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Adaptive case management:
New tools for doing more of what we do best

This article appears in the issue April 2011 [Volume 20, Issue 4]
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Drucker has labeled this orientation or management practice as “management by objectives” or MBO. With the approach, knowledge workers and management establish specific goals or objectives within the organization so that the outcome is mutually understood, but the specific course of action and the decision-making are  left to the knowledge worker. ACM provides guidance and measurement of outcomes, as well as the long-term maintenance of data surrounding the process to demonstrate how objectives were realized and decisions were made.

The use of “adaptive” in adaptive case management refers to the need for knowledge worker support systems that are not explicated, programmed or hand-coded by specialists as they have been in the past, but instead can be dynamically modified by ordinary users in the course of their work. This orientation frames the definition of ACM systems that are not simply ad hoc and devoid of any manageability, but are able to support decision-making and data capture, while allowing the freedom for knowledge workers to apply their own understanding and subject matter expertise to respond to unique or changing circumstances within the business environment.

Examples of adaptability in ACM include providing access to reusable templates for initiating new cases, including the use of completed cases as templates. That allows knowledge workers to take advantage of automated tasks, while controlling if and when they are invoked … for example, have the ability to create standard correspondence (letters, e-mails, etc.) at any point in the case, with the system automatically capturing context of interaction and responses.

Another adaptable quality is support for goal-seeking and goal-driven processes, where goals can be modified “in flight” by the knowledge worker. Similar would be how knowledge captured during the performance of the case can support the identification and creation of new processes or case rules, without requiring IT/developer involvement.

Ultimately, adaptability is defined as more than simply the ability to change, but how the change is facilitated. It can be measured through a reduced need for training and change management of knowledge workers, as a result of guidance provided by the system. With ACM, this is based on the current context of the work and what needs to be done, including the ability to identify and initiate collaboration with specific subject matter experts. If this is starting to sound like knowledge management, it should. Although not designed as a repository for codifying implicit knowledge in the traditional spirit of KM, it should provide an effective means for identifying know-how by capturing the context in which knowledge work is performed.

In many ways, emergence of ACM represents the shift from adapting business practices to the design of IT systems, to building systems that reflect how work is actually performed. The latter is the way all IT projects should be approached, yet the former spotlights the traditional gap between business and IT understanding. Accurately assessing the business impact of IT is often difficult because the introduction of software changes the way people work, as well as the way they are organized.

When considering the potential of ACM, it is not sufficient to think of your current organization in terms of what you perform today, what you might deem as “case management.” Instead, imagine how your organization will be transformed by the empowerment of knowledge workers, with a system in place designed to allow them to do more of what they do best, and less of what they don’t.

The products and technologies of ACM

Once upon a time there was great debate over whether KM was something you bought or something you did. Today KM represents a distinct market sector, yet what was once true about KM is now the case for adaptive case management (ACM), that a number of sector-defining products are sold as something else, just as there is a growing list of existing products being repositioned as ACM.

One of the first attempts to categorize the ACM sector is the Forrester Wave entitled “Dynamic Case Management, Q1 2011” published Jan. 31, 2011. Forrester’s view of ACM is consistent with ours—that the space is comprised of a combination of new, evolved and opportunistic players. Among the latter, horizontal players from CRM, ERP and other existing package software sectors are excluded from the Wave analysis. Similarly excluded are the many niche-oriented solutions for specific areas such as incident tracking, investigation and adjudication, as well as those for legal and medical specific use cases. 

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