Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I am a client, not a case folder

Over on Redux, Tom Shepherd talks about Case Management, and how the WfMC (Workflow Management Coalition for people outside the industry) is attempting to put some relevant thoughts around the non-workflow aspects of business processes. There have been many attempts at defining what Case Management is, and I don't care to write yet another one - I've blogged enough times before and frankly nobody cared then either!.

An important point for case management is the case folder. Okay, so this is the core differentiation of the product that Tom manages, and what allows it to call itself a case mysanagement product, rather than an imaging and workflow (document-centric BPM, in industry lingo) product. Its a great product - from a consulting side, I managed the implementation of an insurance underwriting and policy management solution based on it in under three months with just a few pains and late nights along the way. But aside from the product, is the case folder concept really anything special?

The problem for all product vendors is that they need a name for each feature of their product. Especially with business process management, the business problems that you can solve with a product are often so broad and unrelated that trying to give a piece of functionality a name that is meaningful to a business person just pigeon-holes it into one industry. That is the problem with the case folder - it is meaningless to a business person, but its virtually impossible to find a name that is more useful.

I've seen case folder concepts from multiple software vendors - hell, Consected has its own take on the concept (though it borrows none of the intellectual property from Tom's product, or the Tower/Vignette/OpenText product I worked with previously, before random corporate organizations with no better way of generating income start trying to make my life miserable). The approach I take though is this: to assume nothing about the case folder up front, beyond the fact that it is a way of representing business information or entities (a client, an insurance claim, a 'know your customer' (KYC) bank application review, an invoice, an employee, an account, a securities trade). A 'case folder' may or may not have structured database-style information. It may or may not have documents associated with it. It may or may not capture comments or discussions from users. It may or may not sit inside or contain workflows. It may or may not have checkbox tasks, deadlines or whatever. It may or may not be related to other business entities.

Most businesses don't get what a case folder is. Trying to beat them over the head to understand the term, just to make it easier for vendors to sell them software is not really the best approach (in my opinion). If we sell solutions, we conveniently forget the functionality and buzzwords of our software, and instead pick up the needs and buzzwords of the industry we are working with.

So, I agree that information, processes and 'case folders' must work together sometimes, standalone sometime, and not exist at all many times. The name and the functionality of a particular vendor's manila folder approach to organizing information does not interest me or the business I'm working with. As a business user, what matters to me is the 'something' I'm working with. Businesses benefit from focusing on their customers, as much as software vendors do, and helping them do that by putting a 'client' not a 'case folder' in front of users is a huge benefit in a solution.

A post from the Improving It blog

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Natesh said...

Agree that coining words as relevant to the industry and customer's business can only help in getting the message clear and easily to the end customer. It really depends on who you are talking to - e.g Someone close to the product management function of a technology company is likely to use technically coined buzzwords more often than a sales person. Person actually working with the business customer on the project is likely to adapt and use business resonating terms more than a sales person

Phil Ayres said...

Natesh, thanks for your comment. I think we are getting at the same thing here. The important thing is that everybody who is working with a specific business should attempt to speak their language, especially sales people!