Lamenting Definitions

  • November 15, 2011
  • Scott
  • 7 Comments

In a flurry of posts recently there’s another attempt to sever ACM and BPM.  It’s a strange urgency among some ACM advocates to separate it from the idea of managing business processes.

Keith misinterpreted my recent post on ACM/BPM – confusing product efforts by software vendors with implementation and execution efforts by business users.  Bruce Silver and I are speculating about whether “ACM” will really exist as a distinct market from BPM – and we both doubt it.  Keith is questioning whether doctors and lawyers should use BPMN.  A bit unrelated.

In another post, Keith attempts to put the wheels back on the track.  But Adaptive Process advocate Max J. Pucher notes that he sees a benefit to customers in a holistic solution – and goes on to advocate his own company’s approach:

Therefore I do not see a clear distinction between ACM and BPM, except that a BPMS cannot perform the kind of ACM user-driven processes that you describe so well. My recommendation of a homogenous system that does both really well is not only driven by my product orientation. Remember? I don’t have to sell what I have – I develop what empowers people!

I see it the opposite way: The only reason people have to keep ACM and BPM as independent functions are sales perspectives or BPM design or consulting skills that might become obsolete. From a business benefit perspective, a homogenous solution that also encompasses architecture, content and rules is the only thing that makes sense. Agree? Whether this is easy to sell or argument from an existing BPM mindset is a completely different story.

If it is a single solution, it really doesn’t matter if ACM and BPM are separate or the same.  It just matters whether you can solve the problem for the customer – or not.  Or if the customer can solve the problem for themselves – or not.  I believe Max’s firm is in competition (in a sense) with BPM vendors – because they’re both competing for a market around improving business processes.  Max’s competitive differentiators are related to the adaptive way his firm approaches this subject.  A company like IBM will pitch different differentiators for their product offering.  They may coexist in the market or within customers, or they may compete.  But so far this looks like one market to me. I might have more faith in BPMS based on my personal experience, than Max does – but in the wide angle view I see more agreement than disagreement in terms of what BPM is (versus what a particular product can deliver).

Jacob Ukelson proposes to call this area “knowledge process” instead of ACM.  I expressed a bit of my frustration with this distinction, though I generally sympathize with his frustration as well! –

As I mentioned on twitter, I don’t think the problem is that they got in the weeds on features. The problem is that ACM folks got too caught up in trying to prove that BPMS can’t do ACM – which is silly. Or worse, that ACM was superior/above/better-than BPM – which again, is just a silly argument to get into. Like arguing that BPM is better than SOA – they’re either complementary or competitive and if they’re not competitive than better doesn’t really have meaning.

Knowledge work is business work, last I checked. business people describe knowledge work as being part of their business processes. Fighting a definition battle that isn’t worth fighting. Go ahead and convince customers that they don’t have a sales process. That it is, instead, a sales knowledge process or a sales case management. Or that they shouldn’t apply process improvement techniques to aggregate outcomes.[…]

I keep hearing from people about what isn’t the answer… but not hearing much about what is  unless it is a plug for “read the book” or very high level – as you say – principles – which of course could just mean “use email”.

I think the ACM discussion has been useful in that it reminds people that BPM shouldn’t be just about automation and eliminating human work. But to me, separating ACM from BPM is a bit like saying that what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander- that some work (usually whatever work we envision ourselves doing) isn’t subject to the same general rules as the work others are doing. My work is creative, but their work is not. My work is knowledge work but their work is routine.

I promise you, all work that involves people involves creativity, passion, skill, energy, pride – or the lack thereof. Our goal should be to reduce the mundane and routine, and allow the people to focus on the creative and expressive and decisive. We could argue over ACM vs. BPM or just agree that BPM and ACM are two slices of bread in the same loaf.

Just because I don’t use a BPMS to tie my shoes doesn’t make it knowledge work.  Nor does it mean it isn’t a process.

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