Moving Along from BPM to Case Management

I make a salmon dish my family likes. It's very simple, but it has certain elements that make it seem fancier than it is. We had guests over once, and served it. Like any polite dinner guest, our friends asked for the recipe. I found myself saying, "It's not so much a recipe as a process."

I couldn't believe my own words. I guess I was already pondering this White Paper and how I could possibly contribute to it. But it made me think. Bear with me for a minute while I torture a metaphor to within an inch of its life:

Making this dish doesn't involve any rules or measurements. It is pretty much the same every time, though, because it has so few moving parts. You do this: Slice a few potatoes very thinly. Overlap them so they're sort of like fish scales—we call them "fans"—on a cast-iron griddle in segments that approximate the size of your salmon fillets. Begin to fry them. Slice shallots and place on top of the potatoes. When the potatoes are starting to brown nicely, lay the salmon fillets (spiced a little with salt, pepper and Old Bay) skin-side up on top of the potato "fans." Put the griddle in a hot oven till the salmon is done. To serve, flip the servings over on a plate, now with skin-side down, and the browned potatoes on top. That's it.

Now, there's not a traditional "recipe" term in there anywhere. No two cups of this, or one pound of that. It's not a recipe; it's a process. Although there are variations ("exceptions" in business process terms), it's pretty much the same thing every time. I might use a food processor one time, and a knife another time. I might have to substitute onions for shallots. I might add some Marsala, because I love it. But basically, it's the same process each time. It's more about "how to do it" than "what to do."

Now to continue with the metaphor torture session, a "recipe" is more like a workflow. It tells "what to do" more than "how to do it." It is ruled and governed strictly by the predefined rules. Follow them correctly, and the outcome will be precisely the same every time.

My salmon-fan "process" however might vary from attempt to attempt, but there's still nothing too outside the boundaries of routine that can really screw it up.

Now—bear with me; I have a point and will arrive at it in a minute. A new concept in business process management has emerged. It's variously called "adaptive case management" or "dynamic case management," but in this tortured metaphor it would represent "the dinner." In a "case," there are abundant variables that can alter the entire end-result (the business objective). How many guests will there be? What kind of wine should I serve? Where are we sitting—outside on the patio or at the formal dining room table? What's the dress code? Day or night lighting? Candles? Tablecloth and napkins or picnic table and paper towels?

One misstep—incorrectly timing the meal preparation; sending different arrival times to guests—can botch the whole deal. Each aspect of the planning and execution affects all the others.

In case management, the objective is to anticipate what it will take to achieve the business goal, and take the multiple steps necessary to reach that goal. And, as we'll learn a little later, in anticipating what could go wrong. It is, indeed, made up of several processes, the best application of which are best determined by the person/people who have identified the optimum outcome, and can manage the many variables that achieve that goal. This is exactly why the terms "adaptive" and "dynamic" usually precede "case management." It's because the steps required to achieve a positive outcome are unpredictable, fluid and everchanging.

Reaching that nirvana—the perfect outcome—requires cooperation and nearly seamless collaboration between the "owners" of all those processes. In her excellent foreword in an also-excellent new book, "How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done," Connie Moore (no relation!), vice president and principle analyst at Forrester Research, writes: "One business transformation leader told us, we don't want an information graveyard; we want our business to be dynamic and the culture to be process driven." Connie continues: "More employees will need anytime access to collaborative, social and productivity tools to, for example, complete sales, find information, take training and locate experts no matter where they work or what device they use. But we know," she adds, "that collaboration alone—with little business process—doesn't transform the business. Instead, by pairing collaboration with BPM tools, CIOs can deliver contextual collaboration (great term) that fits into a sequenced series of steps and tackle processes that are still largely manual."

In that same book (I'll footnote the citation here1—it's published in collaboration with the Workflow Management Coalition and edited by Layna Fischer, whom KMWorld has had the pleasure to work with in the past) my friend Nathaniel Palmer, of both SRA International and affiliated with the WfMC as well, underscores this notion of case management having to do more with predicting what can go wrong, and avoiding it. He writes: "As the ability to manage and infer meaning from big data grows, so does the ability to provide a more precise or helpful solution to the problem. One of the first advances was in what we've commonly called "predictive analytics"... the ability to predict what might happen next based on analyzing patterns of historic event data. With adaptive case management, however, we are seeing the move toward "prescriptive analytics," where the data is applied to business rules and policies to help inform what to do next at a particular stage in the case." This, Nathaniel figures, is a key difference. "Adaptive case management is not simply a matter of supporting ad hoc work, but specifically functions in the delivering of guidance to users in real-time to help identify the next action to take, and presenting ‘guard rails' to steer users away from erroneous decisions."

Making the Case for Case

In the following articles in this White Paper, you'll read some more in-depth supporting evidence for case management, business process management and collaboration. And no more cooking classes, I promise. I'll excerpt a few of what I think are some particularly salient comments:

Craig Seebach, director for the WFO Back-Office Practice at Verint Systems, illuminates this need for knowledge workers to act in concert with one another. He calls the process workforce optimization.

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