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Brace Yourself-Another Game Changer

Every once in a while people ask me: “Aren’t you a musician?” I always say, “No, I’m not a musician. I’m a drummer. I hang out with musicians.”

Musicians read charts. They know what a key is. They know chord progressions. Drummers, alternately, bang the hell out of stuff. I admit I try to be a “musical” drummer, but that’s largely rubbish. I listen to the song, I play it. The end. The only unique skill I have is that I have an ear for arrangements. I remember every song I’ve ever heard. And that’s more of a curse than a blessing. You should hear my earworms.

By now it comes fairly naturally. I have been in one kind of a band or another every year of my life since fifth grade. (And, for the record, I’m 58 years old.) Marching band, symphonic band, hard rock, ska bands (plural), reggae bands (also plural), punk-rock bands (doubly plural), blues/rock bands and now I’m in a big-band jazz and swing orchestra.

The single thread that weaves throughout—and why I bring this up—is that all things evolve from the first step to the next step. My first gig was marching band. Then I stepped up to symphonic band. Then the ‘60s kicked in hard, and we found ourselves practicing Black Sabbath songs in our church basement. (Long story; don’t ask.)

As one genre is used up, another one comes along that is just a little more – different? Sophisticated? Complicated? More important? Once one problem is pretty much under control, we have a tendency to up the ante and take on the next level of challenge.

I will now stretch the metaphor to its breaking limit—the general theme of my recent conversation with a large group of BPM and case management experts is this: We pretty much have BPM under control. Now it’s time to move to the next level.

The Group in Question

It was, as I mentioned, a larger-than-usual group on the phone that day. In addition to some very helpful support folk, I enjoyed the company of Hyland/OnBase’s Ken Burns (who is analyst relations and market insights manager) and Glenn Gibson, manager of product marketing for OnBase; and also Craig Seebach, vice president of back office workforce optimization for Verint and Peter Whibley, product marketing manager for KANA. Quite a group, and it was a great conversation.

The starter question had to involve the definition of the topic, so I asked my famous “cocktail party” question to get the ball rolling: “Considering it’s a fairly new concept, how do you explain ‘BPM versus case management’ to outsiders at a cocktail party?”

Ken Burns took the bait first. “I simply say they are platforms to support information management and work processing styles.” Definitions for case management have been created by Forrester and Gartner, Ken informed me, “But I can’t remember the whole 43-word sentences they use. I would say it’s more of an approach to work that we borrow from the professionals in the field—health and human services, the legal profession, for example. It’s very collaborative, and tries to take hold of an issue rather than a piece of information. Unlike document management or even BPM, which are built around sets of documents and follow predefined models, case management focuses more on the work streams that don’t necessarily follow a predetermined path. Kind of heavy for a cocktail party, but there it is,” added Ken.

Craig Seebach jumped in. “BPM is focused on how to do things more efficiently. Case management has more of an end-customer viewpoint. Efficiency is still part of it, but case management is more focused on keeping the end user’s experience front-and-center. There’s still a back-office component, but case management is focused on what happens to a transaction—which always begins at the edge of the organization, and what happens during the entire life cycle of that transaction,” said Craig.

Peter Whibley then pretty much defined the border. “Organizations are basically collections of business processes. Some are simple; some are more complex. BPM is really good at optimizing those simple business processes and transactions. Case management focuses on the more complex business processes.” This characteristic division between transactions (simple, straight-through) and complex, exception-prone processes would remain the theme throughout our conversation, and underscore the evolution from BPM to case management in stark terms.

Is It Real?

I wanted to know something right off the bat: “The attention to BPM seems to have been heavily supplanted by case management. To what do you attribute this shift? Is it mere marketing juggling, or has the actual customer demand shifted to case management? Is it possible the vendor community is contributing to a hype cycle, or is it a real thing? Or is there legitimate support for case management taking the front of the stage in organizations?” I asked the group.

“It’s a little of both, frankly,” answered Ken. “Case management is rooted in a different type of work, one that is more knowledge-intensive. I hesitate to use the term ‘knowledge worker,’ because everyone uses knowledge in their job. But rather than doing the work for people (which is the goal of BPM), case management enables people to do better work. The reason we’re calling it ‘complicated’ is that there are so many permutations and exceptions in the higher value activities that occur in organizations. To model those out in advance is very difficult. The central idea is to provide the information that people need to make the right decisions (rather than have the process automated, as is the case in BPM.) We’ve gone beyond squeezing all the efficiencies we can out of repetitive clerical work. Through case management, we are trying to make people more effective,” said Ken.

“The term ‘case management’ could be viewed as a buzzword, sure,” added Ken. “Forrester calls it ‘smart process applications.’ Others refer to it as ‘adaptive case management.’ But we’re still struggling to predefine the process when sometimes the users themselves don’t understand everything that goes on in a process.”

“BPM handles the straight-through processes that are repeated over and over,” added Craig. “At first, organizations tended to pick that low-hanging fruit. If 90% of work can go through a process management automation tool, let’s start there and make that process as automated as possible,” he said. “That’s leaves me with that 10% that doesn’t fit into the box. Case management provides capabilities to help get that 10% done. People have already adopted BPM and have captured as much as they can. That’s why case management is now having its moment in the sun,” Craig said.

“My take is that the interest in case management has mostly to do with a renewed interest in the customer experience,” added Peter. “There’s an increasing realization that simply plugging employees into a BPM system won’t deliver a better customer experience. It can actually make it worse. Relying on BPM can be a detriment when a more complex problem comes into a contact center, for instance. It’s no coincidence that the leading CRM vendors are doing acquisitions in the case management space. They know it can directly affect customer service and the customer experience,” he said.

“That’s true,” agreed Ken. “The CRM aspect is very key. In fact, the combination of ECM, document management, BPM and even certain forms of BI and analytics is a very important equation. The vendors who are entering case management already have a CRM-like capability in place.”

Who Knows What?

That begged the question, so I asked it: Business process management is a long-honored but elusive practice. It means different things to different constituents, and so it is sort of self-defining according to the business. What is BPM to a hospital is vastly different from the BPM in a financial service company. Now we have “BPM-squared” with case management. Question: How do you address the market that needs case management, but doesn’t quite realize it? Is it left up the professional service partners? Or do you provide consulting services?

“If we don’t understand how organizations are working today, and how work flows throughout them, we will do a poor job implementing anything,” answered Craig. “We’ve always focused on certain vertical industries, so we have some depth of industry expertise in those areas. That helps tremendously; we already understand the lingo and we have a very good concept on the nature of the work. We still need to understand how the individual customer’s work flows, but repeated implementations are key to avoiding most of the roadblocks.”

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