Posted by: Adam Deane | 29/03/2011

ACM: Adaptive Case Management

ACMAdaptive Case Management, or ACM for short.

Got to love them.
First of all, they are a very lively bunch. They’re active on the web, blogs and Twitter. Engaging, explaining, preaching…
They are passionate about their methodology.

I love writing about ACM. It always gets emotional reactions.
“How can you not understand the power of ACM?”. “ACM is the future!”
It’s also great fun teasing them a bit…

Had you asked me a year ago about ACM, I would of told you that it’s a marketing ploy. Companies that couldn’t compete with the bigger BPM vendors decided to invent a ‘methodology’ differentiator.
Now if you’d ask me, I’d say that it is a valid methodology, it solves a real business pain and more importantly – there is a market need.

The main problem ACM face is adoption.
ACM requires a new way of thinking. But not everyone is up to it.
Most organisations require BPM because they are in a muddle, disorganised and inefficient. Getting them to join the 21st century is hard enough. Asking them to think “adaptive” is impossible.
I choose my battles. Getting the customer to change their mind-set from waterfall to agile is a success.
Getting them to explain the way their business process needs to work – is nearly impossible.
Getting them to think “adaptive” – a miracle…. and I’ve stopped doing performing miracles for customers lately due to health and safety laws…

I always say that our job is about finding the right solution for the customer’s business pain.
Choosing the technology is about finding the right tool for the job.
Some business process pains require a BPMS, some a CRM system, or a ECM system.

I’ve been to customers that need case management, but are implementing a BPM solution.
I’m not saying good or bad, just a fact of life. I’ve seen companies using ECM software to build workflows, I’ve seen CRM used as a HR system, and I’ve seen HR systems used for finance and accounting.
Total disasters, but part of the fun of corporate life .

ACM solutions fit a specific business process requirement – dynamic routing.
They’re not built for strict processes like finance and legal processes. They are probably perfect for call centre processes and internal organisational communication where you want to allow the end-users to have the flexibility to change the process route. I’m sure the ACM guys can give additional areas where ACM fits customers like a glove.

Is there a ACM vs BPM battle. Sure. ACM is still trying to prove it’s worth.
Is there a BPM vs. ACM battle. No. I don’t think any of the BPM vendors are intimidated by ACM. There is enough room in the market for everyone.
ACM… got to love them… such a serious bunch… still.. good fun teasing them…

Look… there goes a successful ACM solution…
.. just joking..


Responses

  1. Hi Adam,

    This Dynamic or Adaptive Case management is an interesting disruption to current practice. Imagine a company previously needing 10 companies to do a workflow tasks that are costly to change, now using primarily 1 company platform to run the show with their own users doing the workflows, forms and all changes without charting? We have enabled a client in Singapore (NTUC Income Insurance) on a 10 year journey already, still on GrowHill Galaxy platform. Love to share… Their ‘A’ team has transformed their call center operations from a cost to a million dollar generating unit per year based on the platform.

  2. Try also getting all your case channels interaction on all mobile channels without needing to install any plugins on your browser, mobiles and personal devices. Think case management has much bigger social interaction channels involvement these days. A new radical platform should support seamless integration of communication with these case management all but without that hefty cost.

  3. Adam, you may not be aware of it but you are one of the most prominent promoters of ACM! You are consistently challenging the concept with questions and examples employing great humor which makes for a great read. Yes, it is more than teasing, but rather trying to get to the bottom of it. The BPM vendors chose the opposite route because they ARE INTIMIDATED: They try to completely ignore ACM as to not give it a stage and if they mention itthey claim that ACM is no more than ‘dynamic routing’ that they already have. ACM can implement any strict or rigid process as required … but it can be changed to adaptive anytime needed.

    ACM is however – as you properly recognize – about a shift in management style. ACM in my vision includes everything that BPMS do and even more important, embeds the complex and expensive management BPM methodology into the software and empowers business to use it. What can be wrong with that? Yes, it challenges the jobs of BPM flowchart designers, but that’s all. ACM versus BPM is therefore nonsense because what is ACM lacking? Nothing! What are BPMS lacking? The essentially different management style!

    ACM also adds social interaction that is soooo future oriented in BPM and uses it to empower the business for actual interaction about the process templates, not just chat. It enables top-down transparency for outcomes and goals and bottom-up for analysis and monitoring.

    The largest stumbling block for a business to really move forward with process management is not the business who does not understand the ACM concepts, it is IT people! They are stuck in old-style outdated programming and flowcharts thinking and are worried about their jobs. They use scare tactics to tell business management that with all these new ‘adaptive’ dynamics they won’t be compliant. Giving the users more power will mean that they won’t be as efficient. Bottlenecks won’t be identified. Problems will be circumvented and not solved. And so on …

    All that is simply misrepresentation. I totally agree with you that selling ACM and adaptive concepts is difficult. Especially as we have to break through IT walls and the advertizing billions of the incumbent BPM vendors. From that perspective ACM is not a threat to them as they got all the analysts in their deep pockets as well.

    So what are you worried about, Adam? Your job is safe!

  4. Then there are ACM/BPM proponents who like/use the best parts of both of these methodologies.

    Here is a simple example of the practicality – a healthcare worker is at a task and has a question. Its 3:30 PM. The worker poses a question in the form of an e-mail inquiry to a smartphone, then goes off shift.

    With ACM, a copy of the ad hoc outgoing inquiry stays at the task. When the domain expert responds to the inquiry the response goes back to the task where the night shift replacement of the worker sees both and is able to complete the task.

    If the domain expert responses to the originator of the inquiry we see an automatic 16 hour delay.

    Ad hoc intervention capabilities (ACM) reduce errors during processing of workflows (BPM).

    Many more examples exist – ability to re-visit an already completed step along a workflow, ability to record data at a step along a workflow when the step is not yet current, add a step that was not part of the workflow,

  5. Adam,

    as almost always you’re spot on. Innovation IS a challenge to traditional thinking and it definitely requires an open mind as it can be imposed by sequential flowcharting. The difficulties are obvious, it’s just about the choices people make, or think they have to make for some odd reason. The benefits, on the other hand, are also quite obvious and demonstrated again and again.

  6. I am happy to hear that you shifted your opinion on ACM from “nonsense” to a real methodology. One down, one million to go 🙂

    I actually think that the problems will be from market confusion, as far as I can tell just about every BPM vendor now does either adaptive case management, or at the very least dynamic case management.

    So the pretty ACM product you see walking down the street looks like ACM and walks like ACM – but when you take her home well – you’l be surprised to say the least (ever hear the Kinks song Lola?).

    I think ACM can be part of a BPM suite – but not as a core part of the tool – it is just too different, and a different way of managing and thinking about process.

    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActionBase

  7. Adam,

    I am happy to hear that you shifted your opinion on ACM from “nonsense” to a real methodology. One down, one million to go 🙂

    I actually think that the problems will be from market confusion, as far as I can tell just about every BPM vendor now does either adaptive case management, or at the very least dynamic case management.

    So the pretty ACM product you see walking down the street looks like ACM and walks like ACM – but when you take her home well – you’l be surprised to say the least (ever hear the Kinks song Lola?).

    I think ACM can be part of a BPM suite – but not as a core part of the tool – it is just too different, and a different way of managing and thinking about process.

    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActionBase

  8. The problem is not ACM but the way it’s communicated (currently). Yes, there are businesses where knowledge processes are 80% or 90%. Healthcare for example. However, industries like Banking, Insurance, Sales&Distribution, Public sector have well-structured or semi-structured processes dominating. I don’t see this changing. That’s the nature of their business. A lot of routine work.

    Meeting a structured-process needs with ACM tools would be as bad as meeting non-structured process needs with workflow-centred BPM tool. I might be wrong. Pointers to examples of that would be highly appreciated.

  9. Ivo,
    I think you are mistaken – Healthcare, Banking, Finance, Sales and Distribution are exactly the industries that most need ACM – because most of their processes are unstructured. Just as an example – does your doctor follow a structured workflow when you are ill? When structuring a complex loan – does your banker follow a fixed flow?

    I think what confuses people that many routine processes in every industry are structured or semi-structured (like billing in healthcare) – but most of the knowledge work is not. So if you look at a very simple banking customer transaction that doesn’t cause any exceptions, the process is structured – once the transacton is unusual, complex or has is an exception – it is unstructured.

    Most high risk\high reward processes are unstructured.

    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActonBase

    • Jakob,

      If you read again my previous comment, you’ll see that Healthcare was pointed out as an example of knowledge-driven industry. There the majority of the business processes are unstructured and ACM-like solutions seems suitable. So, no disagreement here.

      Now, Banking is another story. There, I disagree that knowledge processes dominate. Yes, complex loan is probably a good example but that, or the work of dealers, is a relatively small albeit important part of their business. (And most so called ‘complex’ loans are just ‘complicated’ but that’s another topic)

      I agree that a complex transaction should fall in the ‘unstructured’ category but I’m not convinced about exceptions. Depends on their nature. And there are patterns of exceptions that are well handled not only by semi- but also by well structured processes.

      Once again my point: ACM looks like a good and promising thing and it seems in many cases does the job better than a ‘traditional’ BPM solution. What I’m not happy to see is force-fitting it in situations where other approaches would be more effective and/or efficient. And those are two kind of situations: some unstructured part exists but is relatively small, and when automation is done for the sake of it. Knowledge workers have already a good tool for that, their brains.

      I’m happy to see ACM growing. Normally youth is energetic, ambitious, passionate and riotous. And ACM is no exception.

  10. […] Anecdote from the Finance Sector April 2, 2011 // 0 A conversation on Adam Deane’s blog on “Adaptive Case Management, or ACM for short” got me thinking about banking processes and whether or not they are structured (not just […]

  11. […] Adaptive Case Management, or ACM for short. Got to love them. First of all, they are a very lively bunch. They’re active on the web, blogs and Twitter. Engaging, explaining, preaching… They are passionate about their methodology. I love writing about ACM. It always gets emotional reactions. “How can you not understand the power of ACM?”. “ACM is the future!” It’s also great fun teasing them a bit… Had you asked me a year ago about ACM, I would of … Read More […]


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