Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Telling the world

I'm very excited and proud to see one of the products I manage being announced to the world. G360 Case Manager was released for our customer base at the end of last year and this announcement makes it generally available.
G360 Case Manager combines the capabilities of BPM and optimization tools, collaborative content and records management applications into a single solution that helps organizations meet business goals for core business processes.
G360 Case Manager is the only solution that integrates BPM, records management and collaborative content management technologies into a unified service-oriented platform for organizations looking to eliminate the costs of integration and long-term maintenance of independent applications.

As I have said before, thanks to the incredibly professional R&D team that continue to drive this product forward. The 10.0 version just announced is based on a huge amount of knowledge and experience in the process and content arena, backed up with constant customer input, so its architecture, technology and deployed business use cases are the best on the market.

Technorati tags:

Friday, January 19, 2007

BPM: those who use it "because"

If you like reading a good 'rant' now and again, here is a good one on BPM, SOA and how some vendors push this at non critical processes that will never deliver an ROI. In this article Terry Schurter on BPMG.org makes this statement:
For starters, BPM software is being applied by more people with little (if any) value creation to the business far more often than it is where real value is created. The results from the application of BPM software falls into three categories; those that use it “because”, those who use it for non-essential support processes and those that apply it to core processes of the enterprise. Only the latter category is producing any real value to the organization – and (unfortunately) this is the smallest category (although the good side is that there are many great examples of real value creation in this category!).

I'm happy to say that I know which of these categories I am working in. Long ago in my past I tried selling software fluff to companies that fall for the buzz, and i have to say that I didn't enjoy it.

Technorati tags:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Case management as the next big thing?

This article on ebizQ caught my eye: Butler Group: Current Document Collaboration Sucks, linked from the ECM blog. The first part of the article is no great surprise, but should still be worrying for organizations wondering what all their employees are doing with their day:

A new report, just published by Butler Group, a European IT research and advisory organisation, argues that employees spend up to 25% of their working day on non-productive, document collaboration related tasks.

This is especially interesting when you consider how many of those employees are doing work that is particularly document or information centric. My guess is that many now consider their work document centric because of the time they spend in front of a PC dealing with email, unnecessarily reviewing internal documents and reporting on the work they routinely perform.

This keys in with a paper I wrote a while back that you can find on ebizQ, which reinforces the concept that documents are not going away, but need to be handled better. There are many components that are required to help organizations work better with documents, including document collaboration, records management, business process management and integration. The problem is that pulling all of these components together, and keeping them operating together is an IT challenge - fun for the techies, but not so good for the line of business manager.

The ebizQ article goes on to quote the Butler co-author:
“Documents, in whatever format they may exist, are an integral part of every business and institution, and organisations that cannot manage the production of documents effectively and efficiently risk a great deal more than poor business performance.” says Sarah Burnett, Senior Research Analyst at Butler Group and the report’s third co-author. “Organisations cannot exist without documents, and therefore the efficacy with which documents are created, revised, and published should be of utmost importance to business managers.”

My last post Does 'case management' mean anything to you? talked about case management as a mechanism for organizing not only document collaboration, but all of the related information and activity that goes with it.

A case is traditionally represented by a manila folder, a paper file that holds all of the information, documents and tasks that describe the case, the customer, checklists of tasks to be performed, new information gathered and a log of actions and key events. In addition, a case will often include copies of related background documents that provide the history of a customer or other entity, their contracts, entitlements and references to information in other systems.

Cases can often be long-lived and contain a large amount of information, making it hard to keep this information current and accurate. Handling the complex and interrelated nature of case documents in context with the processes they follow as they pass between different workers in an organization, is another major challenge. Ensuring that case-workers see information presented to them in a way that is meaningful, useful and appropriate to their role is another challenge.

Managing the interactions and processes around case-workers and case information is complex, making it difficult to apply standard document management and workflow systems to the problem. Case management applications are designed specifically to address these challenges. A strong case management system will incorporate and provide simple interaction with a range of user and organizational focused applications:

  • process management
  • collaborative-working
  • document and content management
  • records management

Applications that can provide these capabilities in a quickly configurable and deployable form are rare, but they are highly effective tools for addressing common business problems. There is a huge need their for assistance in operations involving many people, working on large amounts of information, inside broader processes that run enforceably and efficiently.

If as Butler estimates,
the size of the global Document Collaboration segment of the ECM market to be US$586 million in 2007
is even close to reality, perhaps collaborative case management could be the next big thing.

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Does 'case management' mean anything to you?

I've worked with software products that describe themselves as 'case management' applications for quite a while now. I was first introduced to the term when I joined Tower Technology, the Aussie imaging and doc management company that was acquired by Vignette. Because I've been around the term for so long it has become very familiar to me. The problem is that I don't think that it is common enough to mean anything very much in a general business sense.

In environments that case management actually means something, it seems to conjure up different images, depending on the industry you are in. For example, a 'case' for a lawyer probably has a different description than a 'case' for a government welfare claims assessor. And the way they manage cases is probably very different from the healthcare professional descibed in Wikipedia.

When I tried to put some words together to describe case management, the result was a little dry:
Case management is a paradigm for organizing, presenting and managing work items, documents, tasks and all information associated to a ‘case’ in a way that is contextual and meaningful to knowledge workers and general users. A case may be any short or long running component of work, or representation of a business entity, for example:
  • Customer relationship
  • Insurance claim
  • Government agency services application

I'm also not convinced that this is actually meaningful, and even worse from a marketing standpoint, I think it fails to communicate the value of case management as an approach to collaborative content management within business processes.

There is the way I have seen several salespeople present the high level concept of case management to prospective customers. They typically talk about a manila folder, the traditional filing approach for paper-based organizations. A manila folder provides a visual way of seeing all the documents and information related to a case collected together, be it a customer's profile, an insurance claim or a whatever. In a well organized office, the manila folder would be split up by dividers, marking the different sections of the file. Each section represents different information - maybe one is contact details for the customer, another is insurance policy coverage, another is claim history and so on.

What this manila folder image doesn't portray is how case management can show all of the case information and documents organized in different ways depending on who is looking at it. It also fails to show how case management ties this information to a business process, while allowing collaborative tasks to be managed inside or across the process.

For example, an insurance claim will often follow a strict process at a high level, going through from receipt of the claim, through data entry and validation, on to a claims assessor with appropriate privileges, on to review, payment and maybe subrogation. At any of the knowledge worker steps there is the possibility that multiple people could get involved, or there are several tasks that should be followed over a period of time, but not necessarily in a strict order. An experienced worker would find enforced workflow at that level an annoyance. Collaborative working and organization of joint tasks and communications therefore are key components, especially when they are tied directly into the overarching enforceable business process.

The mechanisms behind how all of these components interact are what can make case management work. The ability to couple together many content and collaboration tools alongside an enforceable business process is the secret sauce. And for me, its hard to communicate how this works. These background interactions are what makes case management more than a loose collection of functionality: document management, foldering, discussions, email notification, tasks, metadata, security, business processes and so on, all melded together.

Describing how the components of case management work together might have to be my next big task. Communicating seamless integrations of loosely interacting components that can be enforceably controlled seems like an impossible mission right now. Maybe I'll need a creative moment for this, unless someone can point me at a description of case management that says it all!

Technorati tags:

Monday, January 08, 2007

Selling an enterprise architecture to the business

I have the pleasure of working with an amazing product development director who constantly espouses the importance of his product's core architecture and how the focus of product development has been to build out an incredibly extensible, flexible and scalable platform. Five years of this focus have indeed delivered a BPMS that I was amazingly impressed with when I was first introduced to it.

I get a great buzz out of working with products like this. The ability to configure business applications to a meaningful point, then extend the application by cleanly customizing using well-defined plug in patterns enables virtually any problem to be solved. As a consultant colleague put it, "my imagination is the only limit to what can be done".

As I'm starting to find out, this level of 'can do anything' that the product exhibits can be a challenge. How do I describe to business users what a product like this can do for them, and why its amazing extensibility is so important to them? Or, as I work with the marketing guys, how do I describe the product in a meaningful way that doesn't just pigeon-hole it as a technical platform?

Content-enabled vertical applications (CEVAs) seem to provide a way to frame this complex product. Toby Bell at Gartner has for a while talked about using CEVAs as a model for organizations trying to generate value from their content-centric business processes. CEVAs are, reasonably simply put, vertical templates built on top of content services, process management and collaborative capabilities, to provide meaningful applications that address specific business use cases. Examples are the use of content, collaboration and process management to provide streamlined use cases like:

  • Financial services new account opening
  • Insurance claims processing
  • Credit card dispute resolution
  • Human resources employee on-boarding
  • Processing of requests for government services
  • Identification and research of loan fraud
Well what a surprise! I should be taking this complex system and describing it in terms of the business problems it solves. In a product that is 'market-driven', this should not be a problem, since the requirements for its features address needs expressed by real and prospective customers.

Still, I have the feeling that defining the importance of strong architectural features like application lifecycle management and highly efficient script processing to a business user could be a problem. Maybe I'll reserve that discussion for the IT guys. I must remember that knowing the audience is equally important when trying to explain why a product is so great.

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone!

At the end of last year my blogging activity was low, while I concentrated on shepherding a major release of Global 360's Case Manager software through from development and QA to the light of day.

With the mechanics of the release complete, the outbound launch (i.e. marketing!) is in the works. This is a large and ongoing task, since the product has been hidden behind a veil of BPM and process optimization talk for a while, meaning that I need to work on gently exposing its incredibleness to the outside world. So I'm going to leak my own little announcement, so that soon I can get on with blogging about some stuff that is not about my day to day job.

G360 Case Manager 10.0 Is Available!

Large organizations need Business Process Management to improve their specific business operations, while being flexible enough to adapt to changing requirements and still ensure process discipline. To achieve this, G360 Case Manager accelerates the deployment of information-centric BPM applications with out-of-the-box process, content and case management capabilities.

The release of G360 Case Manager 10.0 represents a milestone in collaborative end-user functionality, Business Process Management completeness, IT enterprise management, and support for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).

See How G360 Case Manager 10.0 can help deliver business flexibility aligned with IT requirements. Visit the Global 360 corporate website.

Technorati tags: