Friday, February 23, 2007

Whistler - and Case Management

I'm off for a long-awaited trip to Whistler to ski myself into happy oblivion (and sore knees).

On a final email check before packing up the PC, I spotted that Bruce's BPMS Watch discussion on 'What is Case Management?' is still going strong. It shows how industry specific the term seems to be, with valuable insights and opinions coming from all round (mine included, maybe!?). Since I'm not going to blog in a while, here's my view of the different focuses on case management:

In government, where repeatability and strict policy adherence is required, process is typically well defined up front, while allowing case managers the flexibility to ‘case manage’ within that structure. For this reason, many case management applications seem to resemble high level state or status tracking applications than BPM tools. For them, the beauty is in a UI structure that is familiar and usable by the end-user.

In commercial environments I’ve seen case management applications fit into any repeatable business process that requires some human intervention and real knowledge based decision making. A large amount of process state is based on the requirement and receipt of external documents and information, and the effective matching of this to current cases. Much of a granular BPM(N) process model could be overwhelmed with ‘rendezvous’, exeptions and representing collaboration as parallel processes, hence case management tools carry their own individual methodologies to abstract the common requirements to something repeatable and configurable.

To handle ad-hoc and collaborative process definition within structured process definitions, an easy to use approach is to present users with ‘task management’ (dislaimer: the Global 360 Case Manager application I product manage takes this approach). This is effectively a mini project plan that guides users down paths based on their decisions, tracking the tasks as they and their colleagues perform them (perhaps a little of Rafael’s project manager approach). It allows task templates to be used based on user or application control, or users to create new tasks to meet their needs on an ad-hoc basis. This way you get tracking of processes, control over tasks performed if necessary, and complete ad-hoc operation if required.

I think that dependent on industry, we’ll all have a different definition of ‘case management’. It is less of a technology definition than BPM, instead being something that seems to be borne out of real business requirements by users that focus less on technology and more on the business goals.

Have a great week everyone.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Where do you find an answer to your burning questions?

I occasionally pay some interest in the ideas that social-media websites come up with - sometimes they are plain useful, other times I just wonder who on earth thought up the idea.

Anyway, one I almost missed was LinkedIn Answers. This is a way of asking people in your network a question and getting responses that may or may not be useful. Questions range from:
How can a one-person, Milwaukee-based business increase visibility?

Can you ever take someone seriously who maintains that barbeque should be a pig in a pit instead of brisket on a grill? And shouldn't a barbeque sauce be sweet and tangy, not just some hot sauce thrown into shredded pork on Wonder Bread?

Not being qualified to answer either of these questions, you'll not see an answer from me. But the concept interested me from the point of view of finding answers to your burning questions in a business setting.

How do you find out information at work when you don't really know who to ask? In an office, typically you'll shout over to the guy or girl in the next cubicle, often not for the answer, but if they know who to ask. Your personal network has just been expanded, often getting you a new point of contact. When you work from a home office this type of informal network sharing is more indirect and IM or a quick email is essential for quick questions like this to the virtual 'next cubicle'.

I'm sure that collaborative knowledge management applications provide 'expert groups' that can be leveraged. Even outside of KM, it would seem that any employee could all benefit from central FAQ and Q&A resources, backed up by a healthy dose of search capabilities. And in business processes and case management? Providing strong mechanisms for sharing knowledge and decision making information should help ensure faster ramp up times for new employees and more consistent decisions. But the challenge is knowing who is qualified to provide that advice and to get it without absorbing huge amounts of those experts' time.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Case management - a definition

Bruce Silver has put together a comprehensive discussion of case management that I think I largely agree with, in his article on This is a snippet that encapsulates much of the definition:

What is case management, and in particular, how does it differ from conventional BPM? A case, like a conventional business process, involves a collection of activities or tasks. However, unlike BPM, the process from initiation to completion of the case is not easily constrained to a process diagram, certainly not one based on a single end-to-end orchestration, even with complex nesting and chaining logic. Which activities need to be performed in order to complete the case depends on the details of each instance. Typically the case manager, or perhaps any performer of a task in the case, makes these decisions. The “rules,” so to speak, are inside users’ heads, not codified in explicit business rules.

Moreover, users can add new tasks, data objects, documents - even new processes - to the case at runtime. The “model” defined by the case designer cannot anticipate all of these in advance. Case management inherently carries with it some fluidity of structure or ad hoc-ness. This is the part that many BPM suites have a hard time with: New tasks, processes, and data can be added on the fly, but you still want the process engine to execute those processes, track deadlines for those tasks, monitor case status end-to-end, and even measure performance. It's not easy.

This discussion shows just how complex a case management use case can be. Applications that successfully implement a case methodology have to have many seamless components (content, process, metadata management), while being open and flexible enough to be extensible to a specific customer's requirements.

Its these features that I believe really make case management enabled systems very strong for addressing a wide range of common use cases in financial services, where a business analyst would otherwise struggle with a formal BPM approach.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Real business solutions are more than a process

Kiran Garimella talks about The Arrogance of IT on his BPM blog on ebizQ. It made me smile, since its obvious that the disconnect of IT and the business is so wrong, but so pervasive that it makes me wonder why it always happens:
Consider that the IT-business divide is difficult to bridge precisely because IT keeps thinking of “special technical solutions” for what are essentially ‘end-to-end’ problems in business processes. Rules can’t be managed? Use a BRMS. Data can’t be managed? Use EDM. You don’t know what the data means? Use metadata. You don’t know what happened? Use BI. Need to manage customers and prospects? Use CRM. Can’t find all your documents? Use ECM. Need to comply with SOX? Buy some shrink-wrapped panacea.

Boxing things up into categories is one of the only ways that technology can be understood as it gets more complex, and there are more "special technical solutions" to more and more problems. Kiran warns of this categorization:
A few years later, this company is saddled with a BI application, an ECM suite, a CRM package, and a bunch of other applications. What’s more, there is now a huge IT staff maintaining all those applications. However, the executive is no closer to solving the original problem that brought on all this investment. To crack that problem, this hapless executive (or their equally frustrated employees) must now run to all of the above applications and try to make sense of them.

This is no surprise. We escaped the clutches of the monolithic mainframes to a world of well separate and segregated application boxes that rarely integrate, let alone do something meaningful and sensible when they do. So, Kiran suggests something better:
It is called BPM. It is the one platform that ties all these functional capabilities together and gives them a complete business context. How it accomplishes all this, and how it should co-exist or coordinate with these compartmentalized solutions and legacy systems (which do have specialized uses), are deeper issues.

I agree with Kiran that "BPM isn’t just one more application package". It certainly provides a way for the business to define what they do and how they operate, as executable and enforceable business processes, while looking back to see that its actually having the desired business effect.

Big but... BPM is not a panacea.

Sure, it can tie together the technology boxes we previously bought, but the business analyst is not going to be able to do that; these boxes present IT friendly APIs, not something a business analyst can utilize. For that we need a business view of these boxes. This is why some smart people invented SOA - it presents technical solutions as meaningful and reusable business services, within a technical framework that IT can embrace. SOA is not an application package, but your BPM platform needs to support SOA, and even better enable the backend boxes to expose business services that a business analyst can hook their processes up to.

Then of course, many critical business problems involve people working together, producing documents, communicating with customers and partners, researching data, discussing issues, checking boxes to track what they've done. And it needs to be done within the context of process activities. BPM doesn't easily model or deliver this level of collaboration or unstructured process within the structured business process previously modeled by the business analyst. In my view, Case Management is an approach to this. Not another technology box, but a combination of many of the tools required to deliver meaningful and pragmatic end-user focused applications, alongside backend systems and human-centric business processes.

Kiran's is a great post, since it highlights the disconnect between IT and business. I'd just suggest that any possible solution to a business problem still requires the underlying technology boxes to be in place, remodeled to work together to provide meaningful business services, then tied together with business processes, collaborative case management and all of the other tools that business people might interact with to do their jobs better and faster.

Real business problems are now a combination of technology boxes, business processes and knowledge workers. Don't bring in a platform that only addresses one of these. So, as a business executive, when the IT manager says to you, “Sure, what you need is a BPM platform”, make sure it can demonstrate how it solves your real business problem: make sure it gets your technology boxes to talk to your people, within processes that make your business run better.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

ECM, BPM and solving business problems

It seems that I'm leaching off Bruce Silver's great BPMS Watch blog for a second day in a row. Today I see he is generating some great discussion around the intersection of ECM and BPM.

There is always heated discussion in this area, and I believe that ECM (according to a Gartner MQ) is too broad to be palatable to many, while BPMS gets very deep. This is the natural evolution of putting products into boxes (or better said categories). The problem is that there are great software tools and suites out there that sit largely between the two magic quadrants, or Forrester Waves, that consistently and effectively address burning business problems, like how to do new account opening, fraud resolution and HR employee onboarding better.

This type of software picks up titles like Case Management, which is not broadly enough recognized to be a true market space. The thing is they need some tag to ensure they aren't just considered point solutions to a single business problem, which would be limiting to their success. Perhaps Case Management is a good term for 'one' intersection of BPM & ECM, even if its not the only one.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Case management on BPMS Watch

Bruce Silver nudged me towards a little discussion that had started on BPMS Watch: What is Case Management

This is great news as there is some interesting views of what case management is appearing. The view that case management can address complex and critical business problems is definitely coming out.

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