Looking Under the Hood

Scott Francis
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Well.  This was a pleasant surprise.  At the end of one of Keith Swenson’s posts on ACM, he wrote this:

Clarification

Some have thought that what I mean here is about underlying technology “under the covers”.   As if this was a discussion of whether Java or PHP is suitable for implementing an ACM system.  Please understand: what is used to implement the system is not the discussion here.  A programmer might use Java, C++, PHP, COBOL, SQL, UML, or even BPMN to implement the under the covers system.  That is a decision of the development team, and does not require the user to know Java, PHP, C++ or any of these other technologies.  That is programming, not performing Adaptive Case Management.

The point I am trying to make is about what the case manager must know and use.  The case manager does not need to know Java, to use a Java program.  I have no issue with using BPMN to implement a system such that the case manager does not need to know BPMN.  But ACM is the practice of planning and achieving goals, and has nothing to do with whether the system was implemented in Java or not.  We discuss only the process visible to the case manager.

Count myself as one of those (though the framing is slightly off).  And Sandy Kemsley:

As Scott points out, just because there’s BPMN behind the covers, doesn’t mean that it has to manifest that way to all users.
[…]Keith, I seem to recall you making the statement that “if it has BPMN, it’s not ACM”. I believe that we will see a lot of hybrid systems that handle everything from fully unstructured case management to structured BPM, and the entire spectrum in between. In that case, the products/platforms will have BPMN as a modeling capability, but will not insist that the end users of ACM functionality use it.

Also, it turns out the practice of executing processes has nothing to do with BPMN – or java or php- either (from an end-user point of view).  But to be fair, there was a good reason for the misunderstanding on our side.

For example, in this discussion, Bruce Silver and I were essentially arguing that “ACM” capabilities would be implemented by BPMS vendors.  Keith argued otherwise (but in a way that could be consistent with his confusion that we were talking solely about end-users using BPMN to model a process).

And in another post, where we were talking about vendors and markets, Keith responded

“Scott, I think you say it perfectly when you say ‘Anyone who can code worth a lick can see that it can be done.’

Case Management, however, is for people who are not programmers.  The doctors, lawyers, judges, detectives, nurses, salespeople, and others who want to manage cases, will NEVER use BPMN.  BPMN is a programmers language and I agree will work fine for programmers.  Case management is for case managers, who are knowledge workers not programmers.”

Again, confusing under-the-hood with end-user. Bruce and I were clearly talking about under the hood, but Keith was talking about applicability to end users.

It isn’t just one side misreading the other, it looks like both sides misreading the other, on different occasions.  But my favorite bit was in the comment stream, where Keith poses this analogy:

Arguing that there is overlap in capability is a flawed argument that leads to the wrong conclusion.  It is like arguing that you can make a car that is also a boat.   One can easily argue that it makes more sense to have a single product category (the amphibious vehicle) than two (the car and the boat).  Such amphibious vehicles have been produced in the past — but they are neither good boats nor good cars.  It is not the capabilities that define a product category, but the audience.  The car is best when optimized to be a car.  The boat is best optimized as a boat.  Even if the engine is 100% the same.

It is a seductively good argument. Unfortunately, there’s an equally good argument to the contrary, in my response:

Which ties into the analogy you made – a car and a boat.  The question isn’t whether you should build an amphibious vehicle. The question is whether they are really cars and boats, or two types of car.

Example:  Phone, and MP3 player, hand-held gaming devices, and GPS.  Everyone assumed these were different categories of device.  And then the iPhone came out.  And it turns out, they were all just apps on top of a good handheld, touch-based computer.  We just didn’t know it yet.

So you might be right that these are separate markets-  and my hypothesis that it is one market may be right.  The real question comes down to whether customers (companies) buy both BPM and ACM solutions, or just one or the other.  If it is just one or the other, then it is one market, right?  If they largely buy both, it is two markets until substantially all of the vendors offer both or sell them as a package.

I still feel pretty good about my assessment a year later.  But I’m also glad we can all agree that under the hood BPMN can implement an “ACM” system, as defined by Keith.