ACM Spotter’s Guide

More products today claim to have Adaptive Case Management (ACM) capabilities.  Do they have what it takes?  Or are they simply just jumping on a bandwagon?  It is a buyer-beware world.  Apply the criteria presented in this post to a vendor’s product in order avoid dishonest representations.

Adaptive Case Management is an approach to work that supports knowledge workers to get their work done. A software system must support the following capabilities in order to be called an Adaptive Case Management System (ACMS).   The goal here is to lay out a set of criteria that can be used to clearly identify an ACMS.  

I broke the definition into three levels in roughly the same way that Max Pucher did in his post “Adaptive Case Management: Basic, Full, or Strategic?”  All ACM Systems MUST have level 1.  Many will have features at level 2, and only some advanced ones will have features at level 3.

I can not stress enough that the capabilities described below must be made available in a way that the actual case manager can use them.  The case manager is a professional, like a doctor, or a lawyer, and not a programmer.   When vendor makes a claim that a system has a capability, you need to dig below the surface, and make sure that it is available to the end user without programming.  The capability must be both safe and easy enough to use without specific training.   ACM supports knowledge workers, and having to go to a programmer will be too big a barrier.  Having to request help from an administrator, for example to define the members of the case team, is a similar barrier.  These capabilities need to be immediately available to the actual case manager.

Level 1 – Required of All ACM Systems

Team: It must organize the work of the knowledge worker (called a case manager) and also others involved in the case (called the case team). The case team is not predefined, and one of the jobs of the case manager is to identify people who are appropriate to help on the case.

Folder: The central concept is a case folder that is used to collect together all of the information and artifacts that might be needed by the case manager. There is no predefined collection of information; part of the job of the case team is to locate and collect the necessary information for the case, and put it in the folder.

Goals: To drive the work to completion, the case team communicates about goals (also called tasks), intended and actual timelines for performing activities toward those goals. None of the goals are fixed: any goal can be modified, added, or removed by the case manager without special skills.

History: The system keeps timestamped records of every change that happens in and around the case.

Security: The case manager is in complete control of who is authorized to access the case folder. Unauthorized users can not access the case folder.

Communication: The system must facilitate communication between case members through multiple channels: telephone, email, instant message, desktop conference, and other technologies.

Adaptive: The case manager can make new cases that build on structure of previous cases through some form of copy or reuse of the earlier cases without needing any special skills. Over time the case manager will adapt the system to their own style of working without needing the help of any specialist.

Reporting: A large variety of user configurable reports for communicating status, things that have happened within a given case, and aggregate information across cases.

Level 2 – Common Extensions in ACM Systems

Business Entities: Structured data with metadata behind it. Form capability to display and allow entry of business data.

Data Interchange: ability to access systems and internalize this within the business entity format for reuse, and the ability to transform the internalized data to a form to send to an external system.

Business Rules: Generalized rules mechanism that tests the business data for specific conditions that can either trigger activities, or effect the state of resources.

Resource State Model: Files and other resources can have a state model associated with them. Transitions between states can effect and be effected by other resource state changes.

Granular Access Control: Fine ability to control who can access what parts of the case information through the use of roles into which people can be assigned.

Sensors and Triggers: the ability to monitor external data / state, and the ability to trigger reactions that change the state of internal resources or goals.

Conformance Guiding: the ability to match the activities of a current state with a reference process, and provide a visual difference highlighting extra or missing activities, order disparity, and make recommendations on how to conform.

Level 3 – Advanced Extensions for ACM Systems

Process Mining: The ability to analyze the history records and to generate process maps showing the patterns of behavior across many cases.

Social Mining: The ability to scan networks of connections between people in order to determine skills and/or preferences of people, in order to guide assignment of activities.

Federated Case Folders: the ability to link folders in one case system to folders in another system, and synchronize content in both directions

Ontology / Taxonomy: represented in standardized form and able to exchange with knowledge management systems.

Resource Sharing: a given task or resource could be shared between multiple cases.

What An ACM System does NOT have

The hardest thing about recognizing a good ACM system is that it is not about what it has, but what it does not have.  To use an automobile analogy: how do you define a roadster?  A simple, two seater car, with plenty of power for a visceral driving experience more than anything else.  A roadster is more about what it does not have, than what it has.  It does not seat more than 2 people.  It does not have a huge trunk.  It does not have a large towing capacity.  It does not have a lot of creature-comfort features.  It does not have 14 cup-holders.  The dashboard is minimalist oriented.  If it had a dashboard like the cockpit of an airplane, it could never be a roadster.  With manual transmission, the roadster is enjoyed for the direct feel of the road, the enjoyment of driving.  So you can not define a roadster by listing all the things it has with the view that more things is better.

Adaptive Case Management is designed to be used by the knowledge worker directly, it will not have many of the more sophisticated features that require a professional to operate.  As you consider usability, think of a doctor using it.   Here are some thing that it must not have, or at the least it must be able to be completely functional without:

Graphical Modeling:  Experience has shown that professionals (like doctors) don’t have the time or desire to learn such graphical modeling. The ACMS must function without any graphical modeling.

Web Service Integration: This is a capability that is used by programmers, but the users of an ACMS are not programmers.  Thus, the ACMS has to work without any web service integration.

Of course, a system might have these capabilities, so that a programmer might occasionally help customize for a particular vertical.  The key here is that these capabilities are not central to the capabilities of the system.  Any system might have APIs for extending it, and that is OK as long as those APIs are not central to the features that are needed in the first place.  If, however, you see a vendor claiming that these are important features of the system, you should be very suspicious that it is not really an ACMS.


I would like to thank all the people who have helped to make this list somewhat complete on the original post and in the ACM Linked-In group.

This entry was posted in Adaptive, Adaptive Case Management and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ACM Spotter’s Guide

  1. Dave Duggal says:

    Hi Keith – Well done. Really, this is the best summation to date – clear, concise, objective. Thanks for pulling it together.

    For your readers who are not members (yet) of the ACM Group on LinkedIn, below are links to a few of the related ACM Group discussions you referenced for anyone interested –


  2. Dave Duggal says:

    A couple of quick items to consider –

    Level 2 – “Common Extensions” – I’d like to see it include the ability to include a functions/tools/widgets from a library, just as it is allowing for Business Entities to be invoked. These too can have access controls and likewise be potentially recommended based on Case context.

    Level 3 – “Advanced Extensions” – Let’s allow for modelling Business Entities and Policies, after all they can be invoked by Level 2. On related note, repository/registry of generalized functions so Customer sites, not just vendors, can add functions to their ACM system.

    This brings me to “What An ACM System does NOT have” – as per previous, given process is a continuum, I don’t see value in being exclusionary – ACM must be able to “stand alone” without modeling environments so it “does not NEED” it, but why preclude it by extension?

    The addition of Level 2 and 3 after our discussions last summer/fall have allowed for ACM to be part of a bigger picture, but clearly establishes that it must start with the “empty” case concept. I think that’s great, but extensions are extensions; we shouldn’t stifle innovation.

    My two-cents – I must be up to almost a buck by now ; )

  3. kswenson says:

    Thanks Dave, your contributions have been absolutely essential to this effort.

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