Risks of ACM Failure in 2011?

Scott Francis
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Jacob’s post on what could cause ACM to fail in 2011 is interesting, especially in that it comes from an ACM proponent.  A couple of statements jumped out at me:
Here is the catch – business folks don’t really understand or buy platforms, they buy applications. […] The biggest issue with ACM is that business process management suites, which for many are the platform of choice  for process implementation, are sold to IT. The IT department understands platforms but doesn’t understand unstructured process. On the other hand, the business understands unstructured processes but doesn’t understand platforms.
To me, this is interesting – because BPM also is (typically) sold as a platform as well.  Pega is probably the only BPM vendor of note that seems to take an application-first, platform-second approach to selling BPM.  It seems to have worked out all right for them overall. Jacob’s concerns about the risks to the ACM market remind me of some of the risks I’ve pointed out myself over the last year in various forums, because his concerns are complementary:
  1. It needs to be a platform sale more often than an application sale (I’m sure there are a few applications that might fit ACM, so I won’t conclude that there is no such thing)
  2. IT people aren’t bought into ACM – perhaps just aren’t bought into it yet. You could say this is because the IT people don’t understand (the ACM-advocates’ argument), or you could say that it is because the ACM arguments aren’t compelling (the IT side of that argument)… of course, even the ACM advocates are IT folks, so that muddies the waters a little bit!
My concerns are around whether ACM is a market or a feature-set (as far as the software side of ACM goes – there’s also an approach to managing “unstructured” work):
  1. It doesn’t seem to me that there’s a big technical barrier to add ACM capabilities to existing BPM platforms.
  2. The BPM platforms that I’ve worked with are Turing Complete.  Meaning, within the context of the BPM platform, I can “program” anything another software program can do.
  3. IT may not assign much $ value to something they perceive as being technically straightforward.
As a result, given Jacob’s business-side concerns (Businesses don’t often buy platforms), and given its proximity to BPM software, and given a real lack of a real technical barrier to delivery (the BPM firms certainly have the resources to invest to add ACM to their platforms if they desire)… it looks to me that one possible outcome is a very short market window for ACM to catch on as an independent software category.  We already see vendors like IBM adding ACM-style capabilities to their process execution in the cloud (Blueworks).  I think we’ll start to see these capabilities added to the open source BPM products like Activiti as well. I can sympathize with the difficulty of selling a business proposition to IT, or a platform to the business – because this is exactly the space good BPM vendors have been straddling for the last decade. My advice to ACM advocates – don’t worry about purity of your arguments and methodology, just be pragmatic.  If people think that all work fits into an overall structure (largely an argument about abstraction and organization – an IT argument), then explain that ACM may help address those parts of the work/process that can’t be easily structured, and explain how it can augment a structured approach.  Don’t worry about which fundamental principle of work is supreme.
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  • Actually I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a link to this article from “Observing Content Management” – So Who Buys Case Mgmt Anyway? http://ecmobservations.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/so-who-buys-case-management-anyway/

    “Try and get some time with someone from a Financial Services organisation or a Utility company to discuss Case Management and you’re likely to get short shrift. You’ve got an inkling of a chance in places like Legal Firms or in Public Sector, but still the conversation will be short if you’re not willing to talk specifics.

    Case Management is not a solution, they tend to be frameworks or platforms upon which solutions can be built. The accelerators (xCelerators in EMC world) tend to lift the platform nearer to business solutions but they still tend to fall short of being the final business solution. So the questions is who will buy one of these frameworks? I cannot see the majority of end users buying such a framework, there is little in the way of ROI which can be identified to justify such a purchase, unless they have the in house capability, and appetite, to take on the establishment and exploitation of such a platform.”

    (similar notes of warning, sounded by another observer)
    (and, I’d note, there are/were similar challenges for BPM, which it seems it has gotten over in many respects in terms of mind share because BPM vendors would take a practical approach to implementation of “solutions”.. )

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  • Viewing it from the vendor side I’d say there isn’t much to worry about if you don’t have to push a single product but are ready to deliver a solution that is unique for the customer and their requirements. And as I said previously: From the view of an artificially fragmented market that is the traditional playground of analysts and integrators most of the arguments hold true. But ACM can go far beyond such limited views to reveal the real value for businesses if they go for the big picture: http://youtu.be/fckTXRqjkE4

    • It is quite a different thing to sell a product (widget) vs. selling a solution. Its quite another thing if you’re selling a capability, which can lead to many different solutions depending on what the customers’ issues and needs really are.

      I’m not saying it can’t be done, far from it… just saying that it is a more subtle sale process, and often more time consuming, and in such a situation, often its better to be pragmatic rather than purist. (I’m not assigning either label to Isis, but there are folks who comment in this area who seem to stick to the philosophical rather than make practical compromises)

      • Maybe it’s easy to sell “adaptive” (or “social” or “mobile” or whatever) as an additional feature set but it remains to be seen if the promises are delivered for the client and what they really end up with. In this regard ISIS is pragmatic because it advocates doing a POC: http://bit.ly/erPH5q. Still you can tag an approach “pragmatic” and end up with something like described by Adam Deane here: http://bit.ly/eG6Z6l. This difference is certainly not philosophical!

      • fair points :)

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  • Jacobu

    Hi Scott,
    Interesting post. I agree that most BPM vendors could theoretically build ACM capabilities into their tools but I think they will have a hard time doing so. The barrier isn’t technical but rather social – BPMS vendors are usually the ones that have the hardest time with the ACM philiosophy – especially the fact that not every process can (or should be modelled).

    I think the IBM example you give is interesting – it really is about Lombardi – not IBM. I couldn’t imagine IBM process folks (before the Lombardi acquisition) doing anything ACM like. It requires a different mindset.

    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActionBase

    • Jacob- no argument from me- IBM has clearly benefited in this respect from the Lombardi acquisition – keeping in mind that these developments in Blueworks Live came after the acquisition rather than before. It is a good sign that IBM is putting ex-Lombardi folks in a position to make a difference in the market.

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