Resolving Case Management Challenges with Dynamic BPM

Dermot McCauley of Singularity discussed case management and its need for dynamism. He’s one of the co-authors of Mastering the Unpredictable: How Adaptive Case Management Will Revolutionize The Way That Knowledge Workers Get Things Done, and started with a definition of case management:

Case management is the management of long-lived collaborative processes that require secure coordination of knowledge, content, correspondence and resources to achieve an objective or goal. The path of execution cannot be predefined. Human judgment is required in determining how to proceed, and the state of a case can be affected by external events.

As he pointed out, cases are inherently unpredictable, emerging and changing over time, and must allow case workers to chart their own course through the process of managing the case, deciding on the right tasks to do and the right information to include at the right time. He discussed 14 key characteristics of case management, including “goal driven”, “information complexity” and “fluid participants and roles”, and how a case management technology platform must include aspects of BPMS, ECM and collaboration technologies in order to effectively support the knowledge workers. He also discussed the criticality of the history of a case, even more so than with structured processes, since cases are typically long-running and might include several workers added in partway through the case timeline. Case workers need a flexible work environment, since that’s the nature of their work, which means that they need to be able to configure their own desktop environment via a mashup-like functionality in order to organize their work effectively.

He also covered off a bit of their own product; interesting to see that there is a process map underlying a case, with a “happy path” showing what the case should be doing, but providing the user at any point with the ability to skip forward or back in the process map, initiate other (pre-defined) tasks, reassign the task to another user, and change case characteristics such as priority and expected completion time. This is not purely unstructured process, where there is no predefined model, but dynamic BPM where the model is predefined but can be readily changed while in flight. They have implemented a solution with the UK Insolvency Service, dealing with individual bankruptcy; this was targeted at a new low-cost program that the Insolvency Service was putting in place to handle the large number of low-asset individual insolvency cases in the face of the recent economic crisis. They used an agile approach, moving the case files from paper to electronic and providing a more flexible and efficient case management process that was live within 12 months of the original government legislation that enacted the program.

Dancing With Elephants: Webinar on Agile and Social Processes

Keith Swenson and I will be presenting a webinar this Thursday at 2pm ET, sponsored by Fujitsu, on the topic of agile and social BPM. You can register here.

From the description:

Think that Agile Business Process Management (BPM) is not for you because you don’t have simple processes that follow the same path every time? Think again.

Agile BPM moves process improvement out of that “pre-defined & predictable box” into handling those difficult cases that elude traditional formalized process management techniques.

Do you want a hand in improving performance of your organization, but find that:

  • Unpredictable is more the norm than the exception in your business?
  • You are not able to change your business processes quickly enough for your changing business practices?
  • Your knowledge workers need to focus on achieving goals rather than performing the same actions every time?

If yes, then this webcast is for you! Join us as we illustrate how Agile BPM allows you get results by striking the right balance between structure and flexibility in processes and how Fujitsu’s Agile BPM solution can help you to achieve that goal.

Topics covered include:

  • Why the need for Agile BPM Platforms? What are the benefits?
  • How is it different from traditional BPM?
  • How do companies use Agile BPM Platform? Where is the fit?
  • How can Agile BPM be effective in response to change in your business?

I’m going to start with a presentation on Agile and Social BPM, Keith will show what they’re doing in these areas with Fujitsu’s Interstage BPM, then the gloves will come off for a lively discussion (just kidding about the gloves, although not the lively discussion).

BPM and Case Management Webinar Q&A

I presented a webinar on business process management and case management today, hosted by Pegasystems. Great fun as always, and a ton of questions that we didn’t have time to answer. I captured a lot of them and will address them here; if you attended the webinar, Pega will also send out their responses as well as a link to the recording of the webinar. First of all, here’s my slides from the presentation:

Update: the webinar replay is here on the Pega site (registration required).

And here’s the Q&A. I’ve grouped together questions that I’ve responded to in a single answer.

What work is being done on the BPMN standard to improve support for case management?

What about modeling? What effect do you think this dynamic/structured divide has on modeling. Can you model structured processes in the same way as dynamic cases?

is there any standard for case management like BPM?

Do you work on Case Management Process Modeling of OMG Standardisation

Although you can use BPMN to model ad hoc processes, it doesn’t currently lend itself that well to modeling case management situations: it doesn’t include good support for the rich content required in most case management scenarios, nor for completely on-the-fly subprocess definition by a participant. BPM products that only support BPMN are going to struggle with representing cases as well as structured processes. I’m not sure what OMG is doing (if anything) to address CM within the BPMN standard in order to address this issue; the fact that they have issued an RFP for Case Management Process Modeling indicates that they’re going to do something; in my mind, it makes sense to consider some sort of extension to BPMN since there are so many processes that include aspects of both. I am not involved in that standards work.

Is “Case Management” just another name for Forrester’s “Human-Centric BPM” ?

Not really, or at least not based on their last definition of human-centric BPM. There are many structured BPM situations that involve a large number of human-facing steps; that doesn’t make them case management since they are neither dynamic nor collaborative. Forrester does have a recent report on dynamic case management that is separate from their BPM reports.

Case Management seems limited to user self-selected processes, that are pre-defined. Wouldn’t a truly dynamic case management system be guiding users based on current case context and customizing responses to the specific need, rather than simply insert pre-defined segment?

Absolutely. Although I showed the situation where someone could add pre-defined process fragments, I didn’t mean to imply that that’s the only method. Most of the time, the user has a pre-defined set of actions (which are more granular than process fragments) from which they can select; however, it is possible in most case management systems to allow a user to define actions and subprocesses on the fly.

Is it typical for someone other than the “case worker” to initiate or create a case, e.g. by submitting some sort of request directly into the CM application, or is it more typical for the case worker to create the case based on input via some other channel such as phone, email, etc.?

To what extent do organizations integrate the case with legacy systems – claims, investment etc.

I’ve grouped these two questions together because my response to the first one is “yes, but not only someone – it could be a trigger from another system”. In almost every situation, a case is created in response to an event; if that event occurs in another system, it could be used to create the case directly. Otherwise, an event such as a phone call could be used by someone other than the case worker to create the case, such as the CSR who took a call from a customer. Depending on the case management system, there may be further integration with other business systems in order to update information or trigger other events, or it may rely on the case worker to check those systems for additional actions and information.

If you’re trying to provide tools for front line service agents who take a wide variety of requests, including routine and knowledge based, is CM the best approach; linking in to BPM to support the routine workflows or is it better to have BPM. The main challenge is that the frontline worker could receive queries on certain query types very rarely.

Great question, to which the answer is “that depends”. That’s a design issue that would depend on the nature of the requests as well as the need to cross over between BPM and CM within those requests. For example, if the requests are independent from each other, you could spawn individual processes or cases depending on the type of request; whether the two different types are handled by one or two different systems could be completely transparent to the service agent. However, if a request could come in that need to be combined with or related to an earlier request, then CM would likely be the way to go.

Will presenters discuss measurability for individuals participating in the case, time and actions needed to close – and sense of ownership of the customer solution?

Just because a case is dynamic doesn’t mean that it’s not measured: keep in mind that a case is based on goals, and there should be KPIs associated with those goals that can be measured. For example, it may be important that a case be completed within a specific timeframe, although not important that any given action within the case be done within a specific time as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the case milestones. The reverse may also be true: a case could have no specific deadline since it is open-ended (as in managing a chronic care patient), although there may be deadlines and milestones on actions and subprocesses within the case. As for ownership, usually a case has a specific case manager who holds ultimate responsibility, even some of the actions are performed by other people, although that’s not always the case. In situations where there is not a single case manager, the identification and monitoring of KPIs becomes more important, with alerts being raised to someone who can take responsibility if required in order to achieve the case result.

BPM fits easily in a Quality Management System – Plan Do Check Act. How would Case Management fit into a QM system and repository?

I’m not a QM expert, but much of what I see of how QM is applied is through the development and application of fairly specific procedures. In the presentation, I spoke about structured subprocesses that could be invoked from a case in order to complete specific actions; these would obviously fit well within a QM framework. A structured PDCA model isn’t going to fit for most case management, although could be applied at a higher level since there is often some design of a framework or template for cases that is done, and KPIs against which you measure the success of the case.

If you had a process that was this complicated would you not rationalise it using something like six sigma?

This was related to the scenario that Emily Burns from Pegasystems presented, but I’ll address the more general issue of complexity and measurement, in part based on my previous response to the QM question. Six Sigma in particular is based on statistical measurement of processes, with a goal of reducing defects in the process. Although you could apply some of the Six Sigma measurement principles, in general, since you don’t have predefined processes, it’s difficult to make a lot of statistical calculations about those processes. Case management isn’t a replacement for process analysis: if you have a highly complex but structured process, then analyze it and implement it using more standard structured BPM techniques. Case management is for when, regardless of the amount of analysis that you do, it’s just not possible to model every possible pathway through the business process. That being said, there are situations where using case management for a while does end up producing some emergent processes: processes that weren’t understood to be predictable and structured until they were done enough times in a case management framework to see the patterns emerge.

since case is so dynamic, what is the best practice when designing system to handle CM?

how do you decide the granularity of a case ?

I’ve grouped these two together since they’re both involved with case design. As I mentioned in my previous response, CM is not a replacement for analysis: you still need to understand your business processes before you start designing your CM system. You will need to design a case framework that doesn’t restrict what the case managers can do, while collecting the information that is required in order to document and act upon the case. Things to design into your case will include an overall data model (which will determine the ability of people to find and monitor a specific case), any required actions or subprocesses that need to be executed at some point, and content that needs to be collected before the case can be completed. Other things to include will be case context (the information from other systems that may be used by the case manager in order to complete their work) as well as events between the case and other systems, both inbound and outbound. You will also want to set KPIs, milestones and related alerts or escalations on specific actions or the entire case. Emily will likely respond with more specifics on how they set out cases and subcases within Pega, but I suspect that you might find that your definition of case may shift once you start doing case management for a while. I had a chance to speak with the person from BAA who presented the BAA case study (the one that Emily showed at the end), and he said that they were in the process of rolling up the previous separate cases that they had for things such as passenger handling and luggage handling into a single case for each flight, with those as subcases.

What i understand from a case is that they are basically business scenarios. Can we assume that?

If you mean “business scenario” in the enterprise architecture sense, then a case and business scenario could be considered as equivalent in some situations, although business scenarios usually end up with some sort of structured process model defined. There are many common aspects, however, and I think that we can learn much about defining CM standards by looking at what has been done in EA.

To understand cases or to handle case management solutions, some extra tools are needed that handle things like case history, status etc., so, what generic list of tools do you think are needed from a holistic case management tool?

The list of tools and functionality is still emerging, and will continue to evolve over the next while, but Forrester’s report on dynamic case management has a useful diagram showing what to expect in a case management platform:

They also list the capabilities that would translate directly from BPMS in that part of the framework, such as human interaction, integration and analytics.

With a Case Management structure, is work typically or ever completed in the Case Management tool itself? If not, does the Case Management tool depend on the users updated the case periodically to indicate what stage they are in & how far they are toward completion, etc.?

Work is typically done both within the CM structure and in other systems. Since part of the expected functionality is integration between the CM system and other systems, there may be some degree of automated exchange of events and information between them, or users may be required to update the case directly with their progress in non-integrated systems. Since the case file serves as a permanent record of the case, it is often considered the system of record, not transient information such as a typical process instance might be: that means that updating the case isn’t just a matter of documenting what was done in other systems, but could be the only place in which that information is captured.

If you were on the call and have other questions, feel free to add them in the comments and I’ll respond.

Webinar on BPM and Case Management

I’m giving a webinar on Thursday this week, sponsored by Pegasystems, where I’ll talk about BPM and adaptive case management (ACM). Emily Burns from Pega will be there to give an overview of their ACM functionality. You can register for the webinar here.

There’s been so much written on BPM and ACM lately; I’ve been reading an advance copy of Mastering The Unpredictable (a collection of ACM topics by some of the great minds in the industry), tracking the conversations on blogs, seeing the vendor buzz at all the conferences this month, and hearing what my own clients are saying about their needs to do something less structured than the usual BPMN-modeled processes. This has been a great chance for me to bring together a lot of these ideas with many of my earlier thoughts on social/collaborative BPM, which I’ve been writing about since 2006.

PegaWORLD: Alan Trefler keynote

Weather and Air Canada conspired against me getting to Philadelphia yesterday, but here I am at the opening keynote as Alan Trefler gives us the high-level view of Pega’s progress (including the Chordiant acquisition) and what’s coming up. Pega is one of the longest-standing BPM players, now 27 years old – although not all of that strictly in BPM, I think – which gives them a good perspective of how the industry is changing. My links post this morning was a collection of posts about adaptive case management, dynamic BPM and social BPM, and Pega is part of this trend. In fact, Trefler claimed that many of the other vendors are hopping on the agility bandwagon late (even the BPM bandwagon), or in words only.

He pointed out how many of the pure play vendors have been acquired recently, and sees this as a play by the acquiring companies to reduce choice in the market, and artificially bolster the "x% of companies run our software" claims. In his usual style, he used a giant photo of a shark on the screen behind him to illustrate this point. He made direct hits on Oracle, SAP and IBM with his comments, claiming that if consolidation results in the lowest common denominator – a common level of mediocrity – then the customers will lose out. The acquiring stack vendors end up offering a Frankenstack of products that do not integrate properly (if at all), and that so much custom code is required in order to deploy these that they become the new legacy systems, unchangeable and not able to meet the customer needs, since they require that you change your business in order to fit the software rather than the other way around.

He discussed their approach to case management, stating that a case is a metaphor for whatever you need it to be in your business, not a construct that is pre-defined by a vendor. Like the comments that I saw about the recent conference, I think that this is also going to be a conference about adaptive case management (ACM) as well as BPM.

Pega is about to announce a set of managed services; they are already pretty cloud-friendly (the recent demo that I had from them was done on an EC2 instance, for example) since they allow for complete configuration and administration via a browser. They’ve been talking about platform as a service for over a year now, so this isn’t a bit surprise, but good to see something concrete rolling out.

He finished up by stating that Pega intends to be the dominant player in the space. They announced on Friday that they’ve added 114 people in the first quarter of 2010, and have just announced 11 consecutive quarters of record revenues. They will continue to invest in R&D in order to achieve and maintain this position.

Judging by the tweets that I’m already seeing, several key BPM analysts are here with me, so expect a lot of good coverage of the conference.

Henk de Man of Cordys at Software 2010

Only one other presentation at the Software 2010 conference in Oslo today was in English, which likely would have attracted me anyway, but I especially wanted to see Henk de Man of Cordys speak about adaptive BPM and case management in the cloud, which provides a nice bookend to my talk at the start of the day.

I couldn’t believe that it’s been three years since I last looked at Cordys, and I was looking for a bit of an update. Cordys Process Factory (CPF) is now tightly integrated with Google Apps, and they have some examples of customers using Google Apps, CPF and on-premise applications with data and transaction exchange between the cloud-based and on-premise software in a “hybrid cloud” configuration.

His focus today, however, was on case management: a higher-level coordination of activities that can’t be shown in a single structured process, with many bits of content and process works towards a common goal, such as is defined by OMG. This is emerging as a type of process modeling, separate but adjacent to the type of structured process modeling that we see in BPMN. In case management, there is a case file that contains all the relevant content, but multiple ways to achieve the ultimate goal, which might be dependent on the contents of the case file, current conditions, and the decisions of the individual participants working on the case. Forrester just released a research note on dynamic case management, and some of the older document management and workflow solutions are being repositioned into this “new” area, but the successful players will be those that can bring quality analytics, collaboration and modern user experience to bear: areas where Cordys is making inroads.

This is a bit of old wine in new bottles, but new technologies are definitely breathing life back into case management; the challenge will be to differentiate true case management processes from potentially structured complex processes that someone is just too lazy to model. Expect to see much more of this in 2010.