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ACM: Where’s Jack Handey when you need him?

April 11, 2011

As much as I’m interested in advanced/adaptive case management (ACM), this has been a long series (or at least it’s felt long!), and so I want to wrap up this week and turn to other topics.

But before I do, I figured I owe it to you all out there to try to step back from definitions, question-posing, and the review of existing literature to say something positive/constructive about the state of ACM.

So, with that goal in mind, let me share some opinions and thoughts on ACM today.

#1. ACM definitely exists

I initially had some questions about this, because it sure felt like BPM vendors got together and decided that they needed a new acronym to drive fear, uncertainty, and doubt (and therefore sales).

But after really digging into ACM, I’m a firm believer that it exists as a practice domain. The differences between it and up-the-middle BPM are significant enough to me to warrant a new acronym (with apologies to team #crapronym: @pmonks @McBoof @tigracc @twentworth12 @micycle @CherylMcKinnon @pelujan, et al.).

Now, I also agree with folks like Sandy Kemsley (@skemsley), who see ACM as part of a continuum, from simple and repeatable processes (like payment processing) to dynamic, one-off activities (like investigations and audits)—I just think there’s value in having a different name for the stuff on the latter end of the spectrum (apologies, again, team crapronym).

#2. ACM tools will transform how organizations work

I also initially harbored a great deal of skepticism about the possibility of using tools to enable ACM. Who hasn’t sat through endless slides of vendor marketechture touting the ability to do just about anything you can imagine only to find that the reality post-implementation fell far short of these promises?

But over the last 18 months, we’ve seen a whole new class of software hit the market to enable enterprise collaboration and social media integration. These tools, many of them SaaS, lots of them inexpensive, deliver solutions to end-users with minimal IT involvement and a high degree of user-driven customization—precisely the attributes that successful ACM tools need to have.

I think it’s a good bet that ACM vendors will look to these existing vendors and products in building/evolving their solutions, and I believe that doing so will lead to successful, mature ACM tools that will have huge impact on the organizations that adopt them in the not so distant future.

#3. ACM technology is in an early stage of development

That having been said, organizations don’t currently have access to the kind of mature ACM tools I envision in the last section. Right now, the tools I’ve seen are all fairly immature, either in terms of the functionality they provide or the number of client installs out there (or both).

This isn’t for lack of trying—vendors are pushing this stuff pretty hard and the industry is all abuzz with ACM fervor. But until there are more of these tools on the ground and at work in real organizations, the space will remain immature despite the best efforts of ACM vendors large and small.

#4. ACM technology will be bleeding edge for at least 24 months

Of course, ACM tools will not remain immature forever. Eventually, we’ll see enough installs to get a real feel for what each vendor is good at and not so good at as well as for the vendor ecosystem’s overall success at addressing ACM needs in total.

And being a consultant, I’ll get specific, but in such a way that it’s hard to hold me accountable: I predict that ACM technology will continue to be bleeding edge for the next 24 months and then cross over into the next phase of maturity and become leading edge.

And if you remember to call me on it 04/11/2013, you can have my iPad2 as a prize!

#5. Organizations looking to adopt ACM technology need to justify being on the bleeding edge

Given that ACM tools with be bleeding edge until April 11, 2013, organizations that adopt ACM technology have to have a good reason for being bleeding edge around ACM.

This could mean having critical business processes that would benefit from being optimized with ACM tools, or facing tightening competition that could be outstripped using ACM, or being a BPM-centric organization that’s looking to expand BPM success to its knowledge workers, or even having a close partnership with an ACM vendor so that they make it worth your while to be an early adopter.

But it does not mean doing ACM because you have lots of knowledge workers or dynamic processes (or because ACM is “the next big thing”). None of these justify getting on the ACM bus right now—actually, they’re always going to be bad reasons, but they are especially so when you’re talking about a bleeding edge domain.

The final word

So, at long last, my foray into ACM comes to an end. It’s been a great learning experience for me; I hope you all out there have found the posts valuable (or at least amusing). As always, would love to hear from you all out there, not only about my five ACM “deep thoughts”, but also about all things ACM—going once, going twice…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 8:32 am

    Calendar event scheduled for April 11 2013. Ipad 2 here I come!

  2. April 13, 2011 5:27 am

    Joe, thank you for spending time on the subject on ACM at all, when others don’t and if they are quite dismissive. As one of the original creators and promoters of the subject and as the Chief Architect of a vendor who offers ACM, I am clearly opinionated.

    As you have just touched the surface of ACM and have not been involved in it, it is understandable that you see the technolgoy as emerging. But that is clearly not the case. The technology has been there in most vendors for many years, but the term ACM has only been defined 18 months ago in a meeting of the WfMC. Your review of ‘Mastering the Unpredictable’ has been spot on. It is a collection of essays of vendors who all apply the ‘adaptive’ term differently.

    Their is also the problem of defining what it really is and I have made the effort to define it 18 months ago:

    “Adaptive Process technology exposes structured (business data) and unstructured (content) information to the members of structured (business) and unstructured (social) organizations to securely execute – with knowledge interactively gathered previously – structured (process) and unstructured (case) work in a transparent and auditable manner .”

    You will notice that I prefer to use ‘Adaptive Process’ rather than ACM, mostly because my definition clearly ENCOMPASSES BPM fully and empowers business users to not only modify the runtime process, but to create and adapt process templates by various non-technical means (meaning NON-flowcharted). Adaptive Process is also GOAL-oriented rather than FLOW-oriented.

    Installing and using ACM has nothing to do with ‘bleeding edge’ technology, but it requires an organization that believes in empowerment and customer outcomes rather than command and control cost-cutting.

    What are the key advantages of deploying ACM?

    1) A single system for all types of workers and processes.
    2) No need for a complex BPM methodology and slow bureaucracy.
    3) Social empowerment enables process creation and innovation.
    4) Business Architecture focused (backend silo interfaces and data models)
    5) People focused processes, rather than process-controlled people!

    Thanks again, Max

    • April 13, 2011 10:36 am


      First off, thanks for taking the time to join the conversation around Advanced/Adaptive Case Management–I appreciate having your deep domain experience and expertise participate here.

      And thanks also for your kind words about my review of Mastering the Unpredictable. It’s an important work, so I’m happy to give it whatever support I can.

      You cover a lot in your comments, so I’ll just address a few of the places where I think I can clarify my ideas or add value to the discussion…

      In terms of ACM technology being bleeding edge, you and I are definitely coming at it from two different places: you as an ACM advocate and practitioner; me as an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) advocate and practitioner.

      From your perspective, as you point out, ACM technology has been there for many years–no doubt you’ve been involved in countless installs over the course of your career.

      From my perspective working with F1000 organizations on ECM (but also associated domains like business process management, web content management, digital asset management, and so on), I haven’t at all encountered the kind of ACM tools and capabilities described in Mastering the Unpredictable. Certainly, nearly all of these organizations have been reaping the benefits of BPM for years, but in my opinion, they’re just at the beginning stages of trying to do the same for knowledge worker processes via ACM.

      So even if the technology is available out there (although more on this in a minute), I would still consider it bleeding edge/emerging because of the lack of penetration into the marketplace. To draw a comparison: there are lots of social CRM tools out there, but as a domain, I would still consider SCRM emerging/bleeding edge based on how small the adoption/competency footprint is among organizations. Perhaps this boils down to a difference of semantics in the end…

      But beyond semantics, it was my impression from reading Mastering the Unpredictable that the kind of ACM tools discussed in the book did not yet exist. Many of the chapters talk about what ACM tools will need to do, will have to provide, will be able to deliver–the implication being that they do not do this at present.

      Furthermore, the real-world tools that were discussed in the book seemed more like narrowly focused, point solutions to address heavily vertical use cases (e.g., judicial case management) that were built as one-off, custom applications rather than bought from a vendor that has an extensible ACM platform. However, this may simply be a mistaken impression on my part.

      Finally, I agree whole-heartedly with how you define ACM and position it vis a vis BPM. Both you and Sandy Kemsley have the right perspective on this, I think, so I’m glad you took the time to share your perspective on it here.

      Thanks again for jumping in!



      • April 13, 2011 12:03 pm

        Joe, thanks for the reply. MtU was difficult to write as it was a multi-vendor effort and the unwritten rule was not to PLUG our products. Even when I do it subtly (more or less) on my blog I get already criticized … 😉

        Some of the Case Management systems described in MtU are most probably one-off systems and others just focus on some aspect of ACM. But they are all not typical BPM products and apparently Keith was more focused on getting the idea across than telling people which product to buy. So far so good. Let’s see what the market will do. It will be hard to compete with the analysts mindset and the marketing billons of the incumbent BPM vendors. Thanks, Max

  3. April 13, 2011 11:43 am

    I really see ACM as a practice area far more than a set of tools. I think that we’ve had some the tools for ages and we’ve had others for a short time only (social/E2.0 tools). I think that what will “mainstream” ACM is a re-architecting of the tools we already have an a rethink of how we use them. Think it’s going to be very tightly linked to how organizations use social technologies in areas other than sales, marketing, and CRM.

    • April 13, 2011 12:25 pm

      From my perspective it is impossible to do ACM with a ‘set of tools’. You completely loose the ‘ADAPTIVE’ aspect if you need to mix-match-and-merge technologies. it does require a single repository that enables the adaptive approach. Social does not enable adaptive processes but simply empty chit-chat about the process. It doesn’t give the performer the ability to modify the current runtime nor the template for future use. It also has no link to goal-orientation.

  4. April 15, 2011 1:42 pm

    From what I’ve been able to discern, the points behind ACM are to try and provide structure and automation in unstructured processes the way that BPM does for more structured processes. Unstructured processes simply don’t exist. Certainly there are processes that have less apparent structure, or structure that is difficult if not impossible to automate; that does not mean the structure is not there. It means that the best we can do is to leave a gap in the model and use escalations and KPI’s as safety nets.

    The key is the re-architecting of the tools so that they become consumable services. Effectively you end up with the same capabilities, but repackaged and loosely coupled to provide the adaptability. Of course the caveat is that everything (available & required services & content) needs to be standards based as opposed to proprietary.

    A single repository is absolutely unnecessary, not to mention impractical and cost-prohibitive. A single (open standards based) control / orchestration engine is required. This again comes down to serving up content and capabilities as consumable commodities. To be clear, when I refer to content I mean what’s stored electronically (data, logic, business rules, etc.) as well as what is stored physically and in people’s heads.

    Given that more traditional technologies have failed in capturing and managing knowledge that resides in our brains, we’re pinning our hopes on social and collaborative tools. Granted, there is the risk that there will be some “empty chit-chat”, but the same was said for the telephone and email. How do social tools (collaboration tools as well as the potential time stealers) not enable and facilitate ACM or Adaptive Processes (the execution of them, not the building of them)? If there is no link to the goal, the fault lies with how the process was defined, not the tools or techniques that are used to execute the process.

    Again, I come back to my contention that ACM is not a technology; it’s a practice, the same as ECM is a practice and not a technology. ECM and ACM are both aggregations of technologies.

  5. April 16, 2011 2:55 am

    Christian, we will end up agreeing to disagree. You claim that unstructured proceses don’t exist simply because you want to apply a process view to everything. Everything can be seen as a process once it is completed. The fallacy is to compare human interaction with a manufacturing process where it is imperative that a certain rigidity with strict quality requirements per component to be assembled exist.

    In human interaction there are no rigid processes unless they are enforced. You may see that as an advantage because it seems to guarantee some endresult but the problem is that the perceiver of th eoutcome is a human as well and so are all the intermediate participants. Out goes the rigid process by the door. If you use social to communicate there are no processes, but all you have is a more dynamic and publicly readable form of email. No structure, no managed artifacts or data, no managed goals or outcomes.

    Yes, serving all these as consumable commodities is a good thing, but that is the point that you need a business architecture to define those and a central repository to manage them. I do not even disagree that ACM uses similar technology as most BPMS, but makes them more dynamically acccesible. But the paradigm shift is that all the ‘artifacts’ (content, rules, data, GUI) need to be made adaptable by the business user. A BPMS doesn’t do that. BPMS are about control, not about empowerment.

    Process automation is not only an illusion, but it is the one thing that kills all the good things that the people in a business can do. Enforce processes and you kill intrinsic motivation. In a recent study, interesting work, autonomy as to how to perform and organize the work, and job security were the three number one items for employee motivation. BPM is the perfect killing machine for all three!!! Feel free, go ahead and apply an inhumane concept and see the results.

    ACM is a process management paradigm that not only supports the knowledge workers but promotes the creation of as many as possible and provides a platform to share the knowledge by means of top-down and bottom-up transparency. Tell me how BPM would do that without an immense bureaucracy overhead. Social maybe could but it doesn’t manage processes. ACM does both. If ACM is not a technology then neither is Social. But then there are those who say (in principle rightly) the BPM is a mindset and has nothing to do with technology either.

    In these days to pursue any strategy without technology empowerment is foolish and shortsighted.

    ACM does not provide structure, but infrastructure. It enables transparency and empowers. It guides where BPM controls. You can try and aggregate technologiesto do the above and I wish you all the best of luck with that. I see a homogenous infrastructure as the only practical solution.

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