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A rose by any other name…

March 16, 2011

I’m in the middle of a series of posts on ACM—advanced (or adaptive) case management. My goal is to spend some time explaining my understanding of ACM in more detail, both what it is and what it can be used for.

Last post I kind of owned up to having come a long way in my understanding of and appreciation for ACM:

Basically, I’ve moved from thinking it was a domain invented by ECM vendors to reignite interest in their products, to thinking it was a domain invented by BPM vendors to reignite interest in their products, to admitting that it might just be a legitimate domain in its own right. And in my travels, when ACM comes up, I’d say nine out of ten people I talk to fall somewhere on my continuing journey to ACM acceptance.

So this post, I want to dig in and provide my best shot at explaining what ACM is (and isn’t), which will hopefully be of use to those of you out there still working to wrap your heads around the domain.

Like BPM, but different

Although ACM has overlap with other enterprise domains, like enterprise content management (ECM) and social business software (SBS), business process management (BPM) is the domain ACM is most frequently compared to.

Figure 1 – ACM Overlap with Related Domains

And this makes a certain amount of sense: ACM has been marketed as a way to bring the automation of BPM to areas where historically it hasn’t been applied, primarily because the technology hasn’t been available to do so.

But ACM’s overlap with ECM and SBS is also important to keep in mind. Part of why ACM holds out the promise of bringing BPM-like automation to new areas is because it leverages ECM and SBS in ways BPM doesn’t (yet).

Let’s look at a couple of the new process frontiers ACM appears to be opening up.

BPM for variable processes

BPM and variability don’t really go together: the success of a BPM solution in large part depends on thoroughly mapping a process in all its branches and then automating it from start to finish. Run-time variation or ambiguity are generally viewed as “errors” to be weeded out of the BPM solution.

And for certain enterprise processes, this is a realistic goal, things like claims or payment processing, basic account opening, etc. But for many other enterprise processes, it simply isn’t possible to remove run-time variation or ambiguity—on the contrary, addressing run-time ambiguity and variation is core to how these processes deliver value to the enterprise.

We’re talking about things like customer service calls, loan applications, audits and compliance investigations, the sales process, or product development. These have defined steps they follow, but beyond that, it’s impossible to specify precisely what needs to be done and in what order. Another way to think about it is that although each step is mapped out, what actually happens within each step takes its final form only at run-time.

BPM for knowledge workers

Another way to think about ACM is that it enables knowledge work rather than process work (typically the core strength of BPM). In this respect, it holds out tremendous promise, as knowledge worker productivity is emerging as the next great frontier of enterprise optimization.

And given the kinds of variable processes we looked at in the last section, this makes sense…but we can go further. When approached properly, ACM holds the promise of enabling knowledge work beyond the traditional boundaries between knowledge and process workers.

ACM tools, particularly when they contain social business capabilities, can be easily put in the hands of process workers to allow them to be part of knowledge worker processes that (1) will either help them or be helped by them and (2) have traditionally been closed off to them because they was no viable way to include them.

For example, claims processors: in the course of their day-to-day work executing the known and fixed process of administering claims, they encounter a great deal of information that’s of real value to the organization, but falls outside the scope of the claims process. Their existing BPM tools don’t typically give them a way to share this information with others in the organization (such as underwriting, product development, actuarial, or customer service) so that it can add value to their knowledge work.

ACM tools, however, if integrated with SBS, can provide lightweight yet powerful ways for these process workers to participate in knowledge work going on in the organization, whether through smart phone apps or web interfaces (or some combination of the two).

The final word

Ok, so much for my attempt to explain ACM from a variety of angles. In the next post, I’ll present some of my opinions on what organizations should be doing right now about ACM…the same stuff (for better or worse) that I’m sharing with clients down in the trenches.

But in the meantime, I’d love to hear both what folks out there think about my explanation of ACM as well as other ways you all have for explaining what the heck ACM is—jump in and get the conversation started!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2011 11:23 am

    The operative phrase and functionality both are “case management.” That solves a particular problem domain statement for both ECM and BPM. If it does for a given vertical or solution, so be it. If not, then you apply other technology accordingly.

    From my perspective as a practitioner and technical implementation, ACM is just “productizing” rules engine functionality and abstracting out the dynamic decisioning or routing to a higher level rather than embedding it directly in the process definition or the work performer.

    Cheers, pat.

  2. March 23, 2011 9:40 am

    Good explanation of ACM. It certainly is a convergence of many technologies.

    As a side note: The title you used “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” has a double meaning.. Not only does it mean that a name does not matter.. but it was also meant as a insult by Shakespeare against a rival theater known as “The Rose” which happened to be located near a waste facility and had an awful smell.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rose_(theatre)

    Just an interesting factoid..

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