Process Mapping, Modeling, BPM, ACM, ECM, ERP – Unscrambling the Puzzle
It seems these days if something doesn’t have an acronym then it doesn’t deserve a place in the business world. Over the past 20 years software vendors have developed a plethora of tools to help improve the way we manage our business processes.
Many have come through quite considerable transformations and re-inventions to give us the confusing software process landscape that we see today.
So how do we make sense of it all? How do we distinguish between the tools that are out there today? How do we know the difference between a BPM a BPA or an ACM?
This handy guide attempts to separate the wood from the trees…
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Tools
ERP tools emerged in the early 1990’s and focused initially on the automation of back office processes such as accounting and HR, with front office functionality (such as Customer Relationship Management) being adopted later.
Tools such as Peoplesoft and SAP became synonymous with the huge uptake in these tools. But the initial wave of adoption turned to disappointment as businesses became painfully aware of the inflexibility and expense of many ERP tools, leading instead to a shift towards next generation BPM (Business Process Management) tools as their replacements.
Process Mapping Tools
Process Mapping tools are low cost (or free) software products that provide basic flowcharting capabilities – the most famous of which is our old friend Microsoft Visio.
However a number of free mapping tools have popped up in recent years, such as ARIS Express, Smartdraw and Gliffy.
Process Modelling Tools
Process modeling tools are the big brother of mapping tools.
The easiest way to understand the difference between mapping tools and modeling tools is to think of mapping tools as 2 dimensional, whereas modeling tools are 3 dimensional.
This is because modeling tools have the ability to link objects in a database, which means that complex relationships between objects (such as tasks) can be created. Modeling tools also typically have sophisticated simulation and reporting capabilities and tend to be used for more than just process modeling (for example, modeling enterprise architecture).
Some of the most popular modeling tools include ARIS, iGrafx and Nimbus.
Business Process Management (BPM) tools
Business process management tools (alternatively known as BPMS) seek to provide an holistic approach to the management of organizational processes.
Whilst there has been huge interest in these tools and the efficiencies they can achieve, many remain too costly and difficult to implement.
Popular examples of BPM tools include Pega, Appian, Lombardi and Tibco.
Adaptive Case Management (ACM) Tools
Adaptive Case Management is also known as Dynamic Case Management or DCM.
There are blurred boundaries between ACM/DCM & BPM tools with some BPM tools (e.g. Pega) claiming that they have case management capabilities due to their advanced rules engines.
But what is ACM?
The key to explaining ACM is the word adaptive.
Whilst traditional process tools seek to channel processes down a workflow, ACM tools can adapt to the particular situation and are viewed as being more flexible.
Both BPM and ACM seek to fulfill a process goal, but the pathway through the process with ACM tools is deemed to be more fluid. Proponents of ACM say that the business world is inherently unstructured and that ACM is the solution.
Electronic Content Management (ECM) Tools
Electronic content management started its life as a means of managing the information within an organization.
Initially this started with Document Management but rapidly expanded to encompass all information within the organization, such as intranet and extranet content.
As technology became more sophisticated, ECM was opened up to provide content to partners and customers via portals – now a huge area of expansion for firms who realize that they can reduce costs by giving customers access to functionality and content previously reserved for internal staff.
Furthermore, greater synergies have been achieved via the integration of workflow, ECM and document management as demonstrated by particularly advanced vendors in the market.
Whilst many of these technologies have been created to resolve specific business problems there is a trend toward convergence to create product suites that seek to solve holistic business problems and enable Enterprise Business Process Management.
We have recently seen Software AG acquire ARIS and Tibco aquire Nimbus and already they have begun on work that will blur the boundaries between process modeling and process automation.
Meanwhile BPA vendors such as Pega and Appian already claim that their tools have both modeling and automation capabilities.
Whilst all of these advances are benefitting organizations we must always remember that not every process can be automated and that our dependence upon human skill and ingenuity is something to be treasured.
These technologies remain tools, like a pitchfork, ready for employees to bring in the harvest.