IBM Case Manager In Depth

I had a chance to see IBM’s new Case Manager product at IOD last month, and last week Jake Levirne, the product manager, gave me a more complete demo. If you haven’t read my earlier product overview from IOD as well as the pre-IOD briefing on Case Manager and related products, the business analyst view, a quick bit on customizing the UI and the technical roundtable, you may want to do so now since I’ll try not to repeat too much of what’s there already.


IBM Case Manager Runtime - CSR role view in portalWe started by going through the end-user view of an application for insurance claims. There’s a role-based portal interface, and this user role (CSR) sees a list of cases, can search for a case based on any of the properties, or add a new case – fairly standard functionality. In most cases, as we’ll see later, cases are created automatically on the receipt of a specific document type, but there needs to be the flexibility to have users create their own as well. Opening a case, the case detail view shows case data (metadata) and case information, which comprises documents, tasks and history that are contained within the case. There’s also a document viewer, reminding us that case management is content-centric; the entire view is a bit reminiscent of the previous Business Process Framework (BPF) case management add-on, which has definitely contributed to Case Manager in a philosophical sense if not any of the actual underlying technology.

For those FileNet geeks in the crowd, a case is now a native content type in the FileNet content repository, rather than a custom object type as was used in the BPF; logically, you can think of this as a case folder that contains everything related to the case. The Documents tab is pretty straightforward – a list of documents attached to the case – and the History tab shows a list of events on the case, including documents being added and tasks started/completed. The interesting part, as you might have guessed, is in the Tasks tab, which shows the tasks (small structured processes, in reality) assigned to this case, either as required or optional tasks. Tasks can be added to a case at design time or runtime; when added at runtime, these are predefined processes, although there may be customizable parameters that the user can modify, but the end user can’t change the definition of a task. This gives some flexibility to the user – they can choose whether or not to execute the optional tasks, they can execute tasks in any order, and they can add new tasks to a case – but doesn’t allow the user to create new tasks: they are always selecting from a predefined list of tasks. Depending on the task definition, tasks for their case may end up assigned to them or to someone else, or to a shared queue corresponding to a role. This results in the two lists that we saw back in the first portal view: one is a list of cases based on search criteria, and the other is a list of tasks assigned to this user or a shared queue on which they are working.

IBM Case Manager Runtime - case task viewCreating a new case is fairly simple for the user: they click to add a case, and are presented with a list of instructions for filling out the initial case data, such as the date of loss and policy number in our insurance claim example. The data that can be entered using the standard metadata widget is pretty limited and the form isn’t customizable, however, and often there is an e-form included in the case that is used to capture more information. In this situation, there is a First Notice of Loss e-form that the user fills out to gather the claim data; this e-form is contained as a document in the case, but also synchronizes some of its fields with the case metadata. This ability to combine capabilities of documents, e-forms and folders has been in FileNet for quite a while, so it’s no surprise that they’re leveraging it here. It is important to note, however that this e-form would have to be designed in the Lotus forms designer, not in the Case Manager design tools: a reminder that the IBM Case Manager solution is a combination of multiple tools, not a single monolithic system. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a bit of a philosophical discussion: in the case of e-forms, for example, you may want to use this same form in other applications besides Case Manager, so it may make sense that it is defined independently, but it will require additional design skills.

Once the case is created, it will follow any initial process flows that are assigned to it, and can kick off manual tasks. For example, there could be automated activities that update a claims systems with the data captured on the FNOL form, and manual tasks created and assigned to a CSR to call the third parties’ insurance carrier. The underlying FileNet content engine has a lot of content-centric event handling baked right into it, so being able to do things such as trigger processes or other actions based on content or metadata updates have been there all along and are being used for any changes to a case or its contents.

Design Time

We moved over to the Case Manager Builder to look at how designers – business analysts, in IBM’s view – define new case types. At the highest level, you first define a “solution”, which can include multiple case types. Although the example that we went through used one case type per solution, we discussed some situations where you might want to have multiple case types in a single solution: for example, a solution for a customer service desktop, where there was a different case type defined for each type of request. Since case types within a single solution can share user interface designs, document types and properties, this can reduce the amount of design work if you plan ahead a bit.

IBM Case Manager Builder - define solution propertiesFor each solution, you define the following:

  • Properties (metadata)
  • Roles and the in-baskets (shared work queues) to which they have access
  • Document types
  • In-baskets associated with this solution
  • Case types that make up this solution.

Then, for each case type within a solution, you define the following:

  • The document type that will be used to trigger the creation of a case of this type, if any. Cases can be added manually, as we saw in the runtime example, or can be triggered by other events, but the heavily content-centric focus of Case Manager assumes that you might usually want to kick off a case automatically when a certain document type is added to the content repository.
  • The default Add Case page, which is a link to a previously-defined page in the IBM Mashup Center that will be used as the user interface on selecting the Add Case button.
  • The default Case Details page, which is a link to the Mashup Center page for displaying a case.
  • Optionally, overrides for the case details page for each role, which allows different roles to see different views of the case details.
  • Properties for this case type, which can be manually inherited from the solution level or defined just at this level. All solution properties are not automatically inherited by each case type, since it was felt that this would make it unnecessarily confusing, but any of the solution properties can be selected for exposure at the case level.
  • The property views (subsets) that are displayed in the case summary, case details and case search views. If more than about a dozen properties are used, then IBM recommends using an e-form instead of the standard views, which are pretty limited in terms of display customization. A view can include a group of properties for visual grouping.
  • Case folders to organize the content within a case.
  • Tasks associated with the case, grouped by required and optional tasks. Unlike the user interfaces, document types and properties, task definitions are not shared across case types within a solution, which requires that similar or identical tasks will require redefining for each case type. This is definitely an area that they can improve in the future; if their claim of loosely-coupled cases and processes is to be fully realized, then task/process definitions should be reusable at least across case types within a solution, if not across solutions.

IBM Case Manager Builder - Step EditorAlthough part of the case type definition, I’ll separate out the task definition for clarity. For each task within a case type, you define:

  • As noted above, whether it is required or optional for this case type.
  • Whether the task starts automatically or manually, or if the user optionally adds the task to the case at runtime.
  • Inclusion of the task in a set. Sets provide visual grouping of tasks within a case, but also control execution: a set can be specified as all-inclusive (all tasks execute if any of the tasks execute) or mutually exclusive (only one of the tasks in the set can be executed). The mutually exclusive situation could be used to create a manner of case subtypes, instead of using multiple case types within a solution, where the differences between the subtypes are minimal.
  • Preconditions for the task to execute, that is, the task triggers. In many cases, this will be the case start, but could also be when a document of a specific type is added to the case, or a case property value is updated to meet certain conditions, including combinations of property values.
  • Design comments, which could be used simply as documentation, but are primarily intended for use by a non-technical business analyst who created the case type definition up to this point but wants to pass of the creation of the actual process flow to someone more technical.
  • The process flow associated with this task, using the visual Step Editor. This allows the roles defined for the solution to be added as swimlanes, and the human-facing steps to be plotted out. This supports branching as well as sequential flow, but no automated steps; however, any automated steps that are added via the full Process Designer will appear in the uneditable grey lanes at the top of the Step Editor map. If you’ve used the Process Designer before, the step properties at the left of the Step Editor will appear familiar: they’re a subset of the step properties that you would see in the full Process Designer, such as step deadlines and allowing reassignment of the step to another user.

Being long acquainted with FileNet BPM, a number of my questions were around the connection between the Step Editor and the full BPM Process Designer; Levirne handled some of these, and I also had a few technical discussions at IOD that shed light on this. In short, the Step Editor creates a full XPDL process definition and stores it in the content repository, which is the same as what happens for any process definition created in the Process Designer. However, if you open this process definition with the Process Designer, it recognizes that it was created using the Case Manager Step Editor and performs some special handling. From the Process Designer, a more technical designer can add any system steps required (which will appear, but not be editable, in the Step Editor): in other words, they’ve implemented a fully shared model used by two different tools: the Case Builder Step Editor for a less technical business analyst, and the BPM Process Designer for a developer. IBM Case Manager Builder - deploy solutionAs with any process definition, the Case Manager task process definitions must be transferred to the process engine before they can be used to instantiate new processes: this is done automatically when the solution is deployed.

Deploying a solution to a test environment is a one-click operation from the Case Manager Builder main screen, although moving that to another environment isn’t quite as easy: the new release of the P8 platform allows a Case Manager solution to be packaged in order to move it between servers, but there’s still some manual work involved.

We wrapped up with a discussion of the other IBM products that integrate with Case Manager, some easier than others:

  • Case Manager includes a limited license of ILOG JRules, but it’s not integrated in the Case Manager Builder environment: it must be called as a web service from the Process Designer. There are already plans for better integration here, which is essential.
  • Content Analytics for data mining and analytics on the case metadata and case content, including the content of attached documents.
  • Case Analyzer, which is a version of the old BPM Process Analyzer, with enhancements to show analytics at the case level and the inclusion of custom case properties to provide a business view as well as an operational view in dashboard and reports.

They’re working on better integration between Case Manager and the the WebSphere product line, including both WebSphere Process Server and Lombardi; this will be necessary to combat the competition who have a single solution that covers the full range of BPM functionality from structured processes to completely dynamic case management.

Built on one of the best industrial-strength enterprise content management products around, IBM Case Manager will definitely see some adoption in the existing IBM/FileNet client base: adding this capability onto an existing FileNet Content Manager repository could provide a lot of value with a minimal amount of work for the customer, assuming that they actually allowed their business analysts to do the work that IBM intends them to. In spite of the power, however, there is a lack of flexibility in the runtime task definition that may make them less competitive in the open market.

IBM Case Manager demo

What Organizations Want From Case Management

There was an AIIM webinar today on supporting the information worker with case management, featuring Craig Le Clair from Forrester.

Le Clair introduced the concept of information workers, a term that they use instead of knowledge worker, defined as “everyone between 18 and 88 with a job in which they use a computer or other connected device”, which I find to be a sufficiently broad definition as to be completely useless but allows them to use the cute abbreviation iWorker. Today, however, he’s just focused on those iWorkers who are involved with case management, in other words, what the rest of us would call knowledge workers. Whatever.

Forrester uses the term dynamic case management – others use advanced or adaptive case management, but we’re talking about the same thing – to mean “a semistructured but also collaborative, dynamic, human, and information-intensive process that is driven by outside events and requires incremental and progressive responses from the business domain handling the case.” Le Clair provided a quick summary of dynamic case management, with the document-centric case file as the focus, surrounded by processes/tasks, data, events and other aspects that make up the entire history of a case. There are some business challenges now that are driving the adoption of case management, including cost and risk management for servicing customer requests, enforcing compliance in less structured processes, and support for ad hoc knowledge work. He spoke specifically about transparency in regulatory compliance situations, where case management provides a way to handle regulatory processes for maximum flexibility while still enforcing necessary rules and capturing a complete history of a case, although most customers are more focused on case management specifically for improving customer service.

He described case management as a convergence of a number of technologies, primarily ECM, BPM, analytics and user experience, although I would argue that events and rules are equally important. Dynamic allocation of work is key: a case can select which tasks that should be applied to a case, and even who should be involved, in order to reach the specified states/goals of the case. Some paths will include structured processes, others will be completely ad hoc, others may involved a task checklist. Different paths selected may trigger rules and events, or offer guidance on completion. Different views of the case may be available to different roles. In other words, case management tries to capture the flexible experience of working on a case manually, but provides a guided experience where regulations demand it, and captures a complete audit trail as well as analytics of what happened to the case.

Forrester predicts that three categories of case management will emerge – investigative, service requests and incident management (can you sense three separate Forrester Waves coming?) – focused on different aspects of customer experience, cost control and risk mitigation. Key to making these work will be integration of core customer data directly into the case management environment, both for display to a case worker as well as allowing for automated rules to be triggered based on customer data. There are some challenges ahead: IT is still leading the configuration of case management applications, and it just takes too long to make changes to the rules, process models and reporting.

He was followed by Ken Bisconti from IBM’s ECM software products group, since IBM sponsored the webinar, talking about their new Case Manager product; I wrote about what Ken and many others said about this at the IOD conference last month, and just had an in-depth briefing on the product that I will be writing about, so won’t cover his part of the presentation today.

Customizing the IBM Case Manager UI

Dave Perman and Lauren Mayes had the unenviable position of presenting at the end of the day, and at the same time as the expo reception was starting (a.k.a. “open bar”), but I wanted to round out my view of the new Case Manager product by looking at how the user interfaces are built. This is all about the Mashup Center and the Case Manager widgets; I’ve played around with the ECM widgets in the past, which provide an easy way to build a composite application that includes FileNet ECM capabilities.

Perman walked through the Case Manager Builder briefly to show how everything hangs together – or at least, the parts that are integrated into the Builder environment, which are the content and process parts, but not rules or analytics – then described the mashup environment. The composite application development (mashup) environment is pretty standard functionality in BPM and ACM these days, but Case Manager comes with a pre-configured set of pages that make it easy to build case application UIs. A business analyst can easily customize the standard Case Manager pages, selecting which widgets are included and their placement on the page, including external (non-Case Manager) widgets.

The designer can also override the standard case view pages either for all users or for specific roles; this requires creating the page in the mashup environment and registering it for use in Case Manager, then using the Case Manager Builder to assign that page to the specific actions associated with a case. In other words, the UI design is not integrated into the Case Builder environment, although the end result is linked within that environment.

Mayes then went through the process of building and integrating 3rd party widgets; there’s a lot of material on the IBM website now on how to build widgets, and this was just a high-level view of that process and the architecture of integrating between the Mashup Center and the ACM widgets, themes and ECM services on the application server. This uses lightweight REST services that return JSON, hence easier to deal with in the browser, including CMIS REST services for content access, PE REST services for process access, and some custom case-specific REST services. Since there are widgets for Sametime presence and chat functionality, they link through to a Sametime proxy server on the application server. For you FileNet developer geeks, know that you also have to have an instance of Workplace XT running on the application server as well. I’m not going to repeat all the gory details, but basically once you have your custom widget built, you can deploy it so that it appears on the Mashup Center palette, and can be used like any other pre-existing widget. There’s also a command widget that retrieves all the case information so that it’s not loaded multiple times by all of the other widgets; it’s also a controller for moving between list and detail pages.

This is a bit more information that I was counting on absorbing this late in the day, and I ducked out early when the IBM partner started presented about what they’ve done with custom widgets.

That’s it for today; tomorrow will be a short day since I fly home mid-day, but I’ll likely be at one or two sessions in the morning.

IBM Case Manager Technical Roundtable

Bill Lobig, Mike Marin, Peggy (didn’t catch her last name) and Lauren Mayes hosted a freeform roundtable for any technical questions about the new Case Manager product.

I had a chat with Mike prior to the talk, and he reinforced this during the session, about the genesis of Case Manager: although there were a lot of ideas that came from the old BPF product, Mike and his team spent months interviewing the people who had used BPF to find out what worked and what didn’t work, then built something new that incorporated the features most needed by customers. The object model for the case is now part of the basic server classes rather than being a higher-level (and therefore less efficient) custom object, there are new process classes to map properties between case folders and processes, and a number of other significant architectural changes and upgrades to make this happen. I see TIBCO going through this same pain right now with the lack of upgrade path from iProcess to AMX BPM, and to the guy in the audience who said that it’s not fair that IBM gives you a crappy product, you use it and provide feedback on how to improve it, then they charge you for the new product: well, that’s just how software works sometimes, and vendors will never have true innovation if they always have to be supporting their (and your) entire legacy. There does need to be some sort of migration path at least for the completed case folder objects from BPF to Case Manager native case objects, although that hasn’t been announced, since these are long-term corporate assets that have to be managed the same as any other content; however, I would not expect any migration of the BPF apps themselves.

More process functionality is being built right into the content engine; this is significant in that you’ve always required both ECM and BPM to do any process management, but it sounds like some functionality is being drawn into the content engine. Does this mean that the content and process engines eventually be merged into a single platform and a single product? That would drive further down the road of repositioning FileNet BPM as content-centric – originally done at the time of the FileNet acquisition, I believe, to avoid competition with WebSphere BPM – since if it’s truly content-centric, then why not just converge the engines, including the ACM capabilities? That would certainly make for a more seamless and consistent development environment, especially around issues like object modeling and security.

One consistent message that’s coming across in all the Case Manager sessions is accelerating the development time by allowing a business analyst to create a large part of a case application without involving IT; this is part of what BPF was trying to provide, and even BPM prior to that. I was FileNet’s evangelist for the launch of the eProcess product, which was the first version of the current generation of BPM, and we put forward the idea back in 2000 that a non-technical (or semi-technical) analyst could do some amount of the model-driven application development.

There are obviously still some rough edges in Case Manager still, since version 1.0 isn’t even out yet. In a previous session, we saw some of the kludges for content analytics, dashboarding and business rules, and it sounds like role-based security and e-forms isn’t really fully integrated either. The implications of these latter two are tied up with the ease in which you can migrate a case application from one environment to another, such as from development to test to production: apparently, not completely seamless, although they are able to bundle part of a case application/template and move it between environments in a single operation. Every vendor needs to deal with this issue, and those that have a more tightly integrated set of objects making up an application have a much easier time with this, especially if they also offer a cloud version of their software and need to migrate easily between on premise and cloud environments, such as TIBCO, Fujitsu and Appian. IBM is definitely playing catchup in the area of moving defined applications between environments, as well as their overall integration strategy within Case Manager.

IOD ECM Keynote

Ron Ercanbrack, VP at IBM (my old boss from my brief tenure at FileNet in 2000-1, who once introduced me at a FileNet sales kickoff conference as the “Queen of BPM”), gave a brief ECM-focused keynote this morning. He covered quite a bit of the information that I was briefed on last week, including Case Manager, Content Analytics, improved content integration including CMIS, the Datacap and PSS acquisitions, enhancements to Content Collector, and more. He positioned Case Manager as a product “running on top of BPM”, which is a bit different than the ECM-centric message that I’ve heard so far, but likely also accurate: there are definitely significant components of each in there.

He was followed by Carl Kessler, VP of Development, to give a Case Manager demo; this covered the end-user case management environment (pretty much what we’ve seen in previous sessions, only live), plus Content Analytics for text mining which is not really integrated with Case Manager: it’s a separate app with a different look and feel. I missed the launch point, so I don’t know whether he launched this from a property value in Case Manager or had to start from scratch using the terms relevant to that case. It has some very nice text mining capabilities for searching through the content repository for correlation of terms, including some pretty graphs, but it’s a separate app.

We then went off to the Cognos Real-time Monitoring Dashboard, which is yet again another non-integrated app with a different look and feel. He showed a dashboard that had a graph for average age of cases and allowed drill-down on different parameters such as industry type and dispute type, but that’s not really the same as a fully integrated product suite. Although all of the components applications are functional, this needs a lot more integration at the end-user level.

I did get a closer look at some of the Case Builder functionality than I’ve seen already: in the tasks definition section, there are required tasks, optional tasks and user-created tasks, although it’s not clear what user-created tasks are since this is design-time, not runtime.

Ercanbrack came back to the stage for a brief panel with three customers – Bank of America, State of North Dakota, and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee – talking about their ECM journeys. This was not specific to case management at all, but using records/retention management to reduce storage costs and risks in financial services, using e-discovery as part of a legal action in healthcare, and content management with a case management approach for allowing multiple state government agencies to share documents more effectively.

IBM Announcements: Case Manager, CMIS and More

I had a pre-IOD analyst briefing last week from IBM with updates to their ECM portfolio, given by Ken Bisconti, Dave Caldera and Craig Rhinehart. IOD – Information on Demand – is IBM’s conference covering business analytics and information management, the latter of which includes data management and content management. The former FileNet products fall into their content management portfolio (including FileNet BPM, which was repositioned as document-centric BPM following the acquisition so as to not compete with the WebSphere BPM products), and includes case management capabilities in their Business Process Framework (BPF). I also had a one-to-one session with Bisconti while at IOD to get into a bit more detail.

The big announcement, at least to me, was the new Case Manager product, to ship in Q4 (probably November, although IBM won’t commit to that). IBM has been talking about an advanced case management strategy for several months now, and priming the pump about what “should” be in a case management product, but this is the first that we’ve seen a real product as part of that strategy; I’m sure that the other ACM vendors with products already released are ROFL over IBM’s statement in the press release that this is the “industry’s first advanced case management product”. With FileNet Content Manager at the core for managing the case file and the associated content, they’ve drawn on a variety of offerings across different software groups and brands to create this product: ILOG rules, Cognos realtime monitoring, Lotus collaboration and social networking, and WebSphere Process Server to facilitate integration to multiple systems. This is one of their “industry solutions” that spans multiple software groups, and I can just imagine the internal political wrangling that went on to make this happen. As excited as they sounded about bringing all these assets together in a new product, they’ll need to demonstrate a seamless integration and common user experience so that this doesn’t end up looking like some weird FrankenECM. Judging from the comments at the previous session that I attended, it sounds like the ILOG integration, at the very least, is a bit shaky in the first release.

They’re providing analytics – both via the updated Content Analytics offering (discussed below) and Cognos – to allow views of individual case progression as well as analysis of persistent case information to detect patterns in case workload. It sounds like they’re using Cognos for analyzing the case metadata, and Content Analytics for analyzing the unstructured information, e.g., documents and emails, associated with the case.

A key capability of any case management system, and this is no exception, is the ability to handle unstructured work, allowing a case worker to use their own experience to determine the next steps to progress the case towards outcome. Workers can create tasks and activities that use the infrastructure of queues and inboxes; this infrastructure is apparently new as part of this offering, and not based on FileNet BPM. Once a case is complete, it remains in the underlying Content Manager repository, where it is subject to retention policies like any other content. They’ve made the case object and its tasks native content types, so like any other content class in FileNet Content Manager, you can trigger workflows (in BPM) based on the native event types of the content class, such as when the object is created or updated. The old Business Process Framework (BPF), which was the only prior IBM offering in the case management arena, isn’t being discontinued, but customers will definitely be encouraged to create any new case management applications on Case Manager rather than BPF, and eventually to rewrite their BPF applications to take advantage of new features.

As we’re seeing in many other BPM and case management products, they’ve created the ability to deploy reusable templates for vertical solutions in order to reduce the time required to deploy a solution from months down to days. IBM’s focus will initially be on the horizontal platform, and they’re relying on partners and customers to build the industry-specific templates. Partners in the early adoption program are already providing templates for claims, wealth management and other solutions. The templates are designed for use by business analysts, so that a BA can use a pre-defined template to create and deploy a case management solution with minimal IT involvement.

For user experience, they’re providing three distinct interfaces:

  • A workbench for BAs to create case solutions, based on the afore-mentioned templates, using a wizard-based interface. This includes building the end user portal environment with the IBM iWidget component (mashup) environment.
  • A role-based portal for end users, created by the BAs in the workbench, with personalization options for the case worker.
  • Analytics/reporting dashboards reporting on case infrastructure for managers and case workers, leveraging Cognos and Content Analytics.

They did have some other news aside from the Case Manager announcement; another major content-related announcement is support for the CMIS standard, allowing IBM content repositories (FileNet CM, IBM CM8 and CMOD) to integrate more easily with non-IBM systems. This is in a technology preview only at this point, but since IBM co-authored the standard, you can expect full support for it in the future. I had a recent discussion with Pega indicating that they were supporting CMIS in their case management/BPM environment, and we’re seeing the same from other vendors, meaning that you’ll be able to integrate an industrial strength repository like FileNet CM into the BPM or ACM platform of your choice.

They had a few other announcements and points to discuss on the call:

  • IBM recently acquired Datacap, a document capture (scanning) product company, which refreshes their high-performance document scanning and automated recognition capabilities. This integrates with FileNet CM, but also with the older IBM CM8 Content Manager and (soon) CMOD, plus other non-IBM content repositories. Datacap uses a rules-based capability for better content capture, recognition and classification.
  • There are improvements to Office Document Services; this is one of the areas where CMIS will help as well, allowing IBM to hold its nose and improve their integration with SharePoint and Exchange. There’s a big focus on content governance, such as managing retention lifecycles, including content federation across multiple heterogeneous repositories.
  • There are updates to the information lifecycle governance (ILG) portfolio, including Content Collector and eDiscovery. Content Collector has better content collection, analysis and management capabilities for office documents, email and SAP data. eDiscovery now provides better support for legal discovery cases, with enhanced security roles for granular content access, redaction APIs and better keyword identification. This ties back into governance, content lifecycle management and retention management: disposal of information at the appropriate times is key to reducing legal discovery costs, since you’re not having to retrieve, distribution and review a lot of content that is no longer legally required.
  • IBM’s recent acquisition of PSS Systems complements the existing records management and eDiscovery capabilities with retention-related analytics and policy solutions.
  • The relatively new IBM Content Analytics (ICA) product has been updated, providing analytics on content retention management (i.e., find what you need to decommission) as well as more general “BI for content” for advanced analytics on what’s in your content repositories and related contextual data from other sources. This integrates out of the box with Cognos (which begs the question, why isn’t this actually just Cognos) as well as the new Case Manager product to provide analytics for the manager dashboard views. The interesting thing is that “content” in this situation is more than just IBM content repositories, it’s also competitive content repositories and even things like Twitter feeds via IBM’s new BigInsights offering. They have a number of ICA technology demos here at IOD, including the BigInsights/Twitter analysis, and ICA running on Hadoop infrastructure for scalability.
  • The only announcement for FileNet BPM seemed to be expanding to some new Linux platforms, and I’ve heard that they’re refactoring the process engine to improve performance and maintenance but no whiff of new functionality aside from the Case Manager announcement. I plan to attend the BPM technical briefing this afternoon, and should have some more updates after that.

I still find the IBM ECM portfolio – much like their BPM and other portfolios – to contain too many products: clearly, some of these should be consolidated, although IBM’s strategy seems to be to never sunset a product if they have a couple of others that do almost the same thing and there’s a chance that they can sell you all of them.

Advanced Case Management Empowering The Business Analyst

We’re still a couple of hours away from the official announcement about the release of IBM Case Manager, and I’m at a session on how business analysts will work with Case Manager to build solutions based on templates.

Like the other ACM sessions, this one starts with an overview of IBM’s case management vision as well as the components that make up the Case Manager product: ECM underlying it all, with Lotus Sametime for real-time presence and chat, ILOG JRules for business rules, Cognos Real Time Monitor for dashboards, IBM Content Analytics for unstructured content analysis, IBM (Lotus) Mashup Center for user interface and some new case management task and workflow functionality that uses P8 BPM under the covers. Outside the core of Case Manager, WebSphere Process Server can be invoked for integration/SOA applications, although it appears that this is done by calling it from P8 BPM, which was existing functionality. On top of this, there are pre-built solutions and solution templates, as well as a vast array of services from IBM GBS and partners.

IBM Case Management Vision

The focus in this session is on the tools for the business analyst in the design-time environment, either based on a template or from scratch, including the user interface creation in the Mashup Center environment, analytics for both real-time and historical views of cases, and business rules. This allows a business analyst to capture requirements from the business users and create a working prototype that will form the shell of the final case application, if not the full executing application. The Case Builder environment that a business analyst works in to design case solutions also allows for testing and deploying the solution, although in most cases you won’t have your BAs deploying directly to a production environment.

Defining a case solution stats with the top-level case solution creation, including name, description and properties, then completing the following:

  • Define case types
  • Specify roles
    • Define role inbasket
  • Define personal inbasket
  • Define document types
  • Associate runtime UI pages

We didn’t see the ILOG JRules integration, and for good reason: in the Q&A, they admitted that this first version of Case Manager didn’t quite have that up to scratch, so I imagine that you have to work in both design environments, then call JRules from a BPM step or something of that nature.

The more that I see of Case Manager, the more I see the case management functionality that was starting to migrate into the FileNet ECM/BPM product from the Business Process Framework (BPF); I predicted that BPF would become part of the core product when I reviewed P8 BPM v4.5 a year and a half ago, and while this is being released as a separate product rather than part of the core ECM product, BPF is definitely being pushed to the side and IBM won’t be encouraging the creation of any new applications based on BPF. There’s no direct migration path from BPF to ACM; BPF technology is a bit old, and the time has come for it to be abandoned in favor of a more modern architecture, even if some of the functionality is replicated in the new system.

The step editor used to define the tasks associated with cases provides swimlanes for roles or workgroups (for underlying queue assignment, I assume), then allows the designer to add steps into the lanes and assign properties to the steps. The step properties are a simplified version of a step definition in P8 BPM, so I assume that this is actually a shared model (as opposed to export/import) that can be opened directly by the more technical BPM Process Designer. In P8 BPM 4.5, they introduced a “diagram mode” for business analysts in the Process Designer; this appears to be an even simpler process diagramming environment. It’s not BPMN compliant, which I think is a huge mistake; since it’s a workflow-style model with lanes, activities and split/merge are supported, this would have been a great opportunity to use the standard BPMN shapes to start getting BAs used to it.

I still have my notes from last week’s analyst briefing and my meeting with Ken Bisconti from yesterday which I will publish; these are more aligned with the “official” announcement that will be coming out today in conjunction with the press release.

IBM’s New Case Manager Product Overview

The day before the official announcement of IBM’s Case Manager product, Jake Levirne, Senior Product Manager, walked us through the capabilities. He started by defining case management, and discussing how it is about providing context to enable better outcomes rather than prescribing the exact method for achieving that outcome. For those of you who have been following ACM for a while, this wasn’t anything new, although I’m imagining that it is for some of the audience here at IOD.

Case Manager is an extension of the core (FileNet) ECM product through the integration of functionality from several other software products across multiple IBM software groups, specifically analytics, rules and collaboration. There is a new design tool targeted at business analysts, and a user interface environment that is the next generation of the old ECM widgets. There’s a new case object model in the repository, allowing the case construct to exist purely in the content repository, and be managed using the full range of content management capabilities including records management. Case tasks can be triggered by a number of different event types: user actions, new content, or updates to the case metadata. By having tasks as objects within the case, each task can then correspond to a structured subprocess in FileNet BPM, or just be part of a checklist of actions to be completed by the case worker (further discussion left it unclear whether even the simple checklist tasks were implemented as a single-step BPM workflow). A task can also call a WebSphere Process Server task; in fact, from what I recall of how the Content Manager objects work, you can call pretty much anything if you want to write a Java wrapper around it, or possibly this is done by triggering a BPM process that in turn calls a web service. The case context – a collection of all related metadata, tasks, content, comments, participants and other information associated with the case – is available to any case worker, giving them a complete view of the history and the current state of the case. Some collaboration features are built in to the runtime, including presence and synchronous chat, as well as simple asynchronous commenting; these collaborations are captured as part of the case context.

As you would expect, cases are dynamic and allow case workers to add new tasks for the case at any time. Business rules, although they may not even be visible to the end user, can be defined during design time in order to set properties and trigger events in the case. Rules can be changed at runtime, although we didn’t see an example of how that would be done or why it might be necessary.

There are two perspectives in the Case Manager Builder design environment: a simplified view for the business analysts to define the high level view of the case, and a more detailed view for the technologists to build in more complex integrations and complex decision logic. This environment allows for either start-from-scratch or template-based case solution definitions, and is targeted at the business analyst with a wizard-based interface. Creating a case solution includes defining the following from the business analyst’s view:

  • case properties (metadata)
  • roles that will work on this case, which will be bound to users at runtime
  • case types that can exist within the same case solution
  • document types that can be included in the case or may even trigger the case
  • case data and search views
  • which case views that each role will see
  • default folders to be included in the case
  • tasks that can be added to this case, each of which is a process (even if only a one-step process), and any triggering events for the tasks
  • the process behind each of the tasks, which is a simple step editor directly in Case Builder; a system lane in this editor can represent the calling of a web service or a WPS process

All of these can be defined on an ad hoc basis, or stubbed out initially using a wizard interface that walks the business analyst through and prompts for which of these things needs to be included in the case solution. Comments can be added on the objects during design time, such as tasks, allowing for collaboration between designers.

As was made clear in an audience question, the design that a business analyst is doing will actually create object classes in both Content Manager and BPM; this is not a requirements definition that then needs to be coded by a developer. From that standpoint, you’ll need to be sure that you don’t let them do this in your production environment since you may want to have someone ensure that the object definitions aren’t going to cause performance problems (that seemed screamingly obvious to me, but maybe wasn’t to the person asking the question).

From what Levirne said, it sounds as if the simple step editor view of the task process can then be opened in the BPM Process Designer by someone more technical to add other information, implying that every task does have a BPM process behind it. It’s not clear if this is an import/export to Process Designer, or just two perspectives on the same model, or if a task always generates a BPM process or if it can exist without one, e.g., as a simple checklist item. There were a lot of questions during the session and he didn’t have time to take them all, but I’m hoping for a more in-depth demo/briefing in the weeks to come.

Case analytics, including both dashboards (Cognos BAM) and reports (Excel and Cognos BI reports) based on case metadata, and more complex analytics based on the actual content (Content Analytics), are provided to allow you to review operational performance and determine root causes of inefficiencies. From a licensing standpoint, you would need a Cognos BI license to use that for reporting, and a limited-license Content Analytics version is included out of the box that can only be used for analyzing cases, not all your content. He didn’t cover much about the analytics in this session, it was primarily focused on the design time and runtime of the case management itself.

The end-user experience for Case Manager is in the IBM Mashup Center, a mashup/widget environment that allows the inclusion of both IBM’s widgets and any other that support the iWidget standard and expose their properties via REST APIs. IBM has had the FileNet ECM widgets available for a while to provide some standard ECM and BPM capabilities; the new version provides much more functionality to include more of the case context including metadata and tasks. A standard case widget provides access to the summary, documents, activities and history views of the case, and can link to a case data widget, a document viewer widget for any given document related to the case, and e-forms for creating more complex user interfaces for presenting and entering data as part of the case.

Someone I know who has worked with FileNet for years commented that Case Manager looks a lot like the integrated demos that they’ve been building for a couple of years now; although there’s some new functionality here and the whole thing is presented as a neat package, it’s likely that you could have done most of this on your own already if you were proficient with FileNet ECM and some of the other products involved.

We also heard from Brian Benoit of Pyramid Solutions, a long-time FileNet partner who has been an early adopter of Case Manager and responsible for building some of the early templates that will be available when the product is released. He demonstrated a financial account management template, including account opening, account maintenance, financial transaction requests and correspondence handling. In spite of IBM’s claim that there is no migration path from Business Process Framework (BPF), there is a very BPF-like nature to this application; clearly, the case management experience that they gained from BPF usage has shaped the creation of Case Manager, or possibly Pyramid was so familiar with BPF that they built something similar to what they knew already. Benoit said that the same functionality could be built out of the box with Case Manager, but that what they have provided is an accelerator for this sort of application.

Levirne assured me that everything in his presentation could be published immediately, although I’ve had analyst briefings on Case Manager that are under embargo until the official announcement tomorrow so I’ll give any of the missing details then.

IBM IOD Opening Session: ACM and Analytics

I’m at IBM’s Information On Demand (IOD) conference this week, attending the opening session. There are 10,000 attendees here (including, I assume, IBM employees) for a conference that covers information management of all sorts: databases, analytics and content management. As at other large vendor conferences, they feel obligated to assault our senses in the morning with loud performance art: today, it’s Japanese drummers (quite talented, and thankfully short). From a logistics standpoint, the wifi fell to its knees before the opening session even started (what, like you weren’t expecting this many people??); IBM could learn a few lessons about supporting social media attendees from SAP, which provided a social media section with tables, power and wired internet to ensure that our messages got out in a timely fashion.

Getting back to the session, it was hosted by Mark Jeffries, who provides some interesting and amusing commentary between sessions, told us the results of the daily poll, and moderated some of the Q&A sessions; I’ve seen him at other conferences and he does a great job. First up from IBM is Robert LeBlanc (I would Google his title, but did I mention that there’s no wifi in here as I type?), talking about how the volume of information is exploding, and yet people are starved for the right information at the right time: most business people say that it’s easier to get information on the internet than out of their own internal systems. Traditional information management – database and ECM – is becoming tightly tied with analytics, since you need analytics to make decisions based on all that information, and gain insights that help to optimize business.

They ran some customer testimonial videos, and the term “advanced case management” came up early and often: I sense that this is going to be a theme for this conference, along with the theme of being analytics-driven to anticipate and shape business outcomes.

LeBlanc was then joined on stage by two customers: Mike Dreyer of Visa and Steve Pratt of CenterPoint Energy. In both cases, these organizations are leveraging information in order to do business better, for example, Visa used analytics to determine that “swipe-and-go” for low-value neighborhood transactions such as Starbucks were so low risk that they didn’t need immediate verification, speeding each transaction and therefore getting your morning latte to you faster. CenterPoint, an energy distributor, uses advanced metering and analytics not only for end-customer metering, but to monitor the health of the delivery systems so as to avoid downtimes and optimize delivery costs. They provided insights into how to plan and implement an information management strategy, from collecting the right data to analyzing and acting on that information.

We then heard from Arvind Krishna, IBM’s GM of Information Management, discussing the cycle of information management and predictive analytics, including using analytics and event processing to optimize real-time decisions and improve enterprise visibility. He was then joined on a panel by Rob Ashe, Fred Balboni and Craig Hayman, moderated by Mark Jeffries; this started to become more of the same message about the importance of information management and analytics. I think that they put the bloggers in the VIP section right in front of the stage so that we don’t bail out when it starts to get repetitive. I’m looking forward to attending some of the more in-depth sessions to hear about the new product releases and what customers are doing with them.

Since the FileNet products are showcased at IOD, this is giving me a chance to catch up with a few of my ex-FileNet friends from when I worked there in 2000-1: last night’s reception was like old home week with lots of familiar faces, and I’m looking forward to meeting up with more of them over the next three days. Looking at the all-male group of IBM executives speaking at the keynote, however, reminded me why I’m not there any more.

Disclosure: In addition to providing me with a free pass to the conference, IBM paid my travel expenses to be here this week. I flew Air Canada coach and am staying at the somewhat tired Luxor, so that’s really not a big perq.

Dynamic Case Management In the Public Sector

There was nothing that could have entice me to attend the Lean Six Sigma presentation this late in the afternoon, so instead I opted for the public sector track (which is not really my area of interest) for a discussion on dynamic case management (which is my area of interest) by Craig LeClair.

Government workers have low levels of empowerment and resourcefulness, for both cultural reasons and lack of technology to support such activities. So why is dynamic case management important in the government? He lists several reasons, including the increased need to manage the costs and risks of servicing higher numbers of citizen requests, the less structured nature of government jobs, demographic trends that will see many experience government workers retiring soon, and new regulations that impact their work.

Forrester defines dynamic case management as “a semistructured but also collaborative, dynamic, human and information-intensive process that is driven by outside events and requires incremental and progressive responses from the business domain handling the case”. A case folder at the center of the case is surrounded by people, content, collaboration, reporting, events, policies, process and everything else that might impact that case or be consumed during the working of the case. It’s a combination of BPM, ECM and analytics, plus new collaborative user interface paradigms. Forrester is just wrapping up a wave report on dynamic case management (or adaptive case management, as it is also known), and we’re seeing a bit of the research that’s going into it.

Le Clair discussed the three case management categories – service requests, incident management and investigative – and showed several government process examples that fit into each type as well as some case studies. He moved on to more generic Forrester BPM advice that I heard earlier in sessions today, such as leveraging centers of excellence, but included some specific to case management such as using it as a Lean approach for automating processes.

39 minutes into a 45-minute presentation, he turned it over to his co-presenter, Christine Johnson from Iron Data, although he assured her that she still had 15-20 minutes. 🙂 She walked through a case lifecycle for a government agencies dealing with unemployment and disability claims through retraining and other activities: this includes processes for referral/intake, needs assessment and service plan, appeals, and so on. Some portions, such as intake, had more of a structured workflow, whereas others were less structured cases where the case worker determined the order and inclusion of activities. There were some shockingly detailed diagrams, not even considering the time of day, but she redeemed herself with a good list of best practices for case management implementations (including, ironically, “clutter-free screens”), covering technology, design and process improvement practices.

Interestingly, Johnson’s key case study on a federal agency handling disability claims started as an electronic case file project – how many of those have we all seen? – and grew into a case management project as the client figured out that it was possible to actually do stuff with that case file in addition to just pushing documents into it. The results: paperless cases, and reduced case processing times and backlogs.