With a title like that, how could I miss this session? Toby Bell (ECM), Kimberly Harris-Ferrante (insurance vertical) and Janelle Hill (BPM) took the stage for what was really a live research session rather than a debate. Is it a process pattern covered by BPM? Is it functionality within ECM? Is it an industry-specific vertical application? Gartner is still evolving their definition of case management (as are many people), and currently publish the following definition:
Case management is the optimization of long-lived collaborative processes that require secure coordination of knowledge, content, correspondence and human resources and require adherence to corporate and regulatory policies/rules to achieve decisions about rights, entitlements or settlements.
The path of execution cannot completely be predefined; human judgment and external events and interactions will alter the flow.
Harris-Ferrante said that we need to first create industry-specific definitions or examples of what a case is, then this definition can be presented in that context in order to make sense.
Bell made the distinction between content-triggered automation (e.g., paper invoice scanning and processing), collaborative content-rich processes (e.g., specific projects such as construction), and case management: there’s a bit of a spectrum here, based on a variety factors including cost, complexity, people involved and time to completion. Case management is distinguished from the others by (human) decisions supported by information: Hill felt that this decision-support nature of case management is a defining feature. Harris-Ferrante talked about the cost and risk factors: case management is used in situations where you have compliance requirements where you need to be able to show how and why you made a particular decision. She also pointed out that rules-based automated decision is really standard BPM, whereas rules-supported human decisioning falls into case management.
They showed a slide that talked about a continuum of business process styles, ranging from unstructured to structured; looks vaguely familiar. Okay, they use “continuum” rather than “spectrum”, have five instead of four categories, and put structured on the right instead of the left, but I am a bit flattered. Their continuum includes unstructured, content collaboration, event driven, decision intensive, and structured activities; they went on to discuss how case management is the most common example of an unstructured process style. I found that wording interesting, and aligned with my ideas: case management is a *process* style, not something completely different from process. Business process management, in its most generic form, doesn’t mean structured process management, although that’s how some people choose to define it.
Looking at the issue of products, they showed a slide that looked at overlaps in product spaces, and puts BPM in the structured process/data quadrant, with case management far off in the opposite quadrant. As Hill points out, many of the BPM vendors are extending their capabilities to include case management functionality; Bell stated that this might fit better into the ECM space, but Hill countered (the first real bit of debate) that ECM vendors only think about how changes in content impact the case, which misses all of the rules and events that might impact the case and its outcome. She sees case management being added to ECM as just a way that the relatively small market (really just four or five key vendors) is trying to rejuvenate itself, whereas the case management advances from BPM vendors are much more about bringing the broad range of functionality within a BPMS – including rules and analytics – to unstructured processes.
Hill stated that Gartner doesn’t have an MQ for case management because there are so many different styles of case management: content-heavy, decision-heavy, and industry-specific packaged solutions. Besides, that way they could sell three reports instead of one. Not that they would think that way. Harris-Ferrante discussed the challenges to case management as an industry application, including the lack of shared definitions of both cases and case management, and Bell stated that buyers just don’t understand what case management is, and vendors are rejigging the definition to suit the customer context, so aren’t really helping in this regard.
In spite of stating that they don’t have a case management MQ, they did finish up with a slide showing the critical capabilities that customers are asking for in case management. such as a balance of content, collaboration and process services; and high-configurable case-based user interface. They lay these out against four styles of case management – collaborative forms-based case management, knowledge workers collaborating on internal content, regulated customer-facing file folders and data, and costly processes initiated by customers – and indicate how important each of the factors is for each style. I definitely see the beginnings of an MQ (or four) here. They did state that they would be issuing a research report on the great case management debate; I’ll likely be giving my take on this topic later this year as the industry track chair at the academic BPM 2011 conference.
It’s clear that the definition of case management needs to firm up a bit. As I asked in a tweet during the session: case management: is it a floor wax or a dessert topping? As any old Saturday Night Live fan knows, it’s both, and that could be part of the problem.