Anatoly Belychook asks the question: “is ACM a Paradigm or a Feature?” I could not resist responding because I like the post, and his logic is flawless, but it is based on false assumptions. I think there is a lesson here on why so many BPM experts feel the way he does.
First, his summary of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is one of the best I have seen. There is no doubt that Anatoly understand the motivations behind ACM.
What he does next is quite surprising; he analyzes whether ACM meets certain requirements of BPM. That is the flaw in his thinking: there is no reason to believe that ACM should meet the requirements of BPM. Many BPM experts start with an assumption that ACM should have BPM-like features, and then move on to conclude that ACM is really just a type of BPM. Those wanting to understand the subject should be wary.
We need to be very careful to isolate what is needed for ACM, from our assumptions abut BPM. Both involve workers and information technology, but in an attempt to simplify, we tend to jump to the things we know well. BPM experts usually jump to a BPM paradigm. My goal below is to expose the unjustified assumptions, so we can see how intelligent people are being led to the wrong conclusion (IMHO).
Starting with the section titled “Concerns 2”, lets take the points one by one.
- Process architecture – this is a BPM requirement that comes from the need to automate large complex processes. A social worker, for instance, needs to decide whether to move a child from one foster home to another. I agree with the point that a business user is not going to set up a process architecture, but I am not seeing any proof that a process architecture is needed. This is an unjustified assumption
- Data architecture – Anatoly accurately states that proper data management / knowledge management is necessary to the knowledge worker, but he approaches it from a BPM point of view.
- Knowledge workers will continue to use software applications of all sorts. An ACM system will not replace such software. Word processors will still be used to write reports. Spreadsheets will still be used for other kinds of reports and possibly some calculations. There will also be domain specific applications in use. For example, our fictional Dr. House (or, more likely, his assistants) will keep patient records in a patient record system. Police will still fill in “incident reports” into a custom system for the purpose. Court lawyers will use systems that support the official records of the case.
- Anatoly is correct in saying that these applications must not be designed by amateurs. I think we all agree that the doctors and policemen will NOT be designing or creating these systems — but why would we even ask this question? The point is that in an ACM system, these applications are not designed as part of specifying the actions that people take. The doctor will be able to design a unique course of treatment for a patient, without needing any expertise in data architecture. The detective will design a unique course of investigation, without needing to be an expert in data architecture.
- Dana Khoyi from Global 360 believes that an ACM system should have the ability to implement such “system of record” capabilities. Is is a question of how much capability you bundle into a commercial offering. Whether bundled or not, I agree that doctors and policemen will probably NOT be designing those business entities. My point is that for an ACM system, the person who determines the course of action is not the person who designs these application. BPM is exactly the opposite: the person who designs the processes needs to also design the data architecture. It is simply unjustified to attribute this BPM requirement to ACM.
- Integration with enterprise systems – once again, this is a BPM concept, not an ACM concept. Much of what a knowledge worker needs is represented simply as documents & reports. In other cases they need links to records systems. Unlike BPM, there is no need to do any heavy lifting integration. Yes, we agree this required professionals, but this is a BPM requirement, not an ACM requirement.
- How many process management systems do we need? Anatoly is starting from the assumption that ACM is a process management system. This over-simplified view then leads through reductionist reasoning to questioning whether both are needed. This is like asking “Do we need both trains and planes, since they are both means of transportation?” or “Do we need chicken and beef, since they are both kinds of meat?” This logic flow from the prior assumption that they are the same. Without the assumption you don’t reach this conclusion.
- Artificial Intelligence – yes I agree knowledge workers will continue to use AI. But it will not be integrated at a data level into the process. AI applications will be provided outside of the ACM system, and the users will see not as part of the ACM system, but something that is accessed with the aid of the system, in the same way that they see word processing as somthing they access not as part of the ACM system, but rather accessed from with the aid of the system.
Concerns about Management
Coming back to the “Concerns 1” section, Anatoly asks whether the case manager makes things “better for whom – for the company or for themselves?” This will always be a problem: did the doctor recommend surgery because you need it, or because he needs a new Porsche? What I am really seeing is a desire to control the worker through process management, something we might call “Theory X Management ex machina“. Automation will not solve the problem. The decision itself must be made by an expert, and Drucker has written many times that knowledge workers need leaders, not managers. In Creativity vs Structure, John Seely Brown makes the point that too much structure prevents certain types of work.
Anatoly says “orientation to the customer doesn’t come automatically.” True, but knowledge workers have to be monitored and evaluated on the results of their work, not on the steps that were taken to produce those outcomes. The steps are not repeatable and enforcible. That is why ACM takes a different approach from BPM. You train them, evaluate them, reward them for doing the right thing, and fire them for doing the wrong. Using the terminology of Francois Gosseaux, this is just “Human 1.0” and ACM does not change that.
BPM is guided by theories about managing workers who are doing repeatable work, while ACM is guided by theories about how to support knowledge workers. You miss the point if you apply theories for BPM, to ACM.
Project Management: a feature of BPM, or a paradigm?
We must ask “why are people asking whether ACM is a part of BPM or not?” ACM is really more like individual project management where a case manager coordinates the work of a group of people. It is less formal than full project management, because it is aimed at less predictable things. Project management is a kind of management of business processes, isn’t it? Then why is project management a separate category? If project management is for more predictable processes, isn’t this something that BPM could do as well? Shouldn’t we be talking about how project management is just a feature of BPM?
Spreadsheet: a feature of BPM, or a paradigm?
We might keep on going. A lot of people do work in spreadsheets, work that is part of a process. If BPM is everything about processes, then aren’t spreadsheets really just a part of BPM? Spreadsheets are used for integration, they and gather data, manipulate it, etc. Spreadsheets are used for all sorts of reports that support decision making within a process. How do you draw the line? What constitutes a separate category, or the same category?
Anatoly argues (by way of Scott Francis) that BPM platforms are Turing-complete which means you could program anything. Does that mean that they displace spreadsheets, word processors, Facebook, Twitter, etc? Will all aspects of information technology now become a part of BPM simply because it is possible? Certainly not. Categories of software are defined by their usefulness and the users that use it, not what is technically possible.
I work hard to distinguish ACM capabilities from BPM capabilities, because there is a natural tendency for people to blur these together. Especially BPM experts. If you start from the assumption that ACM is a kind of BPM, it leads you to making the kinds of arguments that Anatoly does, based on unjustified assumptions, and leads to unjustified conclusions.
The capabilities discussion needs to be kept separate from the product packaging discussion. Will vendors produce systems that include both capabilities? Certainly they will. But many BPM experts will misunderstand those capabilities if they believe they are just another kind of BPM. And many vendors will implement a few features and call it ACM, further confusing things. But let’s not get drawn into that game. I have provided these points that BPM and ACM are different:
- BPM needs process architecture, ACM has no such need
- In BPM the person who designs the process needs to be a data architect, but in ACM these are different roles. The person who designes the “process” does not need to be a data architect.
- BPM needs strong capabilities for integration, but in ACM there is little or no need for field-level integration. ACM can work well with documents, reports, and links to other application user interface.
Isn’t that enough to say that they are distinct?
At least, we should be careful not to confuse others. There are many people who will be confused by saying that ACM is a type of BPM. If you believe that ACM is a kind of BPM, and if you believe that BPM needs a process architecture, then by deduction you conclude that ACM needs a process architecture. The problem is that first assumption, that ACM is a kind of BPM. You might say that it is a kind of BPM that is not at all like BPM. Like those who argue that it is simply BPM where the process is undefined. If that description helped people to understand ACM I could live with it, but it simply doesn’t help anyone understand.
Yes, I can imagine a system that supports both BPM and ACM — it is just such a statement does not help people understand ACM.
BPM systems will gain ACM-like features, but few doctors, policemen, and lawyers will use that.
Social Business Software like Jive, SharePoint, Quad, Chatter, and Connections will gain ACM-like features as well, and will be far more successful than the BPM systems, because those are systems that the doctors, policemen, and lawyers will use.
How funny. I end up agreeing it is a feature of something, just not a feature of BPM. 🙂