Case Management isn’t BPM

9 09 2009

This week I have found myself talking to a couple of clients about why their particular system cannot do quite what they thought it could. Basically, these clients had made investments in what they thought was workflow or BPM solutions. However, what they actually have is a Case Management solution. This solution is working fine for them at the moment, however, their ideas for future expansion of the system, incorporating more complex processes simply cannot happen with their chosen platform…

So what has happened? Well far too often vendors (especially those who do not specialise in ECM or BPM) claim their solution provides workflow or BPM facilities. Now I am not saying this is done on purpose to mislead customers, rather I believe it is done because they don’t know the difference between BPM and Case Management, and nor does the customer.

Most people I have spoken to about this agree with me, that Case Management isn’t BPM and shouldn’t be confused with it. This has caused some discussion out there in Twitter world. If you want to engage, why not chat to me on Twitter or some of these people about it @sfracisatx, @JohnBJansen, @skemsley and @DevilsRefugee


So what is the difference?

BPM is about control, and good BPM solutions provide you with great flexibility to go along with that control. So you have the flexibility to take control of any process within your business, no matter how complex it may be. However, Case Management doesn’t allow you to do this, rather it provides a solid one fit framework in which an item of work (Case) can be controlled and completed.

Let’s look at how Case Management can work. Typically you will have a number of “Queues” which contain work within them. Richer Case Management solutions will allow a “Case” of work to be split into smaller pieces of work, probably with each bit of work being allocated to one of those queues. Now it is up to a user agent to then open up that queue, and pull a particular piece of work (though they could be given the first one in the queue). The agent then completes the tasks and the work, and it’s then done. I know they can “hold”, “refer”, “suspend” etc but the point is, the piece of work doesn’t go anywhere, (it stays on the same logical step / activity) it isn’t moving along a logical process. Once the individual pieces of work are done, the case is in effect completed. Hence you have managed the case fully.

Now for me this is pure Case Management, it simply does what it says on the tin…

Is it BPM still though?

Now this particular way of working can be argued to be a business process, and you are correct, many BPM systems provide Case Management, and can provide it because of what else they can do. However, let’s take the same Case Management system and ask it to do some of the following tasks:

  • Automatically route the work to a particular skilled group of individuals
  • Identify and complete tasks / smaller processes that do not need human interaction
  • Automatically hold items at a particular stage and wait for other processes to complete
  • Split a task down into a smaller business processes
    • With the process needing to allocate work, move work to a different department

If it can do all these things, then you don’t have a Case Management system, rather you have a BPM system. Now the next question is, does your chosen BPM system deliver all that is expected of a BPM platform, the flexibility to use the same system across any business process?

Essentially BPM provides us with steps (activities) along the business process and provides the intelligence to be able to move work through these different multiple steps to completion. Case Management provides, if you like, a single step (activity) business process, as work isn’t being moved along to different stages, departments, etc…


When Case Management over BPM

Well it’s all down to requirements, and that’s how it should be. If your requirements don’t warrant a BPM platform or the ability to map out multiple business processes, then look at a Case Management solution. Case Management solutions should always be a cheaper option to BPM, because they aren’t so flexible nor complex.



Let’s ensure there is always a clear distinction between Case Management and BPM. It is confusing, but there is a logical and procedural difference between the two, and this should always be made clear by vendors to customers. Use Case Management for single step type processes and BPM for anything else that requires “movement” along a process…



16 responses

9 09 2009
Peter Schooff

Excellent question. I am asking this very question on the ebizQ Forum, and would love to have you as a member. Please email me if interested.

10 09 2009

Is Casemanagement BPM? I don’t think that’s the right question.
Case management as an approach for delivering certain services works great for processes that are less structured/upfront predictable. This can be supported by IT.
BPM is a broader approach for various types of processes: from structured, semi-structured to chaos. BPM is not technology, nor case management is. Serial processing is an approach that is often used for structured processes.

Now within your BPM approach, you can choose to use technology. For serial processing you can decide to use certain BPM technology that supports workflow management and straight through processing platforms. Most BPM suites support this type of processes.
For less structured processes that require casemanagement as an approach (and where serial workflow will not work) will require BPM suites that support these type of processes and the way to handle them: skip actions, redo actions, add unique new actions, etc. Some BPM suites don’t support it. But that does not make casemanagement something else as BPM.
Pick a BPM suite that understands unstructured processes, call it BPM, and say you need a casemanagement approach to manage and support these processes, I would say….
Among the BPM Suite vendors this trend has already been started: see Pallas Athena, Singularity, PNM Soft, Cordys.

I do agree with one point: be carefull what approach to pick (and thus what supporting technology). In our company we learned this the hard way: approaching a certain set of client processes as structured, trying to support with workflow focused BPM technology. We first got stuck in analysis (wow! so many exceptions…. what a complex flowchart!) then we got stuck in technology (no…, this tool will not allow you to jump back, only with some heavy coding we can support this)….ah! Casemanagement….

Roeland Loggen

11 09 2009
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I think we are singing from the same song sheet in some ways. I like to logically seperate Case Management from BPM so that it makes it clear to customers, consultancies and vendors, just what type of business scenarios Case Management is more suited to than full blown BPM solutions.

It seems that you have had similar experiences to my own, and seen why Case Management can be a blessing and much better suited to certain business requirements. On a number of occasions in the past (working as a VAR for some of the big players in workFlow) we have written our own Case Management solution to get around either the complexities of using BPM/workFlow or to simply keep costs and admin down.

Becuase of all these reasons, I feel its always good to say Case Management isnt BPM, and maybe to think Case Management first before thinking BPM…

11 09 2009
Anne Rozinat

I remember someone saying that case management is often what people who buy BPM actually want 🙂 I believe it was somewhere on Bruce Silver’s blog, but I can’t find it right now.

In any case, here is an earlier post of his, which I think adds to the discussion:

12 09 2009
Andrew Smith @onedegree

You maybe right. What I have found is that often vendors try to sell in more technology than is required, hence getting a fully blown BPM solution when Case Management would have fitted the requirements perfectly. Its another reason why I would like to see more distinction between the two.

16 09 2009
Tom Shepherd

Well thought out and described, however I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that there should be a distinction between Case Management and BPM. It’s not for lack of wanting to distinguish or out of a desire to confuse anyone, I just don’t believe that the separation is that black and white.

I’d suggest that there is a spectrum from pure Case Management (where everything is ad-hoc and there is really a single process step) to a BPM solution that has aspects of Case Management in the form of tasks or folders (which is what many of the BPMS vendors can and do provide). I would also say that not every Case Management solution can do BPM, nor can every BPM solution provide CM. A solution that can handle the entire spectrum is likely to be the most adaptable to real world requirements, and there aren’t that many of those.

In the end though, I do wholeheartedly agree that it should come down to requirements and that the product or technology chosen should meet the requirements first. One of the most unfortunate mistakes I’ve seen companies make is narrowing down a list of potential solutions first by type (ECM, BPMS, etc) rather than looking at a wide array of options from packaged applications to platforms to see what options best meet their needs.

16 09 2009
Process, Improved » Is Case Management the same as BPM?

[…] thought provoking article on the distinction between Case Management and BPM here. I don’t entirely agree with the conclusion (see the comments there to understand why) but […]

21 09 2009
Gaining the Benefits of Case Management Software | Business, Internet Business News

[…] Case Management isn't BPM « Andrew One Degree's Blog […]

28 12 2009
Max J. Pucher

To the BPM methodologists – I am talking products first, ok?

There is ECM, CRM, BPM and Case Management who all claim to do similar things, especially being AGILE! BPM and agile should not be mentioned in the same sentence …

I propose that at most 20% of processes can be automated to the point that a BPM product makes actually sense and is viable. There are still no independent studies that proof that BPM actually improves they way a business works.

Now about BPM methodology, meaning that a business uses Process Orientation to structure itself. YES, Process Orientation is a great way to make sure that a business services its customers well.
Most processes however that a business needs to execute CANNOT be modeled by flowcharts in the sense of being executable this way. Flowcharts are at best high-level communication devices, but not something that drives your business. Trying to nail processes this rigidly will kill any agility that a business might still have.
So how do we execute these processes? The best way is to assign a process owner who is fully responsible and give him/her the means to execute (resources) with direct feedback by the customer into the process participants. That is Process Orientation in a nutshell.

Suddenly you can take all the methodology and … well, whatever. Obviously we can call Process Orientation a methodology even if it is explained in ten minutes. The interesting part is that Process Orientation can not be achieved with BPM, because it is too rigid, not even with ECM or Case Management. The process owners, management and executives need more immediate creation of business entities, content and structure than any of these can supply. The technology must enable full transparency and auditability, while being as secure as necessary. This is technology that I call ‘Adaptive Process’ because the adapting has to be part of the lifecycle, which means that processes can be improved on the fly as needed.

As always it will be technology that changes the world and not methodology or strategy. Certainly not by best practices that looks at the past. As soon a new weapon became available, all existing strategy became immediately obsolete. Businesses struggle immense to keep up with Web 2.0 and no amount of methodology is going to save them. It will be technology adoption to be on par with consumers and nothing else.

So yes, BPM and Case Management are not the same and both are limited to a very narrow set of processes within a typical customer oriented business.

4 01 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

HI thanks for this comment. I understand what you are saying and you make a number of good points. I would like to say though that pretty much everything we do within a business in some way shape or form can be shown as a process (you could even say that about most things in life). You are right technology often changes the way we do things, but isnt that an example of our processes changing and being flexible to make the most of a new technology? I would argue that the companies that do well with “Web 2.0” have simply got the right processes and people in place to make it work for them…

I agree with your points about flow charts, and that is one of my big gripes with the way BPM software is sold and processes modelled. You cannot create / show processees just in this simple fashion or a single “map”, and its why I am a strong believer in using Business analysts to find out what the processes are and how best the business should carryout these processes. Then lets put all that information into the hands of our developers and they can put in place our “maps” with “sub-maps” / whatever is needed, integrating the BPM system with LOB applications etc etc. This ensures the process is fully modelled and in place correctly. BPM ensures your processes are copmleted the same way each time which is a great thing in businesses. Yes sometimes this may be a bit too rigid, but I would argue thats the implementation or your particular tool rather than the concept of BPM. In todays business world, compliance and accountability are so important, along with measurable performance. BPM gives you this. I have written about this problem using modelling tools that make BPM too rigid in the following post:

If you require “adaptive processing” then you can still use your BPM or even Case Management tools. Its down to implementation, I have been part of a number of projects that allow this concept of “adaptive processing” some dating back to over 10 years ago…

So yes, BPM or Case Management can be too rigid, however I would always argue that is because your organisation has been sold the wrong tool, or havent implemented the solution with enough flexibility that you require…With a good ECM system and flexible BPM tool, I cannot see anything where BPM couldnt be use to add value to a business or particular way of doing business….

4 01 2010
Max Pucher

Adaptive process means that you don’t need process analysis, so how come you recommend analysts if you have been involved in such projects?Processes do not exist. They are an artificially created illusion. But clearly , process analysts will hardly recommend a solution that does need them …

4 01 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

Sorry, I dont think we are quite on the same wavelength….The projects I have worked on allow many of the features you mention as part of “adaptive process” if you like, but they are none the less still part of a “process” which has to be understood by the business at all levels and by outsiders (compliance, audits etc). This process may not have been strucutred before hand, or maybe something entirely new that a member of staff has done…however from a start to finish point they have completed the work and that is a process of sorts….Therefore I would never agree that processes do not exist. Everything that an individual or a company can do can be shown as a process.

I think to bring this back to the post, your point is more relevant for this post if we look at how processes or work is defined, be it up front by an analyst, or by a process owner / champion user…Both Case Management and BPM solutions provide that level of flexibility, however, for undefiend processes (more adhoc) a Case Management tool maybe easier to configure and use…..In such an instance we are not managing a strucutred process, rather the piece of work only, hence Case Management isnt BPM and in this “ad hoc” or “adaptive” scenario, Case Management maybe the right tool….You still get all your compliancy and audit information and yet your workforce can still work in a very “free” fashion…..

At the end of the day though, some form of process is undertaken to complete any work…

4 01 2010
Max J. Pucher

Yes, Andrew – we are not on the same wavelength, but would life go anywhere if everyone always would be? I am trying to make people rethink the term process … I wish I would not need to use it.

You make a conflicting statement in your comment: a) … everything can be shown as a process and b) processes do exist. That is not the same concept and a) does not conclude b). I do fully agree with a) but not with b). Just because you can present something one way does not mean it exists in reality and is executed this way. Structured processes are a severe restriction to do what is necessary and should at most be used for 20% of business activities.

I am not talking about ad-hoc processes or case management, but about the fact that the only reason processes have to be structured – aka predefined and/or encoded – is because of the complexity to implement and maintain them (in excution and software). To verify, audit and compliance check processes does not require them to be predefined.

If a sequence of activities is ‘at the end of the day’ CALLED a process, what would allow you to claim it is a real entity? This is not an esoteric discussion! We are getting to the silliness that processes are considered business assets and not people. Processes are if anything positive outcomes or goals in terms of real world entities (people and assets).

‘Adaptive’ does not mean agile, flexible, ad-hoc, or user-created. Adaptive means that the process mechanism in itself enables the execution of actions as needed and supports the ongoing adaptation of action sequences (you would call them processes) to fulfil outcomes/goals without external analysis. Once you got that working, you can dump structured processes and you don’t need ad-hoc activities or case management. Any normal business is usually adaptive because it is a complex, adaptive system. BPM ends that.

The world has and will be changed by technology and not by methodologies or other forms of bureaucracy! Process optimization keeps putting more horses before the carriage and claims it is now a railway …

PS: Yes, it does need some structure and some basic data entity modeling. But predefined processes kill the natural adaptive ability of a business.

14 01 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I think we are going to have to agree to disagree…

I dont see how statements a and b cannot be together, they are the same thing….If I am at work, and I do the same peice of work the same way, is that or is that not a process I am following? Doesnt matter if defined on a bit of paper or not, it is still a process that I am carrying out to complete my work….

In my experience, defined business processes have (not always – granted) raised efficiency and productivity of the company, saved administration costs, improved decision making, made reporting simpler and more powerful and decreased SLAs for example. There are many many case studies that show this from both vendors and independents. I agree, that in some cases, a pre-defined process can make it slow to “adapt” to a market change for example, however, once the process has been updated (adpated if you like) the business carries out its business in a more efficient fashion…

In addition, I think we always have to remember who is actually doing the work. For many businesses many areas of their business use temporary staff or individuals who dont know what the business is or is doing (or just dont have access to the bigger picture). Therefore working within a stuctured environment drastically reduces user training and more importantly, the chance of them making an error.

As I said, I think we may have to agree to disagree here, but that is the beauty of this type of post, listening and trying to understand different views.

14 01 2010
Max J. Pucher

Andrew, I have no problem with different viewpoints or disagreements, It would be dreadfully boring if everyone agreed and there would be no progress. If you seriously look at any kind of human activity you will not find a single solid process. Only in places where you have mass production processes are needed and do make sense. Go into build-to-order of any product and it becomes a series of activities that are executed by qualified individuals or teams who are responsible for their own results. The same is true for any customer oriented activity.

In any case I would seriously be interested into ANY case study from an independent source that proofs long term benefits for a larger business using BPM across the board. I have not been able to find any!!! Vendor studies don’t count. By simple probability will 12.5% of BPM users be able to show benefits over 3 years if only half the businesses do well. There are no studies that verified a number of businesses over three years had substantial improvements in business overall. Look forward to get my hands on such a study. Really, you would do me a great favor!

I am not in disgareement what the intention of BPM is or that for some processes the costs can be reduced. But that is not enough. The question is really if that is what the business needs. But that leads me into discussing systems thinking and to more disagreement. BPM creates a limited perspective onto one aspect of work and measures exactly that and mostly that. Reasonable feedback loops don’t exist. Changing a set of interconnected processes becomes a nightmare. Larger dependencies and sideeffects are ignored mostly because it would be too costly to build such complex models. Typical BPM thus destroys the resilience of a business.

Yes, the reason that some businesses get into BPM is because their staff is poorly trained, paid below what it should be, treated poorly so that the good people leave. BPM becomes a stopgap solution for poor management. Don’t tell me that this is good for a business. I know a number of businesses where the good people left because BPM was implemented.

Should I receive a study that is believable then that would be the easy way to end our disagreement. Look forward to that … thanks in advance!

14 01 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I agree, BPM is used sometimes as staff are trained poorly, paid below what they should etc. But unfortunately this would happen with or without BPM, such is life…

hmm I may well have to dig one out…Does make me think, I may try to get some customers of ours to write their own study on the BPM solution we have in place for them (rather than one of our guys doing it)? Would that count for you???

I would love your thoughts on other posts I have written (especially on this post ) I myself have a number of issues with typical BPM implementations, mainly because of business restrictions caused by vendor definitions of what BPM is and how it should work (but thats not with BPM itself, rather vendor implementations / BPM solutions…)

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