What Could Cause Adaptive Case Management to Fail in 2011

Over the course of 2010 I have had the opportunity to discuss ACM with a variety of people – from deep techies that know very little about the business to business people that know very little about technology. In many of those cases the conversation was around some form of business process management – since (at least to me) it seemed a pretty well-known term that we could use as basis to compare different types of processes – structured business processes vs. unstructured (or unpredictable) processes.

In my mind the right approach to ACM is a platform approach. I think that most technical ACM folks (which right now seem to be most of the ACM community) think similarly. An ACM platform is technology enabling process participants (aka people) to get unstructured processes done better (less lost  info, fewer mis-steps and “lost” processes) and more easily (less cognitive overload and process bookkeeping) than if they used other non-ACM tools like plain email.  An ACM platform can be tailored for specific types of unstructured processes (M&A, Insurance claim processing, sales) providing a specific ACM solution or application (and hopefully you don’t need a technical degree to tailor the platform to a specific type of unstructured process).

Here is the catch – business folks don’t really understand or buy platforms, they buy applications. Technical folks understand platforms – but really believe that all processes need to be structured – it is only a matter of effort (the have been a couple of good posts that contrast this by Michael Poulin (representing the IT side)  on “Why Business Process is Always Structured”  and Keith Swenson (representing the ACM side) -“Structure is in the Eye of the Beholder” .

The biggest issue with ACM is that business process management suites, which for many are the platform of choice  for process implementation, are sold to IT. The IT department understands platforms but doesn’t understand unstructured process. On the other hand, the business understands unstructured processes but doesn’t understand platforms.

So there seems to be two paths – get the IT folks to understand unstructured process, or get the business folks to understand platforms.

It seems to me that right now most of the effort is to get IT people on board with ACM. The problem is that (for some) means attempting to paint unstructured process management as just a “simple” extension of structured process management. It isn’t, and it requires a different way of thinking about process. I think that path will drastically limit the business impact ACM could have.  

To make a real impact on managing unstructured processes the shift needs to be driven by the business. For ACM to really catch on we need the business side – CEOs, CFOs, and COOs to really get on board with the business need of managing unstructured process, and to a platform oriented approach to managing unstructured processes. The only person that can do that is the CIO – the only question is how to convince them they should…

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