Posted by: Adam Deane | 03/11/2010

ACM is a very naughty boy

ACM MessiahI must confess that I enjoyed writing my last post on ACM.
The ACM guys have been sniping at us for ages…
A good comeuppance, well deserved I think…

I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s topic to ACM (Adaptive Content Management). It’s an interesting topic, innovative, with very “passionate” bloggers.
I also think it’s an important concept that we have missed.

ACM currently gets a cold shoulder from the BPM crowd. It’s treated like some sort of “Ugly Duckling”. Everyone is watching to see if it will mature into a graceful swan … or will it be stuffed for Christmas dinner …

ACM as a Concept
Organisations require Case Management solutions. There’s no “ifs” or “buts” about it. It’s used, it brings value, it solves business pains.
Unstructured, unpredictable, dynamic, adaptive process – it provides a good solution.

My problem with ACM is not the concept, but the way it’s presented.

The common theme behind most of the ACM posts is:
BPM doesn’t support it, BPM can’t support it, Therefore we should give it a new acronym and set it up as an alternative to BPM
It sounds a bit like: My cat has four legs. All dogs have four legs. Therefore, my cat is a dog.

ACM Rhetoric
I see a lot of angry rhetoric “BPM assumes”, “BPM doesn’t work”, “BPM is a false god”.
Gents – Could I kindly ask you to tone down your language, if possible.
Like others in the industry, I enjoy reading people’s opinions, even the provocative ones. You’ve spent time and energy writing them, so I suppose you would like us to read them, but it is very hard to read them when you are YELLING AT US all the time.
Also, could I kindly ask you to shorten your blog posts, or at least write the points you are trying to make at the beginning or the end of the post (I get a bit lost reading long articles and then need to try remembering what was the point they were trying to make)

Some processes are not predictable
True! And these processes should be implemented by an ACM tool, not a BPM tool.
BPM doesn’t provide solutions to ERP, CRM, ECM scenarios either…

Users must have the ability to dynamically reroute the process
I disagree. At least from my experience I can say that most organisations want to lock down the user’s ability to reroute tasks.
You have received a task. You are responsible to do it. You are accountable. No forwarding of the task please. You need to do it.
If an organisation wants the users to be able to dynamically reroute all of their processes – they shouldn’t be looking for a BPM platform.

BPM doesn’t support ad-hock routing.
I partly agree. I’m not saying that ad-hock routing doesn’t exist in BPM. It does, but in specific work scenarios
• Tom hasn’t come into work today (sick). We can’t have his task sitting in his inbox waiting till tomorrow (or escalated). Tom’s manager wants to be able to take the task and pass it to someone else, now.
• Tom has been fired. We need all of his tasks to be pushed to other people in the department.
• Tom accidently clicked on the wrong button (“declined” instead of “approved with comments”). We need the ability to roll-back the specific instance so that Tom can resubmit the form.
• Tom decides he needs someone else to review the details before he approves it, as the specific process instance has a potential blow-up (internal politics, conflicts a previous process instance, involves a large amount of revenue..)
Most BPMS tools provide out-of-the-box functionality for the above scenarios.

All paths must be defined in BPMN in order to be BPM. Nothing needs to be predefined in ACM..
I disagree. Dynamic routing is process execution functionality, not process design.
Process Design and Process Execution are separate entities.
There are things that you can’t design in BPMN, and you don’t need to.
I’ll give an example: Delegation – this is runtime functionality that is not designed in BPMN or any process designer. It’s functionality that is embedded in every BPMS or process execution tool.
BPMN doesn’t support Reporting, Simulation, Forms GUI, Emails, Documents, Roll-back either…
Dynamic routing is process execution functionality, not a process design functionality.

In a nutshell I’m saying that if you are using a tool that has missing functionality, then you need to change or enhance the tool, not create a new religion.
Most BPM suites have this functionality built-in. It appears as a pre-requisite in any RFI or tender for BPMS vendors.
Does the existing functionality cover every aspect of ad-hock routing? – No.
Can this functionality be improved? – Absolutely.
Should we chuck it away and start purchasing ACM – No.

The Missed Opportunity
The whole IT industry is going social.
BPM vendors are developing Enterprise Twitters (which is as adaptive and unstructured as you can get… here is a technology that has implemented the ACM concept.)
The ACM guys should of been the first to embrace it… Heck, forget embrace it. They should of thought of it in the first place !!
But instead, they were busy picking holes in BPM, and missed their opportunity…

Bottom Line
Adaptive is not a new concept. It’s been around for years.
I haven’t seen it catching on yet. But that’s just my humble opinion.
It provides a good solution for unstructured processes.
BPM provides a good solution for structured processes.
Live and let live.

ACM is not the new messiah… It’s just a very naughty boy….


  1. Hi Adam, guilty as charged! My strong reaction is caused by the massive billion-follar marketing efforts for BPMS. I have been a BPM anarchist and terrorist for over then years and proud of it too.

    I will write another blog post on the subject but I guess it won’t be a short one. In short I can only say that the problem is not whether BPM provides ad-hoc or not, or allows for run-time delegation. All elements of processes have to be user configurable at any time.

    The whole concept of flowcharts is simply flawed if applied all the way to a business. Life is not about sequences of work items, but about states, events and some rules. Proces is about outcomes and flows can’t guarantee outcomes.

    So it is not SOME processes that are unstructured, but there are just a few that can reduced to BPMS flows. Less than 20% I suggest. Maybe 20% are hardocded into ER. Leaves 60% of processes to be taken care of. If those are flowcharted it hurts the business. No, I won’t make a deal. I rather go to jail! I am that convinced.

    I would be OK to call what I suggest BPM and I do call it ADAPTIVE PROCESS, but then it would simply disappear in the BPM fog. So ACM is one vehicle to attack the BPM illusion.

    Thanks, Dean for opening up the subject and discussion. I truly appreciate your candid and factual style. I will try to write shorter posts, but I the subject not for people ADD. Best, Max

  2. Hi Adam,

    Enjoyed your post. I generally agree. I’ve pointed out in quite a few posts that ACM will not succeed by being the anti-anything/everything technology.

    It’s fair to point out though, as Max did, that the BPMS/BPMN community spends an ungodly amount of money on marketing and it is hard to be heard over the din. That’s not justification of course, but explanation.

    BPMx is often marketed as the hammer for every nail, but as you note it has some limitations, some that will be addressed by the evolution of the standard, however some are intrinsic to the approach.

    As another form of process technology, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between some BPM strawman and one of the various approaches to ACM.

    It’s worth pointing out there is no one definition of ACM, it’s more of a community organized around an idea of emergent/flexible process rather than a standard.

    As I’ve noted elsewhere, we shouldn’t idealize unstructured or structured process. From a business perspective I see an opportunity to add options, providing organizations technology that allows process controls to vary with circumstances – not dogmatically client-driven, but flexible where possible to proactively support variance rather than re actively manage exceptions.

    Thanks for taking on this topic. It would be great if you shed some light on ACM and how it broadly relates to BPM.


    • Thanks Dave,

      ACM is an interesting subject.
      It’s innovative, and has a very “passionate” community.

      The end result is to provide a solid solution to the organisation’s business pain.
      Something like “Smart Systems for Brilliant People”…


  3. […] was once again Adam Deane who tries to bring light to this by restarting the ACM/BPM debate. I just love his weekly quote summaries. While I don’t agree with him, I admire his guts and […]

  4. Hi Adam,

    Interesting post in defence of BPM.

    To your point about about ad-hoc routing, I know that it can be done in BPM, its just that to enable it tends to clutter up the whole process definition to such a degree that the “happy path” gets lost in the confusion of managing occasional exceptions. So it never gets implemented, and people end up in email and work just disappears off the radar.

    To quote Max “The whole concept of flowcharts is simply flawed if applied all the way to a business. Life is not about sequences of work items, but about states, events and some rules”.

    BPM is great technology, just sometimes its more than is needed, wrapping up rules and content management into a spidery process map that loses its original meaning. Maybe that’s just because we try and make it do everything, rather than just what it is good at.

    I expect we’ll see this discussion going on for quite a while!


  5. I like ACM. I like BPM.

    My focus is on establishing and encouraging the use of best practices. I use the better parts of ACM/BPM and don’t feel any particular need to align myself with one camp or the other.

    The tools I give my customers are ONE screen with a display of fixed appointments on one side and floating tasks in a listbox on the other. Anyone who has used a personal agenda ‘gets’ this. Easy to learn, easy to use.

    It helps to have 1,000,000 lines of ‘smart’ code running in the background.

    The tools allow hospitals, on the one hand, to be automated but with a simple name change they also support condition-based maintenance of complex military equipment.

  6. The point really is that we are talking about silly acronyms. I wish we would not need to, but it is the market fragmentation by analysts that causes it. There is also the wish of customers to be given simplistic choices so they don’t have to understand what they are buying. I suggest to focus on real-world business needs and not the assumed scope of an acronym. Their are thousands of BPM methodology messiahs who have a serious problem with how BPMS technology is used. I am no different. I just propose a technology solution to the problems and that’s where the conflict comes in. So its really just a storm in a waterglass.

  7. […] nonsense. You are not standing up for anything. I admire Adam Dean, because he had the guts to say: ‘This is what I think about ACM compared to BPM.’ Great! Stand up and fight! Let’s have a discussion, but let’s not get personal. People […]

  8. […] that is vaguely familiar with a new name then the religious wars start. “BPM can do that and ACM is a naughty boy.” “Case Management is just a part of my CRM solution.” “No, it has […]

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