use our process models for deriving software based on SOA architectures so that you can directly, from our models, also derive the execution layer for very lean applications. I think this is our chance.
Is it the partnership with E2E or another vendor that will get you to the point of having an execution engine, or are you developing internally?
There are several of our partners with which we have this link to the execution layer. There are workflow vendors like Tibco and others, and also E2E, this is another solution. And they have understood the philosophy to bring the process models alive-that’s very good and we partner with them. But for specific applications we are also free to follow our own way. We will not compete directly with them but we have to think about our own strategy, our own architecture.
IDS Scheer’s Place in the Software World
Ok, so does that boil down to your own internal development of an execution environment?
I wouldn’t say it’s really an execution engine. What we are doing in the moment is working on a system as a part of our BPM suite, for our own applications for business process management. In this sense we are also an applications vendor, and the application is business process management. As an applications vendor we need a workflow engine. We are in the moment on the way to develop this. And there is just a small step also to go to the execution [layer] when we have this workflow engine as part of our BPM suite, and we can use it for customer situations. If the customer says we have already modeled many, many processes with ARIS, and there are some that are not supported with SAP or Oracle or others, then, OK, we can do a lean generation of this application and all the functionality of our BPM suite is available for this application. OK, this is our advantage.
If you are [providing] the process mapping for Oracle’s Fusion, for Microsoft, for SAP, does it at some point enable customers to have interoperability between services, based on the ARISprocess repository? Do you play that critical role, or do you plan to play that role in the future?
Yes, we do it already. We have big customers from the automotive industry and others, where they use processes on top of our business process management and they use ARIS; then we have IBM with WebSphere and others, and also SAP for the applications around the definition of the processes, and we have interfaces for IBM for the development tools of IBM and also to SAP, so we have exactly this kind of [thing] architected and they use it for their internal understanding of the architecture.
To clarify, I ask that question in the context of SOA, and the goals of SOA for interoperable processes…
This is not our problem. We could do it. We have this BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] interface, so we could go with BPEL to IBM and to SAP. But the question you should ask to IBM and to SAP is whether they open their SOA architecture and make their services interoperable. That is the point. In this case, the advantage, when it is possible, would be on the side of IBM-that IBM would call and assemble SAP services. But this is more a problem between these vendors-it’s not our problem. From our perspective it’s not the point. We have these standardized interfaces, we go to them. But how these software vendors really will open their services that they can work together-this is the point in the moment. I think it’s not really decided.
SAP talks about having the most services available of any vendor. You’re saying those services aren’t really open to other services?
I am not saying they are not open, but it is not that easy that they can be used by other platforms. The other thing is, [whether or not] the user really wants it, that he will take services from different vendors, because at the end of the day he has to follow compliance and governance ideals. And who, at the end of the day, would guarantee the solution that is assembled from different vendors? Will it really have a quality seal on it, that somebody guarantees the solution as a whole?
When you compare it with other developments, it is comparable 10 years ago with the database discussion. At that time all the databases were proprietary. IBM had its own database and the customers didn’t want any longer these proprietary systems. Then the discussion came up that OpenSQL as an interface [might be a better option]. But at the end of the day the new openness was Oracle. Everybody took Oracle and the user didn’t want to mix different databases, even when they were based on the same standard, SQL. Because when they mixed databases, they had different education and training requirements for the people, so there was a higher degree of complexity.
At the end of the day I think that companies will not pick services from different companies and from the Internet, because then they don’t know if there are guarantees for the development and maintenance [of composite applications]. I think the user will ask for simple solutions.
IDS Scheer’s Place in the Software World
What is your vision for SOA with respect to BPM and management?
We are on the way since 30 years, right on the beginning of our business software to make flexible, more easy to understand, to expand, to implement. So, in my sense, SOA is just one thing on a list and maybe in one year we can talk about something else that will come and go. But the principals behind this, they are true. They are staying. The things we are talking [about] in connection with SOA-How can we define a service?-there are very rough rules. You have to identify a service in such a way that the connections to a service are higher up. But these are rules we discussed 10 years ago when we talk about business objects (the objects, not the company), and it is the same thing.
So SOA for me is a powerful thing in that the key software companies have decided to go in this direction and so they promote this architecture. And this is the power behind it. So much … is not [new] with this. Maybe that in a year we are talking about something else-content-driven architectures, or something like that. SOA is just one step on the way to deliver more flexibility to the customer, and more, easier ways to implement software. So we have to look behind the principals of buzzwords-buzzwords come and go-at what is really the sense of such an architecture.
In the moment there are not so many companies which really have already implemented SOA. They have started. It is normal that after such a hype they will be disappointed because they cannot really realize the expectations. But this doesn’t mean that SOA is wrong or right. It is a normal curve. It will go down, it will go up. But after the technology is more accepted it will go up again. The ideas, wishes and dreams behind SOA we’ve had for many, many years. It will attract companies to go this way but there will be also a phase of disappointment.
Do you have an on-demand strategy for BPM?
Yes, of course we have do. That’s the reason, for instance, why we have decided to develop a workflow on our own, and not to buy an old fashioned workflow vendor. I think we have to go in new directions. This is the only chance we have in our company. And I founded also a company in the field of e-Learning ( IMC) some years ago-I am still the main shareholder of this company-and as we go in this new content-driven architecture, the visualization of content and all this, I am sure we will also combine it with our ARIS approach.
IDS Scheer’s Place in the Software World
Where do you see IDS Scheer in five years?
Oh my. The main target is that we are still independent. There is a concentration in the market. This is normal. I hope that we will find a way to be independent and we will see this as the direction. We see it on our software side, on the other hand, that we are very strong in our consulting business. There is no other consulting company in the world that has made their method so popular as we have done with ARIS. All the other consulting companies, like Accenture, they also have methods but nobody knows the name. Our name ARIS is at least as popular as the company name. So based on this I think we have a good chance to go in this consulting business where we can sell consulting like a product. From the very beginning we have had the deliverables, the methods we have applied and the forms by which [customers] get the methods. So this is our image and the basis for our success in the consulting business. We have to struggle hard like every company, but I think we have a good chance.
Many of your partners-such as Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and IBM-are pushing heavily into process-based modeling, development and management. Do you see them at some point becoming competitors?
IBM I think is going to be the fiercest competitor for us. Oracle and SAP, they have a stated partnership with us, and in some cases an overlap, but this is normal for any type of partnership. But in general I think this is a stable definition of the common field of interest. We are very close but then we have built up in our organization specific [avenues] for maintaining these partnerships and we are very close in discussions, so I think this is a good situation
Do you plan to do any acquisitions in the near future?
Yes, I think so. We have the highest amount of liquidity we’ve ever had. At the moment, the stock prices are down [for technology companies]. This affects us also. But there are always two sides of the same coin and so when the prices for our companies are going down then it’s a good situation to buy companies. So it’s a good time for us to think about this, so we will do it.
Would it be a technology buy, or a customer acquisition?
The best thing would be a mix. Just buying technology is not enough. Then we have to do the sales by ourselves. Buying just a sales channel without the technology also doesn’t make sense. So we have to look at both-a customer with a technology base, and a sales organization that’s been in the market for some while and has some experience in new technology. We will not buy old stuff.
How do you define new technology?
That which fits to our architecture or maybe an application for a specific industry or specific knowledge or something like that.