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!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not yet I still can't figure out what it is