Do people get BPM and Case Management? For some, Case Management is critical…

19 03 2010

There has been yet another social case in the UK where, it seems, case management just simply is poor. I am not talking the technology here or anything like that, just the ability to manage cases in many cases (far too many in the public sector – though the private sector can be equally poor) where they simply cannot manage cases…

This has become a bit of a discussion thread on Twitter, and a great question was raised by @tomshpepherd, “What steps do we as a whole take to help them get it?”. In this case, them was aimed at the public sector, however, it can be aimed at anyone who hasn’t invested in BPM / workflow or case management…

So what steps can we take…Well here are a couple of things I believe the industry has to do in general.

Keep things simple…

With BPM, Case Management and workflow, the problem is that the jargon and marketing surrounding these technologies can turn people off of them. My experience of many decision makers (more so in the public sector) is that they want the basic facts, and they want them without the frilly marketing bump. Unfortunately just wonder around the web looking at topics surrounding case management (more so BPM and workflow) and you will find it things aren’t in simple terms.

By putting things in simple terms I feel that the benefits of these technologies are more clear and understood. For example, if you said to a decision maker that Case Management provides:

  1. You won’t lose sight of cases. Things are always visible
  2. You can track who is working on a case and when
  3. You ensure all required tasks are completed for each case
  4. You can process more cases easily

I am sure they will be interested in what you have to say. However, often we don’t say this. Rather we talk of audits, accountability, process efficiency, reduced cycle times, SLA’s, process maps and possibly “lean” (in the case of BPM) etc. If you don’t really grasp BPM or Case Management, then this really isn’t going to help…

Provide relevant demonstrations

Far too often I have seen demonstrations focus around the good old “Expenses” workflow – for Case Management, BPM and workFlow solutions. While the expenses case is good, it really makes things hard to understand how Case Management or BPM fits into your own requirements, especially if your requirements are more personal, such as Social Service Child care for example.

Relevant demonstrations make it easier for people to grasp the real benefits of the technology and your platform. If you do this well, they will soon be telling you how they can use your system…

Integration, Integration, Integration…

This is so so so important, yet it is often treated as a “simple” thing, almost dismissed by sales and marketing as “yeap, ofcourse we can integrate” – without providing real information. Integration is key to these types of systems working well. A system that integrates with other systems, departments, divisions etc brings far greater value and makes the agents / workers life far easier (which means they do a better job). When talking about Case Management and BPM – we should all take integration very seriously and go in-depth to how we integrate successfully and in a fashion that works best for the client (not just how we think it is easy to integrate).

Show real world benefits

If you can show a real world benefit, be it human based, money based or whatever – you are going to help people understand Case Management and BPM. By the way, when I say “real world benefits” I also mean real to the customer (whatever their work is)…

 The more people that understand the benefits of these types of systems, the more companies will invest in them and reap the benefits of them. This in terms of Social Workers and Child care (for example) could make the difference between life and death….Now that’s a strong statement, but it can be true…In many cases, poor case management has dreadful consequences for actual people…



22 responses

19 03 2010
Tom Shepherd

Andrew, thanks for raising this topic and hosting a discussion here. Making Case Management (and to a degree BPM) easier to understand is one of the issues I spend my days thinking about, and a timely one to discuss.

I couldn’t agree more on needing to simplify. I’m as guilty as the rest of making it more elaborate than it needs to be at times, having written some of the material you might stumble upon on a website here or there. At the most basic level, it’s about better managing cases as you pointed out. So yes, visibility into who is doing work (well or otherwise), ensuring critical deadlines are met and cases don’t get lost in the shuffle, and the ever-present “do more with less” are all valuable.

But herein lies a problem; some folks who would really benefit from the discipline and technology of case management don’t even think in terms of “cases.” There are any number of aspects of a business that can be run more effectively with a case management solution, simply because of the ability to deal with business as it happens. Think of a spectrum of “processes” that encompasses insurance claims, policy management, appeals and grievances, talent acquisition and ongoing performance management of employees, and customer service.

Take it a step further and think about managing the after-effects of any natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or more recently the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. There are so many aspects of the initial response and ongoing recovery efforts that would benefit from a CM solution, from simply dealing with individual accident sites, to distribution of aid, to reconnecting families. Strictly speaking these aren’t cases, they are people, properties, and problems that need to be solved, and nothing about them is predictable. To your point about social work, this isn’t about simply saving money, this can have a serious social impact.

In one of my tweets (@tomshepherd for those playing along at home), I mentioned the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) and the book “Mastering the Unpredictable” being launched in April. Many people might only know the WfMC ( for the work done around standards like XPDL. What I love about the initiative around Adaptive Case Management is that the goal is to educate and define what ACM is and how it can be use in business terms. I’ve read drafts of most of the chapters and I have been very impressed by the knowledge and passion expressed within. While some of the topics are clearly more technical than others, and therefore not as simple, a good number are also written to be very approachable by people who understand the work they do better than the technology they use.

John Matthias of the National Center for State Courts does an excellent job explaining case management in the scope of a court system. Keith Swenson uses a couple of great example outside the norm of “cases” to explain the value to the rest of us. All in all, it’s a step in the right direction.

On a more practical level, describing case management in the context of the person who would use it is critical. Again, guilty as charged, having described the Expense problem. That said, many people are starting to see the light and using industry specific solutions to better explain the benefits. In my work at Global 360 we refer to these as solutionViews, showing the applicability to specific problems like eJustice and Insurance New Business and Underwriting. I believe this sort of approach is critical to broader understanding and acceptance of case management. There is a huge difference between saying “see how I can submit my expense report?” and “see how I can see the list of critical tasks my team needs to complete prior to issuing this policy?” and it makes the difference between a business person understanding CM and just moving on to the next meeting.

Before I jump down from what turned out to be a very tall soapbox, I’ll say this: The more people talking about this in terms people can understand, the better. And I’d encourage people to join the conversations via Twitter (#CaseManagement is where I tend to hang out), with the WfMC, and through sites like this one. So again, thank you Andrew for kicking it off. Let’s hope people join in!

21 03 2010
Adam Deane

Hi Andrew,

I agree with your conclusions, but not your example:
BPM/Case Management will not help our social workers. What they are missing is experience, more manpower and more legal power to remove abused kids from abusing homes.

I do agree with your point about integration.
Case Management is about taking decisions. Bringing in, and integrating all the relevant data into one place so as to enable the manager/end-user to take an informed decision.

BPM runs the process of approving a decision.
Case Management provides the data that enables to make a decision.

22 03 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

You are right, case management system isnt the “Key” solution in my example…However, I strongly believe that Case Management would make life so much easier for Social Workers (experienced or not) and in turn empower them further. This may actual help some of their manpower issues….I hope that someone who makes decisions within the Social Services is actually reading this post and more importantly – this discussion thread….

21 03 2010
Norman Brown

Andrew / Tom, I agree with what you are both saying.

This social care failing around case management is something dear to my heart both personally as a parent and school governor and also professionally having worked both in a social work directorate and also on pan-governmental information sharing projects. In a professional context I’ve often felt that I am bashing my head against a very thick wall.

Andrew talked about providing relevant demonstrations but I feel the issue is about providing relevant systems. I’ve seen many of the major Social Care systems in use in the UK and the fact is that they contain huge amounts of data but very often little information.

In one case, I’ve seen a project which was defining the data model for a social care system. They managed to come up with 99 different 2 digit codes for the field on religion. How relevant is that to a social worker’s daily job, especially when this complexity is reflected across each field? We often hear the complaint the the IT systems are getting in the way of a social worker doing their job and from my experience I can sympathise with this.

Andrew also mentioned integration. Of course this is important and in most cases where we have a chronic failure to protect a child the lack of information shared across domains is at the heart of the problem somewhere.

In my mind the real problem isn’t a system one, though, but is about how organisations view their information and how they approach sharing. Certainly the laws around data protection have introduced a necessary rigour around electronic data, but I’ve seen many organisations whose first instinct is to ring fence their information. I’ve sat in a room with a local authority and a health authority and their lawyers as we tried to find a way through the apparent impasse around data sharing, each party using the law or their interpretation of it as a means to avoid sharing data across domains.

The final observation I’d make is that social work is still a very document centric activity and few, if any, of the systems I’ve seen handle this adequately. Social workers receive documents from other professionals and from clients and other agencies, and they need to be able to process these is a way that allows them to quickly extract and understand the salient parts.

22 03 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

HI Norman…Couldnt agree more with your point about organisations ring-fencing their information simply becuase of Data-protection. I find data protection discussions often a bit weird, simply becuase you have some organisations with their interpretations not sharing information at all, while you find others that seem to share almost everything (while it appears still operating within the law). In this example (and many others) – people should be working together to try and share rather than working to try and not share content…

With regards to document centric work – there are so many systems out there (ECM) that dont get used correctly in document centric jobs/processes (this appears to be one of them). I often think this is because ECM is seen as something that has to span your complete enterprise to provide real value. This simply isnt the case. Again – ECM suffers the same problems as Case Management and BPM..Do people and organisations really get ECM?

21 03 2010
uberVU - social comments

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by AndrewOneDegree: @tomshepherd @casemanagement the post is #CaseManagement #BPM…

22 03 2010
Tom Shepherd

Regarding the challenge of ECM, yes, one of the reasons it doesn’t get adopted include the perception that it has to span the enterprise. Another is that ECM solutions are often either very complex to stand up, or simply hard to use. Where is my incentive to share information if it takes too long to do or if people don’t actually reference it (instead coming to me to look for information even after it is posted).

I agree with Norman that document-centric capabilities are critical to a successful case management solution. So much of the information a knowledge worker needs to make critical decisions is buried in those documents (whether paper or electronic). The case management solution should provide means to handle those appropriately, but also to help interpret them in some way. Not many solutions out there do this well, even those coming from the ECM world.

Norman, it also sounds like there is a distinction in your mind between case management solutions and Case Management the discipline, much as there is between BPM and BPMS. I’d be interested in hearing more as it’s a topic I’ve kicked around a bit myself.

22 03 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I agree with everything you have to say in this. These are prime reasons why I started to build our own ECM product a number of years ago, workFile ECM. It is also these same reasons that is driving our development of its Vision product at this current moment in time.

I also agree that there is a clear distinction between case management solutions and Case Management as a discipline. Many solutions dont quite embrace the real benefits of the discipline in my opinion – however they often demonstrate well to businessess – but fail to deliver on the potential of Case Management…hmmm

24 03 2010
Norman Brown


I hadn’t really thought much about if there was a difference between case management solutions and Case Management the discipline. [I’m assuming here that the Case Management discipline is much wider than some of the definitions posed by groups such as the Case Management Society.] Now that you have raised it, I think there probably is, but there shouldn’t be.

In my experience there are what vendors are selling as case management ‘applications’ and most of these are snake oil. They don’t adequately support a case worker in all that they are required to do.

Case Management ‘solutions’ in my mind are frameworks rather than applications. As has been pointed out on the web my many people, yourself included, these solutions are at the intersection of many traditional disciplines – ECM, KM, BPM etc. If we can truly deliver that then I think there shouldn’t be a difference between case management solutions and Case Management the discipline.

24 03 2010
Tom Shepherd

Great point Norman, for what we’re discussing as true case management, or Adaptive Case Management, there isn’t really a possibility for a traditional ‘application’. I firmly believe that there are features and functions that need to be provided to enable case management (configurable templates, task management, content support), but that you can’t truly pre-define the entire solution, even in support of the same market and businesses.

Part of my thinking around the discipline / approach versus the technology solution is that adopting case management outside the normal environments where a ‘case’ has a literal meaning requires a shift in thinking. I talk about this in the WfMC book a bit in a chapter on moving from anticipation (pre-defining processes in a rigid way) to adaptation (providing tools to deal with instantaneous changes as business happens). I think the shift in mindset is critical and one that we need to educate more folks on.

24 03 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

Have to say I agree Tom / Norman…This is why I have had some of our dev guys here work really hard on providing solutions that are “abstract” to a point that makes them very adaptable based on each clients particular needs…

So far it has allowed us to use our case management engine in some very different places and with very different “meanings” to the term case.

23 03 2010
Jacob Ukelson

Logically, I agree with you – simpler is better. But being a vendor (and like Tom bear some of the guilt for the techno-jargon) let me show the other side of the coin.

The people involved in the process want exactly what you propose. They like the simpler language. But then, almost always, IT gets involved. They start pulling out BPM, ECM and other jargon and try to “position” the product relative to what they already have in-house, a plethora of cross enterprise requirements and what various analysts and other vendors have told them they need. They tend to look for the highest level abstraction that meets all of those (sometimes conflicting) goals. So if a vendor focuses on simple language, they are out the running almost immediately.

That being said, your list of capabilities is a good one. I would add:
5. A system that people would be happy to use.

This is especially important since these systems replace something existing(since in-the-end the work gets done) – so people have some set of tools, procedures and habits that they are used to. In many cases, people use email and documents for these tasks. They are comfortable in that environment (it is familiar, accessible, flexible and they feel they are in control) and changing that makes them uncomfortable (people use what they like, and like what they know). So any replacement system needs to take that into account.

23 03 2010
Andrew Smith @onedegree

Hi Jacob,

You make some good points there. In-house IT departments, in my experience, do often make things harder (I thought their purpose was to make life easier for the business). Saying that so do many vendors – trying to sell in their products for the complete enterprise in one go instead of approaching the issues perhaps at just a departmental level to get the ball rolling…

Point 5, A system that people would be happy to use….A great point that I really shouldnt have left out in the post.

You also meniton using eMail etc. This is when it is key that ECM systems make life easier for the user. Such things as storing mails in the ECM system should be made as simple and as seamless as possible, (no matter your email client of choice) if not, more often than not, the mails simple are not stored. Mails could be key to a particular case, so when a case worker using Case Management (or BPM) at a latter stage requires those mails, they simply dont have access….

23 03 2010
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29 03 2010
Letitia Smith

I completely agree that jargon turns people off of IT. From a business point of view we really need to see real world demonstrations, easy to understand statements and realistic ROI projections (or at least examples of how the business or in this case people will benefit from the system)

31 03 2010
Deb Miller

I agree with keeping things simple. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about changing how work gets done for the better and the role that case management might play. Wanted to share a recent experience I had.

I was corresponding with a California colleague and mentor following the Forrester Research #bpmjam that occurred in the midst of our Wash DC snowpocolypse. I signed off saying that I needed to go and decide the best process for shoveling out from 3 feet of snow. She replied – Best process for snow, Move West!

This reminded me in a humorous way that it is important to consider the context for the desired improvement, as well as the human element. The best path for change is not always a rush to intensive analytics or detailed process modeling. It also highlighted the approach of making improvements by “changing the game” versus incremental process tweaking. Finally it made me realize once again that I am a total geek for caring enough to write about this, but that’s what you get from a BPM-aholic. Definitely keep the good conversations going on BPM and case management!

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22 10 2010
Antonio Lucena de Faria

Great post about a very important issue. Case Management can help us all to do a much better work. But yes, we need to talk differently. We need to get closer to the Case Management potencial users. Recently I was at DEMO Fall 2010 to launch The main message is this Process Marketplace is “Less Stress, More Success”. That’s what Case Management can give us. Less stress, by doing things right the first time, and more success, by leveraging the power of systematization, of taking advantage of what worked well before, of learning what is the best way and reusing it latter. Case Management, BPM and Workflow have the potencial to make us all much more productive. Isn’t it what we all need in times of deep economic crisis?

22 10 2010
Antonio Faria

Simplicity is key. No jargon. No technology focus. Just the things that realy matter. When we launched at DEMO Fall 2010 our message was “Less Stress, More Success”. This is easy to understand. Less stress from ensuring “all required tasks are completed for each case”. Less stress because of complete visibility. What was done, where it is, what has still to be done. These words people understand. Get curious about. Start thinking that just maybe this thing call Case Management/Workflow/BPM can actually help them. Great post.

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