ACM Tweet Jam, Belated Thoughts

Scott Francis
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So I couldn’t attend the recent ACM tweet jam live, as I was, well, working. But there were quite a few people participating, and reading the summaries after the fact, I can’t help but feeling a bit underwhelmed.  So much energy has been spent attempting to separate ACM from BPM that I find it kind of ironic when the same criticisms would come full circle.  As Max J Pucher and others have noted, it is difficult to get consensus on a definition of BPM… but it is *also* difficult to get a consensus on the definition of ACM (I can already, almost, hear Max throwing up his arms and sticking with his non-acronym moniker “adaptive process” – no argument from me).  Keith’s summary of the tweet jam lists 6 definitions, but I bet there are more.  Personally, I don’t mind a surfeit of definitions, it is part of the human condition that you can’t get unanimity on things like this.    One of them was “all knowledge work”.  Well, This sounds a bit like BPM – covers just about everything.  Strangely, sometimes people think knowledge work is the only kind of work that doesn’t follow a predefined process. Next, there’s the justification of “why all the buzz now?”.  These answers are the least reassuring.  Such as this one: “only today limitation of pre-defined BPM became clear. People look for another solution to knowledge mgmt”  Seriously?  BPM has been evolving for 10+ years and only just now, someone says “aha! it is limited! we need another three-letter-acronym!”  Pardon me for being a bit cynical, but I think anyone in the BPM space doing implementation was quite aware of both the limitations and possibilities.  Or this one: “Workflow and BPM is arguably ‘low hanging fruit’ – ACM is harder to get to, which is why it is of interest only today.”  Unless this author was equating BPM with BPEL, this argument misses the mark. BPM is hardly low-hanging fruit, which is why it has taken so long to mature as a market.  Arguably ACM is easier to achieve in many respects because you don’t need to build much of the infrastructure required to support BPM – and you may not be designing as much up front.  Trust me, the “do anything you want” process looks pretty simple in BPM tools… And the supporting technologies for knowledge work are relatively inexpensive. However, another comment hits closer to home: “The integration vendors hijacked BPM: took a detour. now we see the need to use a diff kind of BPM”  I agree with this statement more than I disagree.  To the integration vendors, business process management was a checkbox feature in their integration stack.  But it needed to be front and center, because it is the new platform for getting process work done in the business.  I believe what people are calling ACM belongs there as well – front and center.  I am just not as convinced that it is a separate product category from BPM, as opposed to part of what BPM should have been doing all along (and for some vendors, exactly what they were doing all along under a BPM flag).  I am going to keep reading and listening to see if new information changes that outlook for me. One comment was very interesting to me: “More like all vendors saying they do it.  Suddenly all do it – without changing their products.”  The question I have is – is it because they’re just putting out marketing spin, or is this because ACM, as defined, is already (mostly) addressed by existing products?  I wonder if the fact that everyone is so easily claiming to do ACM is because… so many vendors already do ACM… as defined by the chief proponents of ACM.  If that’s the case, then ACM really is about marketing from a software vendor point of view, and about the “approach” to “knowledge work” for those responsible for implementation of solutions (people in my business). There was a considerable concern that the terms “ACM” and “Case Management” mean nothing to buyers.  I would agree. Buyers don’t seem to differentiate what case management would do that is different than this thing they’ve finally gotten around to tackling called BPM.  Still if a buyer is familiar with case management, it is a good idea to speak their language.  And if a buyer wants BPM, speak their language as well. There was another section of tweets about what, exactly, constitutes knowledge work.  This gets a little ephemeral to me.  This is sort of like asking someone whether a job is creative or not – most people think they’re own job is very creative and unpredictable, but that all these other people in the organization are doing “routine work”.  A big US magazine “offshored” an issue of their magazine to India once, as an experiment to learn, for themselves, whether journalism could also be outsourced like other work.  They’re “startling” conclusion was that journalism was a particularly local and creative endeavor that could not be offshored (couldn’t see that coming, could we?).  They thought offshoring was only applicable to “rote” work like software engineering, call centers, etc.  Well, I have news for those journalists, writing code takes plenty of creativity.  And some call center work does too, based on the teams I’ve worked with.  So what is the magic creativity threshold that makes work offshorable?  Or, in the case of knowledge work – how much knowledge makes it knowledge work rather than “routine work”?  Difficult to put a gold standard on that one, and I’m not sure it is useful to do so.  These generalizations will only get you so far. Finally, there is a section referencing “GOOD EXAMPLES OF SPECIFIC WORK THAT ARE SUPPORTED BEST BY ADAPTIVE CASE MANAGEMENT?”  (not my emphasize, it is the author’s emphasis)  The majority of these examples are hypothetical and theoretical.  Not work that is currently being implemented by ACM tooling or ACM-supporting vendors.  Taking each one in turn, I’d just point out that I haven’t seen these in the wild yet:
  • Putting the decision of a board of directors to action. No predefined process, but the work must be done.  I don’t recall seeing the press release covering this one, or why ACM would replace the conference call for this.
  • underwriting of life insurance. Insurance companies are using purpose-built software for this (COTS), and augmenting with things like BPM.  I’d like to hear if anyone is using an ACM “product” that is not also a BPMS to do their insurance underwriting.
  • mortgage origination would benefit (just went through a painful one).  Ok, another “hypothetically mortgage origination is a good fit”.  But it turns out, BPM software is already the brains behind several major mortgage origination processes for major lending operations.
  • architectural design.  So is there a market to sell ACM to architects? The architects I know have pretty specialized software…
  • investigations, audits, contract and RFP management.  Sure, in theory this is true. But there’s already specialized software for these things as well.  And BPM vendors already has proven deployments in these areas.  So the question I have is: while these may be a good fit, is ACM differentiated or just another good fit? Are there existing deployments not by a BPMS vendor?
  • I’ve seen examples of adaptive case management ideas applied to patient care, might ACM be especially useful there? Why?  Hm.  ACM “management ideas”.  Well truly, this is getting the order of operations backward.  The patient care practice has certain management ideas.  ACM advocates see similarities to what they think are good ACM practice, and therefore look to patient care as an example of what ACM could do well.  I’m not aware of any ACM patient care deployments (yet).
  • Interior design every activity is art until order confirmation structured prc.  I don’t see interior designers being a big market for ACM, regardless of product fit.
  • merger of United and Continental. In theory only.  They did it the old fashioned way, I expect. And as noted in other posts, I think companies that really do mergers, will have fairly organized processes (e.g. Cisco).
  • Disaster Relief for Haiti.  Again, in theory only. And not exactly a market, so much as a need.
  • Responding to Oil Crisis in gulf.  In theory only. And when it comes to *preventing* the crisis, so far all signs point to the people on the rig overriding (ACM style) the prescribed safety procedures (BPM style procedures) in pursuit of goal-oriented management (extreme pursuit of profit and cost-cutting)… but wait… Drucker’s Goal Oriented management was supposed to be a Good Thing… problem is, you still have to set *the right goals*… This is the problem with these analogies, the break down under any skeptical scrutiny.  Real deployments of real software will expose the real strengths and weaknesses of the ACM approach and tooling to support it.
Finally, a parting thought, I believe this is quoting Max J Pucher:
“ACM is not anarchy – it is empowerment! Authority, Goals and Means to accomplish those goals.”
Empowerment should be the goal of any good BPM or ACM solution, I think.  Enablement, and Empowerment. Great thought to close with.  And sometimes just one nugget like this makes reading the whole train of a tweetjam worthwhile!  Thanks Max, and tahnks to Keith Swenson for taking the time to try to capture some of the session for posterity (or at least, those of us who couldn’t attend).