BMC jumps on the 'make everyone a developer' bandwagon

If software is eating the world, then developer platforms are giving it teeth. BMC wants a piece of the action.

bob beauchamp bmc ceo
Credit: BMC

At its Engage conference last week, BMC unveiled a beta version of a new development suite that it hopes will take the company out of its existing IT service management sphere, and onto greater things. (Disclosure: BMC covered my travel and expenses to attend the event.)

Of course, BMC has allowed for customized development on top of its Remedy product for years, but that has historically taken the form of IT service management (ITSM) related tasks and hasn’t really entered the broader realm of business process. With the new innovation suite, BMC hopes to enable developers and business users alike to create broad ranging applications.

This is not, of course, a novel idea. ServiceNow is also trying to create a broad developer platform on top of its ITSM assets. Salesforce has a vibrant developer ecosystem sitting on top of its joint Force.com and Heroku platforms. NetSuite is building an ecosystem on top of its own ERP solution. So what is BMC doing different, and what chance does it have to break out of the mold?

Well, first let’s look at what this product is, before prognosticating on its future success. The platform is cloud-based and comes with a number of discrete components:

  • Innovation Studio: A simple drag-and-drop UI for codeless development
  • A software development kit (SDK): tools and samples integrated with the studio
  • A library of connectors and components
  • REST APIs to integrate with external systems
  • Developer Education: Self-learning content

Naturally enough, BMC waxed lyrical about the announcement:

“This is a major step forward in BMC’s commitment to developers and building an ecosystem, where we support ‘no-code, low-code, and pro-code’ developer environment capabilities,” said Robin Purohit, group president, Enterprise Solutions Organization at BMC. “This new suite empowers business users and enterprise developers to accelerate digital apps and services getting to market through agile app development, and will offer a huge competitive advantage to those companies adopting it.”

My initial was response was to be incredibly dubious about this product for several reasons:

  1. While IT is still important, ITSM will become less important as infrastructure simply becomes “plumbing.” With the growth of cloud computing, outsourcing and the increasing demands on organizations, a heavy focus on IT management will be seen as counter to true innovation and agility. That being the case, a development platform which is built within an ITSM context is, at best, applicable only for the small subset of organizations who will carry deep infrastructure-centricity into the future.
  2. Aligned with the above, the true innovation will occur in customer facing business models and offerings. As such a platform that is built on top of customer-facing solutions (such as, dare I say it, Salesforce’s CZRM-centric one or even NetSuite’s ERP-centric one) would seem like more logical bets.
  3. Let’s face it, BMC isn’t the first company that springs to mind when a young developer is questioned about enterprise technology vendors. It has a stigma of being a legacy vendor and this is counter to its future aims.
  4. BMC’s traditional “developer” base (and I use the term guardedly, I wouldn’t typify those building solutions on top of BMC’s legacy products as developers in the modern sense of the word) tend to be an older demographic that (excuse the generalization) and are not so firmly enmeshed in the cutting edge world of webscale, consumer services. As such their appetite for a platform like this could be regarded as limited. Hence BMC needs to reach a broader audience and for the reasons above, this is in no way guaranteed.

I put these issues to Purohit and asked for his take. He was quick to correct me that BMC is not trying to win the PaaS battle -- it’s not trying to compete with Salesforce, CloudFoundry or any of the other well-known platforms. Rather it wants to allow developers to embrace the existing BMC stack and envisage new solutions that can be built on top of that.

He gave some examples of use cases that, while not being in any way related to ITSM, are analogous to the way ITSM works. Things like new employee onboarding, where a developer can build an application that will dynamically run all the different processes to get an employee set up within an organization. He gave me the real-world example of a well-known transportation service provider who is using the platform, not in an IT service management construct, but rather to manage services across its transportation assets. The core theme here is that many organizational processes, even those outside of IT, look much like processes related to IT service. And since BMC has an unquestionable expertise in the ITSM area, it is not unrealistic to suggest that they could parlay this into other areas.

Other executives gave other examples of how the platform (which, admittedly, is only just now being released in a beta version) is being used to build solutions as varied as field service applications, candidate tracking applications, and agricultural procurement tools.

The other interesting thing for me is BMC’s insistence (for the right reasons, I might add) that the platform should be backwards-compatible with previous versions of BMC tools. While this is a lofty goal, and one which should be applauded from a “taking existing customers on a journey” perspective, I do wonder about the technical debt and speed of delivery impacts that decision creates. Indeed, one executive told me that the reason the platform is only being launched this year was because the much-debated decision was made to allow for backward compatibility. That BMC-stated ethos of caring for existing customers and partners has had a big impact on time to market.

The other, not insignificant hurdle is that of attracting new developers to the platform. I discussed this issue with Elizabeth Xu, the architect responsible for the platform. She spoke of engaging developers but also the broader community and explained that BMC has had universities come to it asking to undertake projects on the BMC platform. In her view, this is a reflection on students’ desire to gain experience with real enterprise-level tools that can lead to future job. To be frank, I am dubious that there is any real demand for this sort from universities -- while it is a fair comment that universities want to give students enterprise-level skills, my perception is that these establishments are looking more towards platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Salesforce as exemplars of a more modern take on enterprise.

MyPOV

It strikes me that the issue here for BMC isn’t so much one of technology, but rather one of a lack of a good narrative and smart go-to-market strategies. I came away from the conference with a clearer understanding of what this platform is, but it took a huge amount of heavy lifting to come to that understanding -- the messaging from the company is confused and conflicted, perhaps caused by the fact that while wanting to embrace the new “millennial” developers, the company doesn’t want to alienate its existing user base.

This also leads to go to market issues and I worry that BMC will find it hard to sell this product using the same channel and sales teams that it does for its more legacy products. Development platforms require a different way of thinking, talking and selling, and the traditional BMC salesperson is, I suspect, unlikely to, in the parlance of the millennials, grok those ideas.

Innovation Suite is an interesting product, and one with promise. But there are some holes in the strategy -- let's see how quickly they can be filled.

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