Mention of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) always raises heated arguments about what it means and/or what it should mean. Much of the problem has to do with the name itself. It is difficult to associate a biological sense of adaptation to something that is essentially a discrete collection of activities. These disagreements lead to umpteen attempts at defining what ACM is and is not. All of this will be ignored, and for our purpose we will stick to the following practical definition; a case is a collection of activities that on execution achieve a business goal, and the collection of activities do not have a predetermined flow, and neither is there any stipulation that all the activities have to be executed for every instance of the case. The activities that comprise a case are not repeatable, that is, their execution may and most likely to differ from case to case in their execution.
The term “Adaptive” is indicative of an ability to change or modify, and by which altered state the thing becomes fit for new use or condition. The adaptation process is usually triggered from without, not unlike the need for moisture in the example of a seed. The term “mutation”, which also means to change, is also included in the meaning of “Adaptive”. But, “mutation” also brings with it its close links to biology and evolution. One-way of understanding the “Adaptive” part of ACM is to consider how change comes to happen.
- Whether you automate a manual process or you re-engineer an existing process, technology always influences actions and understanding. Learning is a pervasive process and it influences and triggers change; it occurs both at the level of the organisation and at the level of the individual agent (knowledge worker) activities. This learning process will influence how the activities are executed, and in the aggregate may also affect the process itself. In the aggregate these changes will impact how the business goal is achieved.
- Learning is also encouraged by allowing the agent to see all prior completed instances of the process, and the decision that was taken in the specific activity. Providing access to all documents that were used to reach these decisions further enhances this. The history of the current process up to the current activity also helps the agent to learn from each execution of the process.
- Legal changes or government regulations will also influence the processes, for example, compliance requirements have forced many process to be re-engineered to accommodate them. These changes are forced and unavoidable, but implementation can impact many process across the organisation.
- Structural changes in the organisation will also affect the process, as ownership of the whole process or even the responsibility of some activities that affect the path to the business goal. Organisational structure is closely tied to the business goals and business processes.
Organisations are sometimes seen as machines spewing output from input, and at other times they are seen as living organisms. The distinction perhaps should not be so black and white. Much of the language of ACM is derived from the understanding of the consequence of the organisation as a living organism. At scale the living organism metaphor leads one to see the same bio-evolutionary language, such as, emergence, adaptation etc. Emergence in this context can only be explained as an occurrence of the business goal via the executions of activities (dictated by the agent), with neither a pre-determined path nor any inherent sequence to the activities. What we have at scale is combinatorial complexity, which with adequate computational power can be resolved, albeit with difficulty due to the parametric explosion. What are required are new discovery techniques, similar to big data, where new analytic techniques are re-defining discovery, thus allowing us to see the trees from the forest.
Note, through out we have used the word process where some would prefer workflow, and similarly the term activities has been used in place of tasks. It is sufficient to think of an activities performer to be a human agent.