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Labels, labels, everywhere…

November 17th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Human nature forces people to simplify, to identify items, categorize them, and to put a label on them. I see this when my wife’s rescue organization (Echo Dogs White Shepherd Rescue) gets a new foster dog. “Oh, that looks like a white german shepherd crossed with a yorkie”.

Romeo

Romeo

Do I really know that Romeo (don’t ask) is has Yorkie in him? No, not for sure. But I look at him and see that he’s certainly part WGS and has a shorter nose and curly, downy fur, so I sort through my mental pictures of dog breeds and come back with a touch of Yorkie. In the future, once he’s found a “forever” home (in rescue terms), I’ll remember him using that mix because that makes it easier for me to recall a picture of him.

I often see this phenomenon manifested in enterprise software through the evaluation and purchasing cycles, typically in the form of “I need an XYZ system to solve this problem.” Ironically, software vendors and analysts often compound the problem through labeling of software solutions. Think of all the Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) that you might or might not be familiar with: CRM, ERP, BPM(S), ECM, CEP, BPA, BTM, CAS, BRM(S). Why do we, as members of the community, do this to ourselves and to our customers? More often than not it’s out of a desire to explain that something we have is different than the rest of the solutions out there.

Take Adaptive Case Management as an example. Case Management has been around for quite some time in paper and electronic format, and people who do it understand the concept. However the latest generation of solutions represent a huge step forward in terms of user empowerment, flexibility and productivity. So do you call that Case Management? Or come up with a new term like Adaptive (WfMC), Dynamic (Forrester) or something else entirely (various marketing departments)? For the sake of emphasis, an evolutionary name like Adaptive Case Management is intended to say “hey, this is still Case Management as you’ve known it, but significantly more powerful. And for those of you who don’t manage cases, well, this still might help you because it’s about improving knowledge worker productivity, something many businesses face.”

No sooner do you refer to something that is vaguely familiar with a new name then the religious wars start. “BPM can do that and ACM is a naughty boy.” “Case Management is just a part of my CRM solution.” “No, it has documents so it’s part of Enterprise Content Management.” “We’ve had that and ERP and TPS reports in one solution forever, in fact we invented it!” Not only that but the poor individual who says “gee, I think I have something different here” is strapped to the mast and given 50 lashes!

If I were speaking now rather than writing, and in person rather than behind a keyboard, you’d see I write this with mirth in my voice and a smile on my face rather than frustration and a frown. After all, this IS human nature we’re dealing with here, so it’s completely understandable that people react the way they do.

However there is a real problem with all of these TLAs, which is that they are labels, (il)logical groupings of capabilities created to make it easier to identify solutions to what are perceived as common problems. Do most companies really care what technology is used to drive performance improvements or to realize cost savings? Not in my mind, no. What they care about is that the tools they put in front of their employees, customers and partners don’t handicap their ability to get their job done.

The question I have is how to get around alphabet soup and simply identify and communicate the value of a solution to a business problem? Any thoughts?

Categories: Case Management
  1. November 21st, 2010 at 13:21 | #1

    Hi Tom, I often rave against TLA’s and it is simply useless. As you say it is a human element to try and generalize everything. In software the reason is to a large part to make something comparable that really isn’t. Thus the analysts mostly create those TLAs and then the vendors start feature list wars.

    Maybe at some point in the future it will be en-vogue again to have inhouse IT skills who can actually understand software and deal with a product trial or proof of concept. That is the only time when you find out if it does what is needed.

    Once you do that who cares if it can be generalized under a TLA or not.

    Kind regards, Max

  1. November 17th, 2010 at 11:11 | #1
  2. November 21st, 2010 at 02:20 | #2