Sunday, March 09, 2014

The beginning of the end of Metastorm BPM

It looks like development of Metastorm BPM has, if not stopped completely, at least slowed down. So I thought I’d write something about my thoughts about what was a big part of my professional career. If you want the full history, this isn’t it, have a look at Jerome’s book.

For me, it all started sometime in 1997. I was writing software for a firm called Bacon and Woodrow that sold actuarial software. It wasn’t really my kind of thing, but it was my first proper job, something to add to the CV. I got a call from a former colleague, Richard Kluczynski, who’d gone off to write his own software, then got a gig with a software house called Sysgenics. Before the days of mobile phones (or at least before I had one), I remember having to wander the streets of Epsom to find a phone box to call him back to discuss properly, away from the office. It sounded interesting but it wasn’t the right time for me as we were trying to get the first Windows version of our software out the door.

A few weeks or months later I got a call from a recruiter asking if I was looking for a new job and telling me about a company called Sysgenics. We were still trying to get our Windows version out the door, but I guess getting called about the same company twice peeked my interest. I remember looking at their website and getting pretty excited about the screenshots of some kind of graphical tool for building workflows called e-work. Before I knew it, I was in Wimbledon for an interview with Steve Brown and Jerome Pearce. And an hour later I was in the pub. This was obviously a great place to work!

And it was. We had no customers but some VC money to keep us ticking over. We were using the latest technologies (Delphi and MS Access!). Having no customers meant we could build stuff and break stuff without having to worry too much about upsetting people using the software, so we were always making a lot of progress.

Before long we were bought out by Metastorm. Looking back, that was actually a bit weird. Initially they seemed to be some massive software company but looking closer, the one product they sold, InForms, was clearly coming towards the end of its life, since it was tied into the dying Novell Groupware. But they had what we needed, money, and I guess we had what they needed, some modern software to sell.

The years flew by, six in fact. By that point we had quite a few customers, the little startup was a proper software house. There was structure and rules, forms to fill in, basically not really my scene anymore. So I flew the nest to work for a financial software house in central London. But a couple of years after that, Jerome asked me to join his little band of Metastorm consultants. So I built a shed and got to work building stuff on top of Metastorm e-work. Metastorm e-work became Metastorm BPM, we carried on calling it e-work… Metastorm started rewriting it from scratch in .NET, releasing it as version 9 (missing out version 8, some kind of off by one error I think).

I’d probably still be working in my shed for Jerome had the financial crisis not hit, caused major stress to our main client who then couldn’t pay us. So I went to Croydon, regretted it almost immediately and started working for myself. Back to the shed…

Then I started doing some work for Steve’s new company, Business Optix. That eventually became a full time job and is where I am now. Meanwhile Metastorm got bought out by OpenText. Given the price they paid, you’d think anyone who’d taken up their share options would have done well out of the deal, but you’d be wrong. Somebody must have made a nice chunk of money out of it, but it wasn’t the people who’d originally developed the software (this isn’t bitterness on my part, I never exercised the option on my shares).

But not content with one BPM tool, OpenText also bought Cordys and Global 360. I guess the writing was on the wall for two of those products at that point, why would a company want three BPM tools? Anyway, it looks like Metastorm BPM is one of the victims. You have to wonder why OpenText bought them in the first place, presumably not for the customer base, already fed up with having to rewrite their processes for version 9, now fuming that they need to rewrite again in some other system.

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