Filling the Void between BPM and Social Media

In this post I will shed light on many of the fuzzy areas of ACM that have come up again over the last few weeks. Some of it relates to similarities and overlap with both BPMS products on the one end and Social Media and Enterprise 2.0 products on the other. I see ACM filling the huge gap between BPMS and Social Media. ACM uses elements of both and links to both as required. Yes, my kind of ACM can also replace a BPMS in a cinch and provide a customer focused, homogenous Information Workplace.

In relationship to BPMS the core subject is a very principal question. Do you want to put your people and business into a flowcharted straightjacket or not? Yes, go for BPMS flowcharts. No? You need something that empowers the business user for goals and outcomes, but not just in theoretical Balanced Scorecards and Powerpoints and then monitor some disconnected KPIs. Real-world, real-time, real product!


ACM is not just about allowing tasks to be rerouted to anyone else on a whim. That is completely irrelevant. In ACM the authority to reroute tasks can be assigned based on the needs of the business organization. You want to nail it down, do so. In most cases work tasks should anyway be assigned to USER ROLES and not a particular person. Reviewing someone’s work should not happen by rerouting the same work task, but it must be a distinct review task to keep track of it. In other situations should the business user have the authority to pull-in such a review task on the fly without breaking the flow. He might be authorized to skip a task. If goals are fulfilled, other waiting tasks become irrelevant. Business rules might cancel or change task status. A user might also have the authority to create a delegation task for some aspects of his work item. Delegation is not just work reassignment, but asking someone to perform other work in addition to my own. Some BPMS support Ad-Hoc task creation and work delegation, but it is not a key difference anyway.

One of the key distinctions to BPMS: ‘Process Design and Process Execution are separate entities.’ In ACM however, you DESIGN while you EXECUTE and it is not the same as Social BPM design that is also before execution. The principal concept of ADAPTIVE is that knowledge from execution can be fed back into the templates. In ACM you also optimize during execution as you look at goals and metrics in real-time. AGILE BPM needs the governance bureaucracy to manage design before and optimization after execution.

‘Reporting, Simulation, Forms GUI, Emails, Documents, Roll-back …’ aren’t considered in BPMN during design. Correct! And that is the next ACM distinction to BPMS. In a BPMS, all those elements require substantial additional effort often including programming to make them usable. So when you are done with your wonderful BPMN flowchart, you have at most 20% of the final process functionality. Those  missing 80% need BPM governance to manage. Even Human-BPMS that are very agile and dynamic do not enable users to make all those changes to the process during execution. And why not, for some organizations that may be just what they want! Please, buy a BPMS if you see no other need at all. You will still end up needing adaptive processes as well.

Adaptive Case Management is also about CONTENT AND PROCESS! Once again, there is no process without content and content without process is irrelevant. Most ACM ‘wannabees’ have however no content features. A first opportunity for confusion, but a clear distinction to BPMS that also have no inbound and outbound content features. Some ECM systems can combine content and workflow features but most need Eclipse to integrate them.

What is the relationship to Social Media and Enterprise 2.0?

First, ACM offers chats, blogs, wikis and dynamic user groups. My kind of ACM is a lot more Social already than any BPMS ever can be. I have stated clearly how I see Social Media and how we use it. I disagree that simple Social Media are anywhere close to ADAPTIVE, while AGILE BPM bureaucracy is exactly the opposite. Social Media is CHAOTIC and only if there is a learning capability it could be emergent to new knowledge. BPM is not learning because the governance is totalitarian. That is the weird thing about Social BPM. On the one hand they want to control everything, but in the middle of it they are going social during design and execution? If you add Social you break the governance and/or you break the process flow. So it is suddenly not needed? Why then bother with it in first place?

Do Social Media solve the same problems that ACM solves? Absolutely not. They create new ones! I wrote a blog post on Activity Streams to explain just that.  A social interaction that is not tightly linked into a process (as it is in ACM) does not produce value. Social interaction implies unstructuredness and unpredictable behavior so it would be a lot worse than the email mess we already have. ACM can embed Social because it has no restrictive flow! How would you embed a social interaction into a process flowchart and control it? How do you pass data, content and so on? Yes, as hyperlinks in the message, but then what happens in that link? You open up the process GUI or you loose control. But how is that now related to the predesigned flow, because who will know who answered or changed what in a Tweet response? Maybe Social has a little tweeting birdy in its cage? No, it is again pure hype and social lipstick on the BPM pig. Empowerment is not about Social media, but about authority, goals and means.

Some points more: ACM is in difference to BPMS a natural with events, rules and goals. BPMS miss the capability to deal with random events. Therefore, Michael zur Mühlen cuts BPMN back to simple ACM-like task management. Event listeners in BPMN mostly break the flow and it is very difficult to resume normal execution. Flowcharts virutally can’t deal with exceptions or with unknown events, like one more message or document that no one thought of? What if a fraud pattern is detected (i.e. by the UTA*)? How do you deal with all the complex interactions between a large set of processes if not with events? How do you keep business rules and the related data in a BRM engine in sync? How do you trigger rules from events and vice-versa? Can the business users write rules?  How do they map them to business data, content or tasks? How do process owners define goals and link them to objectives and metrics? How are meta-data models linked dynamically to all of the above? Find the answers in your favorite BPMS and you will know why I propose ACM.

Papyrus ACM is certainly not anti-BPM, because my solution proposal clearly focuses on PROCESS OUTCOMES. We also have a BPMN compliant flowchart editor, but I am also clearly saying that one cannot guarantee outcomes in customer interaction with rigid processes. You can certainly put a lot of BPM governance bureaucracy in place to manage the analysis and design BEFORE execution and the monitoring and optimization AFTER execution, but what it really needs is that BOTH are moved INTO EXECUTION. And that is the key difference between ACM and BPM, while ACM also follows the BPM principles. What I am personally opposed to is to try and map how your business works into low-level, step-by-step flowcharts. But if that’s what you  really want to do, you can do that with our Papyrus platform too and you have all the master data, content, event and rule handling included for free. You don’t like that? Well, enjoy your integration projects!

The final point to make is that we are just talking about silly acronyms. and a solution space that is interpreted into them. I wish we would not need to, but it is the market fragmentation by analysts that causes it. There is also the wish of some businesses 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. There are thousands of BPM methodology messiahs who have a serious problem with how BPMS technology is used. I am no different. 


About Max J. Pucher

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Papyrus Software, a medium size software company offering solutions in communications and process management around the globe. I am also the owner and CEO of MJP Racing, a motorsports company focused on Rallycross or RX, a form of circuit racing on mixed surfaces that has been around for 40 years. I hold 8 national and international championship titles in RX. My team participates in the World Championship along Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb and Ken Block.
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