Risks of ACM Failure in 2011?

  • January 14, 2011
  • Scott

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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