bpmNEXT 2013 — Disco wins Best In Show award

The beach at Asilomar

Conferences are work. If you are a university researcher, you go to academic conferences because you need another paper published. In commercial conferences, the focus is for vendors to get the email addresses of every potential customer they can find. And these potential customers are wary not to get caught up in a long sales pitch, because they’d rather move on and see the rest of the show.

What makes conferences memorable, and ultimately valuable, is mostly what happens in the corridors during coffee breaks, or in pubs in the evenings. People let their hair down and talk shop, they whip out their laptops to run you through a quick demo of some alpha prototype they are building, and they cook up the next great idea to work on together.

Bruce Silver and Nathaniel Palmer had similar thoughts, and they came up with a plan. Their bpmNEXT conference focuses exclusively on live demos of truly innovative functionality, and on an intimate setting that brings people together to exchange ideas and thoughts informally. I have to admit that I was initially a little skeptical whether a conference like this could be pulled off.

Keynote by Paul Harmon

Right from the start, it became clear that bpmNEXT was all that it promised to be, and then some. The conference was kicked off on Tuesday evening with an inspirational keynote from Paul Harmon where he charted the history of BPM and presented his analysis on whether it had “crossed the chasm” yet. After that, there was an informal gathering and drinks, and almost all attendees dove right into spirited discussions with their peers.

The next two days were filled with a brutal schedule of presentations. Each presenter had 20 minutes for their demo, followed by ten minutes of Q&A.; We had the very first presentation slot on Wednesday morning, on process mining with Disco, so we fortunately could enjoy the rest of the presentations in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Presenting Disco and Process Mining at bpmNEXT Image courtesy of Anatoly Belaychuk

Every presenter went above and beyond to show stuff that would be really interesting and new, and live demonstrations of new features and prototypes clearly dominated most presentations. No boring slides filled with bullet points and clip arts, but real software from the bleeding edge taking center stage. What a breath of fresh air. And the audience made sure to put the allotted Q&A; time slots to good use, with questions frequently sparking off lively discussions among audience members and the presenters.

If you are interested in the specific topics presented, I recommend Sandy Kemsley’s, as usual excellent, coverage of all sessions on her blog. There are also a lot of other detailed reviews of bpmNEXT, a selection of which I have listed at the end of this article. And, to top it off, video recordings of each presentation are also scheduled to be released on the conference website in the coming weeks.

California coast

What I loved most more about bpmNEXT was the atmosphere and the people. We met a lot of old friends again, met for the first time with many people we previously only knew from their work online or from Twitter, and got to know many more interesting and friendly people. It seemed like everybody had secretly conspired to make this conference an inspiring, open, and welcoming place for all1. At some conferences, once the official program is over, people split into their respective tribes, or a select in-crowd gathers at the cool kids' table. No such thing at bpmNEXT. Everyone was open and available, and everybody was interesting.

Receiving the bpmNEXT Best In Show Award from Bruce Silver and Nathaniel Palmer Image courtesy of Heather Palmer

Right before closing the conference on Thursday afternoon, all attendees could vote their three favorite presentations for the Best in Show award. And like the cherry on this delicious bpmNEXT cake, the audience picked our presentation on process mining with Disco! I should note we won this award by a very tight margin, reflecting the overall high quality of all presentations. The second place went to Dominic Greenwood from Whitestein, and the third to Keith Swenson from Fujitsu.

Receiving this award is a great honor to us, especially from an audience that was as close to a “who is who” of thought leaders in the commercial BPM space as you can probably get. Like our Best Demo award from last year’s BPM Conference, it confirms the enthusiastic reactions we get from our customers, and it is a great motivation to push ahead with our work on Disco and process mining.

Sea Elephants

After the conference, we took a few days off to make the jet lag worthwhile, driving on the Pacific Coast Highway down to Los Angeles. We saw a lot of beautiful nature, and visited quite some sights, but most importantly we relaxed and recharged our proverbial batteries.

In summary, my take on bpmNEXT is a clear thumbs-up. This is not a scientific conference, where you can peek into the far future. It is also not really commercial, you will probably not find at lot of leads, or get a precise vendor roadmap. What it does, though, is fill a vital niche – it is a place where you can have a look in the kitchen, just before things are ready to be served. And, most importantly in my opinion, it is a place where you can meet friends, old and new, and cook up ideas and plans in a relaxed atmosphere. It appears that bpmNEXT 2014 is already a done deal, so if this ever so slightly scratches your itch, you may want to schedule this one in.

Update: The video recordings of all bpmNEXT talks are now available online.

A lot of other, more eloquent people have written their take on bpmNEXT before. Here’s a short (and incomplete) list of further articles you may find interesting:

  1. Or else they are spiking the water at the Asilomar with something really awesome… ↩︎

Christian W. Günther

Christian W. Günther

Product development and everything else

Christian has that touch for creating software which looks good, is easy to use, and performs great. He has been a leading core developer for the scientific process mining tool ProM since 2005.