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In this blog post, we will discuss when and where a case management solution fits in the spectrum of processes in an enterprise. The spectrum for process in an enterprise can be illustrated as below in diagram 1.

Diagram 1: Spectrum of process in enterprise

As illustrated in diagram 1, on one side of the spectrum, we have highly structured, well defined procedures for achieving a process objective, while on the other side, we have highly contextual, well defined results for achieving the objective. The conventional business processes (based on Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN)) can help to model these processes, while the other end can be catered to by case based processes.

The other distinction for implementing BPMN based processes or case based processes, is the level of empowerment needed for achieving the process objectives. This is illustrated in Diagram 2 below – adapted for the evaluation framework by Derek Miers.

Diagram 2: Empowerment for work force

As illustrated in Diagram2, the processes which require high empowerment on the part of work force are better implemented using case based processes as they allow the flexibility required to use the skills of the knowledge involved.

The next differentiating need for application of BPMN based processes against case based is the amount of collaboration required to achieve the process objectives. This is illustrated in Diagram 3 – adapted from a research paper by van der Aalst, W.M.P., Berens, P.J.S.

Diagram 3: Collaboration needs
As illustrated in Diagram3, Case based solutions are best suited in the process spectrum requiring semi structured in terms collaboration and flexibility. This is catered through the features like follow-ups and mandatory activities that need to worked on.


Jim Sinur has a interesting post on Gartner detailing the idea of goal directed processes. Certainly a combination of flow directed and goal directed processes help enterprise to be agile and yet be controlled for regulatory needs. My interest in this post is around the empowerment that can be provided to the process workers (or should I call them knowledge workers) more scope for taking decisions towards a goal. The declarative aspect of such modeling “empowers” the knowledge workers to have the flexibility needed to achieve the goal.

Business Process evolution
BPTrends follows the evolution of processes over the last few decades and summarizes the details as different waves:
1st Wave Process Improvement: In 70s – 80s with focus on quality and efficiency of task execution using Computerized Automation and Management Information Systems
2nd Wave – Process Reengineering: In 90s with focus on Process Innovation, “Best Practices” using Enterprise Architecture, ERP, Supply Chain Management
3rd Wave – Business Process Management: 2000+ with focus on assessment, adaptability, & agility, Continual Transformation using Business Process Management Suites (BPMS)

The market today is awash with BPM suites, some evolving from workflow management systems, some from EAI systems, and some from middleware. The common thread running through all these tools is the ability to map the processes and automate the execution. Taking the “As is” and creating an application that can be continuously modified and improved.

How are these tools/suites enabling you to ride the 3rd wave or, better still, lead on to the next wave? Enterprise 2.0?

The key promises in the 3rd wave are agility, adaptability and transformation. The business drivers leading to this wave are evolution of networked organization, extreme hyper competition, need to adopt to market demands, effective use of enterprise knowledge

These promises and drivers raise the following questions in relation to the BPM tools/suites

  • How are the processes using the networked nature of the organization
  • How are the processes allowing to compete better in the market
  • How flexible are the processes to adapt to changes in the market
  • How empowered are your people to take better decisions
  • While applicable across a cross-section of industry verticals, these questions are especially relevant in competitive and knowledge intensive domains like banking, insurance, telecom etc.

    Most BPM suites enable users to model and execute standard processes that are very structured, prescriptive and rules based. But these tools can and do automate the interaction with human participants and systems involved in a pre-defined way.

    How do these tools/suites help to answers the questions above?

    A possible solution (and a school of thought) is process re-work – iterative changes to the processes. Well this solution is applicable and valid but how does it answer the questions above. For most of the situations, it may not be a practical or pragmatic to go to drawing board for the changes. Also with more combinations, the complexity of modeling the interactions grows. Very soon the process designer may face the issues of “model explosion” resulting in an overhead on maintenance and negating the promise of flexibility and agility.

    The plausible approach could lie in the ability to model the flexible into the processes.
    So what is the solution? Enter case management.

    Case Management
    A case, like a conventional business process, involves a collection of activities or tasks. However, unlike BPM, the process from initiation to completion of the case is not easily constrained to a process diagram. This is because the interactions are unpredictable and the focus is on the work to be done not the process to support it. So which activities need to be performed in order to complete the case depends on the details of each instance. Furthermore, users can add new tasks, data objects, documents – even new processes – to the case while it is processing. Case management inherently carries with it fluidity of structure or ad hoc-ness.
    A common component in systems that provide case management is the electronic case folder. It acts as a single container for all of the processes, tasks, data, and documents for the case. The notion of a shared case folder, as opposed to a routed process instance, gives case management the flavor of team collaboration as well.

    A case management solution offers the flexibility needed by a knowledge worker in handling a particular case based on the context. A case model allows defining the recommendations and suggestions for decisions in the flow of activities for the knowledge worker, yet restricting the decisions needed for adherence of compliance and regulations.

    Clay Richardson of Forrester and Keith Swenson of Fujitsu had recently a webinar on dynamic processes. This is covered by Sandy Kamsley here. I could not follow the webinar, but looking at the transcript, I understand that in some domains there is certainly a need for process to be more flexible to let the process workers perform their work more effectively. This flexibility (or can I say empowerment – 2.0 ish :)) is particularly important in knowledge intensive domains like insurance, emergency management, dispute handling.

    In my understanding, these concepts were pioneered by Connie Moore in an article describing process adaptability. She categorizes the processes into a spectrum ranging from structured, well defined “steps” to be adhered  giving some ground for achieving the outputs expected  using the skills of the workers executing the activities in a process. Each of these processes require different levels of empowerment for the knowledge workers.

    This was followed by (Wil) van der Aalst, Professor, Department of Mathematics & Computer Science, in defining what is called case handling which is more contexual and data oriented view of processes.

    I plan to elaborate more on these in next blogs in this space. Keith, I will be very interested if the webinar is available for download, as I am interested in this topic.