Another take on ACM: Feature or Paradigm

Scott Francis
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I missed this post from Keith Swenson the other day, as he responds to Anatoly’s post on ACM. Keith cuts to the chase:
Anatoly Belychook asks the question: “is ACM a Paradigm or a Feature?” I could not resist responding because I like the post, and his logic is flawless, but it is based on false assumptions.  I think there is a lesson here on why so many BPM experts feel the way he does. First, his summary of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is one of the best I have seen.  There is no doubt that Anatoly understand the motivations behind ACM. What he does next is quite surprising; he analyzes whether ACM meets certain requirements of BPM.  That is the flaw in his thinking: there is no reason to believe that ACM should meet the requirements of BPM.  Many BPM experts  start with an assumption that ACM should have BPM-like features, and then move on to conclude that ACM is really just a type of BPM.  Those wanting to understand the subject should be wary.
Hm.  I would have phrased this differently- it isn’t that Anatoly’s assumptions are wrong – its just that the exercise Anatoly takes on is looking at how to satisfy BPM-style problems with ACM-style claimed feature-sets.  Anatoly would state it differently: How to satisfy enterprise level problems his customers are asking him to address, with ACM-style claimed feature-sets.  And, to consider whether you can solve enterprise style case management problems without paying attention to key issues of architecture, data entities, process architecture, etc. The comments section reveal a very interesting discussion between Keith and Anatoly – well worth reading (thankfully BPM and ACM posts do not get cluttered with 100’s of comments like tech crunch articles!). In one of his comments, Keith wraps with:
Hopefully this clarifies my point: while ACM capabilities may be a feature of a BPMS, ACM in general is not JUST a feature of a BPMS. To say the latter would be misleading.
Given that ACM describes an “approach” rather than a technology, of course this is true.  Likewise, BPM capabilities are not just a feature of a BPMS… I’d consider this a tautology.  I think what Anatoly was exploring is whether ACM software will survive as a standalone / separate market, or whether it will be collapsed with BPM software as a market. (Thus, feature vs. paradigm) I might be projecting my own impressions onto his writing, however. Interesting conclusions in Keith’s post, first this bit:
  • BPM needs process architecture, ACM has no such need
  • In BPM the person who designs the process needs to be a data architect, but in ACM these are different roles.  The person who designes the “process” does not need to be a data architect.
  • BPM needs strong capabilities for integration, but in ACM there is little or no need for field-level integration.  ACM can work well with documents,  reports, and links to other application user interface.
And Keith asks: isn’t this enough to make it different?  Well, in technical terms, no.  But in terms of “approach”, yes. You can implement (and I have implemented) processes that required no “architecture”, “data architecture”, nor “integration”.  Typically those aren’t the kinds of processes people pay consultants to help them develop however, so I haven’t worked on that many of them. But it is definitely a different approach to start with the assumption that you won’t do these things. Keith wraps with:
BPM systems will gain ACM-like features, but few doctors, policemen, and lawyers will use that. Social Business Software like Jive, SharePoint, Quad, Chatter, and Connections will gain ACM-like features as well, and will be far more successful than the BPM systems, because those are systems that the doctors, policemen, and lawyers will use. How funny.  I end up agreeing it is a feature of something, just not a feature of BPM.  :-)
I, too, find it ironic that Keith finally agrees ACM is a feature of something else (from a technical perspective)!  I think, by extension, ACM can be considered a (potential) feature of BPM.  And Keith may be right- that doctors, policemen, and lawyers will be using one of these other products (SharePoint? I doubt it) – but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they won’t see BPM in their lives given all the government investment in process that’s happening. Update: the discussion has moved to ebizQ now, thanks to Peter Schooff.

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