Saturday, October 13, 2007

Case management - The empowered information worker...

Recently I was at the Cordys Cordial ( day, a day were they presented the new version of their platform.

A funny statement by (I think John Pyke) was: processes are created when something failed. :-) - now, that's a nice start of BPM... And John also nagged towards SAP, which as an abbreviation would stand for Stone Age Processing or Spent All Profit. Hm.

A good presentation was on the new case management features of the Cordys platform.
These features were added to the platform when they discovered (while doing a project with my company) that certain processes are not that straight forward as hoped for. Aka - forget modelling it in BPMN, the diagram would be too complex and add no value. I sometimes wonder how many processes actually are really that structured, but that's another post...

A small summary on the case management features and thoughts behind Cordys:
- Where in production workflow, each process instance has a certain flow, each case will have a unique sequence of activities
- When a case is started (based on some event), certain activities are automatically opened, based on the type of the case and certain event criteria.
- A user is presented with activities, can open them (role bases), execute them, delegate them or create new activities (select or freely define).
- Status of cases and activities can be tracked, measured (monitoring)
- Three main components were presented:
+ Document matching - used to trigger creation of a case, or to be able to link an incoming document to a running case. Remark: strange - I would not have called this a document matching system. Incoming documents (and other information flows) basically define EVENTS. So - it's a CEP or Event Correlation Engine....
+ Case management - the actual presentation towards the user of all case activities, history, data, etc.
+ activity management - the ability to execute, define, delegate, etc activities.
- Another component is the maintenance area - in which case rules and activities can be defined, including roles etc.

They had a nice slide which defined a sliding scale between pure workflow and pure case management.
- 100% production workflow
- production workflow with small cases
- Flow + case
- Case management, with small flows
- Pure case management
I liked it a lot - since I do think you will encounter many processes where things are mixed. For instance a straight through processing unit, which asks for case management when exceptions occur.

Some remarks:
- Unfortunately, the "activities" are NOT integrated in the current BPM engine. E.g. when I create flows in the BPM engine, I can not mark them as optional or mandatory sets of activities in the case management component. Ideally, in the case environment, as a user (or automatic triggers by certain rules) I want to be able to pick: a listed activity, a free activity, a process fragment or a transaction. This also meant that in the current Cordys setup - the BPM inbox and the case management module are not integrated. Ouch!
- Cordys talked a lot about "the ability to measure status of all cases, allowing you to manage the workforce". Well - since Case flow can not be predicted, in my opinion, workforce management will be difficult. Sure I can see what activities are open NOW, but I have no clarity on the expected activities for these cases, and the required resources...
- What I see as a challenge is case data. When you are doing production workflow, most process instance data that you will need, is clear on design time. Each activity and decision needs certain data - and you will need to make sure it's available in the process instance. But what if you are working with cases, where you do not exactly know what information is needed to supply the knowledge worker with enough information to decide on activities and case closure.
- Another item is where to store this data? In the Cordys solution, all data is stored in unstructured documents. But what to do with all data that is stored in backend systems, which users maybe need to decide? Store in the case management system, or call/get every time the case is opened and viewed?

The demo showed a nice presentation layer which showed the case in full context. It allowed a user to understand the trigger, all done activities, notes, etc. A true process workbench.
The main lesson I started realizing, seeing the demo, was that whatever the type of process support a knowledge worker gets with his or her BPM application - the best would be to provide him or her with this full context. Don't make the mistake of underestimating your users and only give them the microscopic task view (aka inbox with single task - do this, no questions asked), without a clue about the full process!
Empowerment and process ownership are things that should be the basis for process workers..

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