The 2×2 chart of BPM Niches

  • March 22, 2011
  • Scott

Jacob Ukelson’s post about extending Data Loss Prevention through ACM took time out to list out four areas of “process” work if you will:

  • BPM (Business Process Management) – The focus is on structured data (forms) and structured flow.
  • ECM (Enterprise Content Management) – The focus is on unstructured data (documents) and structured flow.
  • DCM (Dynamic Case Management) – The focus is on structured+unstructured data (forms and documents) and semi-structured flow.
  • ACM – The focus is on structured+unstructured data (forms and documents) and unstructured flow.

Sandy Kemsley commented on Twitter that she sees these four ideas as more of a spectrum from more structured to more unstructured, rather than four distinct areas.  I agree.  In fact, she later wrote a detailed post about it, including the following depiction:

Sandy Kemsley's depiction

Spectrum from structured to unstructured - courtesy Column 2, Sandy Kemsley

Sandy’s working on a whitepaper on the subject, which I’m looking forward to reading, as I happen to agree with her starting point thesis (and her visualization is better than mine, in this post!)

Another visualization is with two axes, however- “Data” and “Process” – which can exist across some wide spectrum of how much structure is there.  The standard 2×2 chart comes to mind.  One might draw it like this:

This would likely make everyone outside of the BPM “purists” happy.  But it isn’t quite representative, as it makes it look like the four boxes are really distinct, rather than blurry.  And the placement of ACM and DCM isn’t right on this chart, but bear with me.

But as Sandy noted, it isn’t clear that the other three things aren’t also “BPM”.  The chart many BPM practitioners would draw for this looks like the following, with BPM dominating the landscape and covering a wide spectrum, and the other ideas covering rather smaller areas of the spectrum.

BPM 2x2, Alternate View

I think this is how many BPM practitioners see the world (whether we agree or disagree with this view, we can agree some people hold this view).  Note, the spectrum is not weighted based on the number of processes  – the density of processes in each pixel, if you will.  I think most people would agree that there are more unstructured processes than structured ones in the universe today.

A third view that I’m seeing emerge:  It is all BPM and we’re just talking about the definitions of different branches of the main tree.  Some would argue, reasonably, that this dilutes what “BPM” means too much, and some would argue that arguing that something that walks like process and talks like process should be considered “in scope” for BPM.

Jacob and I agree that the differences are largely one of focus – of the vendors and of the practitioners, rather than technical capability.  Keeping in mind that the differences in focus might make it much easier or much harder to deliver a solution in the sweet spot of one of these approaches to process.


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  • Should have included this article in my discussion as well: – a rose by any other name. He contends that ACM is the intersection of ECM, SBS, and BPM. I find that sort of characterization a bit misleading. Cross-disciplinary work is valuable and interesting, but we’re confusing “domain” with “product” in too many of these discussions. And we leave out “people”…

    My contention: This is just an identity crisis that is caused by trying to define a new domain that is probably better served by just describing it as part of an existing domain. For example, in Toyota’s system, 5s is focused on the space that a worker uses – putting things in the right place each time, so that they can be easily relocated and so that people who swap work spaces can work efficiently in each space (because they are organized the same way). This is different than looking at one piece flow. Or at other lean techniques. But they’re all part of delivering improved process. ACM may be focused on enabling the individual to do their work better on a case-by-case basis, rather than focusing on the volume, aggregate results – but it is still about process improvement and getting the job done better.