Earlier this month I interviewed Forrester Research's Connie Moore and Craig Le Clair, who did an admirable job of explaining to this business process management rookie the concept of case management and how it is becoming more flexible to encompass not only documents and their related workflows but more tacit interactions such as phone calls. Said Le Clair:
If you think of the way process management and the technology to support it has been developed, it's been around very production-oriented flows. The idea was to get the tacit and the human elements almost out of the process. Every exception was scripted, and you don't really want people to think. But the number of jobs that are left today are requiring more diversity of skills. One of the distinctions with dynamic case management is a blended set of controls, human driven and system driven. The previous world of process management and automation was focused on controlling system-driven automation and really ignored the tacit and more human elements ...
Moore and Le Clair refer to this emerging variant of case management as dynamic case management. The Workflow Management Coalition uses the term adaptive case management, Moore pointed out.
Though some kind of term is obviously needed, Andrew Smith, the managing director of IT services provider One Degree, opines on his Andrew One Degree's Blog that BPM providers focus too much on jargon and in the process alienate everyone but geeks. (I think this is a problem with vendors of most technology solutions, not just BPM.) There's a lesson here for CIOs as well, who are responsible for "selling" technology to line-of-business executives and users.
Smith's suggestion? Keep things simple and drill down to how case management can make folks' jobs easier and improve performance. His four key points:
Moore touched upon all of these points with this comment from our interview:
In an un-automated world, the person has to keep track of all of this stuff, and there is literally a case file. People have files that are five or six inches thick, and lots of knowledge in their head, and lots of undocumented things like phone conversations. In case management, the automation is not as much about flows as it is about synchronization and coordination and information management.
Smith's post generated some great reader comments, including this one from Tom Shepherd:
... But herein lies a problem; some folks who would really benefit from the discipline and technology of case management don't even think in terms of "cases." There are any number of aspects of a business that can be run more effectively with a case management solution, simply because of the ability to deal with business as it happens. Think of a spectrum of "processes" that encompasses insurance claims, policy management, appeals and grievances, talent acquisition and ongoing performance management of employees, and customer service. ...
Again, this came out in my interview with Moore and Le Clair. While the case management concept is best known in the medical and legal verticals, it's now also winning fans in the government and financial services sectors. You can see why when you consider Le Clair's three primary categories of case management:
As Le Clair told me: "I haven't found a market it doesn't apply to."
Both Smith and Shepherd, in the comment string following Smith's post, stress that case management can't be contained in a traditional software application. Le Clair agreed, calling it a "framework" and mentioning that dynamic case management will include elements of BPM, enterprise content management, analytics and social technologies. (That's for techies. Business users will care about the capabilities, but not what they are called.)
Among the specific capabilities that will be required, Le Clair told me:
Le Clair would also like to see prebuilt program process templates that can be assembled by users and tweaked for specific use cases. "So you can pull in the content you need, and the process templates will be associated with business applications like ERP and CRM and so forth," he explained.
A reader of Smith's blog named Jacob Ukelson adds what I think is an essential requirement: usability. It's especially important, he writes, since most users are pretty comfortable with existing tools like e-mail and may resist a change that takes them out of their comfort zone, even if it ultimately makes it easier to do their jobs.