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What to choose: Adaptive Case Management or Business Process Management?

The rise of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) solutions – which started somewhere around 2010 – led to a lot of questions about the value of BPM (Business Process Management). But what’s the real debate? Are the two approaches opposed to each other or complementary?

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For every organization that wants to do more with less, process automation is without a doubt a very interesting, if not essential approach. A company that automates its processes, reduces the number of tasks and errors, and improves its efficiency. In other words: process automation implies business process modeling or BPM. One of BPM’s objectives is to improve the internal organization of work. With this first goal of process modeling realized, it is possible to automate parts of other activities and improve the availability of the process for the employees, thus maximizing the time they can dedicate to activities with high added value.

Business Process Management can be seen as a modern take on Taylorism, as the processes are divided in small steps, which are in turn assigned to specialized actors: human employees or automated IT solutions. BPM is based on the assumption that processes are written in stone. They follow a tight scheme, including instructions on how to handle exceptional situations. This scheme is prepared in advance and remains stable throughout time.

Adaptive Case Management was introduced as a new way of managing organizational processes, which are by nature not repetitive. The main difference is that ACM doesn’t take the tightness of the process as a starting point. On the contrary, ACM is based on the expertise of the knowledge workers, who are capable of adapting themselves to get to the end result. ACM aims at managing every case in a specific way. How is it possible to work case by case? Well, ACM is based on a set of operational processes or procedures. They are combined in such a way that they deliver a custom solution for every specific situation.

ACM can be viewed as process orchestration on a lower level, aimed at dealing with a situation to achieve a result. Being the opposite of Taylorism, ACM is based on management by objective. What matters is getting the case solved, regardless of the path that was followed through lower-level processes or procedures.

From its introduction, ACM has often been described as the opposite of BPM, especially because it doesn’t follow the assumption of the strict execution sequence. In reality – and in hindsight – both approaches have more common ground than they have differences. In both BPM and ACM, the modeling is done one level of abstraction at a time, each level nested into the other and revealing more precise details when going from one level to the next. At the highest level of abstraction, the processes are brought together in a few macro activities.

Regardless of what is often said about it, everybody who is experienced in this matter knows that these macro activities are stable and almost always constant, from both the ACM or BPM point of view. On the lowest levels, the procedures become work instructions, very sequential in nature and following a fixed execution structure. So where can we find the difference? At the intermediate levels? Yes and no. Yes, because the work logic is located at the intermediate levels, including the rules and conditions that guide the treatment of each situation in one direction or the other. No, because the complexity of one condition doesn’t prevent a description in BPM more than it imposes a description in ACM.

The knowledge and experience that have been developed by Aprico Consultants strengthen our strong conviction that the expertise of the business analyst is at the heart of all this, much more than the choice between two methodologies. The understanding of an organization and its activities, the understanding of the decision making process throughout these activities, the understanding of the information the business needs to make these decisions: those are the true questions for the business analyst.

The complexity of a decision – if correctly understood and modeled – enables the choice between an automated or a manual solution: the choice between the roll-out of a workflow with BPM or the treatment of a case with ACM. “Correctly understood and modeled”, however, doesn’t mean it’s just a matter of model. The organization of work, responsabilities and internal choices all come into play. It’s on that level that the expertise of the Aprico Consultants business analysists makes the difference.

In conclusion, the expertise developed by Aprico Consultants through a wide range of projects tends to prove that there is no real debate, let alone a schism between two dogmas. At Aprico Consultants, we believe that both approaches focus on the same goal: the understanding of the business rules that guide the execution of actions. This field of expertise is at your service.

Would you like to know more about our business analysts? Contact us at sales@aprico-consult.com.