Document-centric BPM and the emergence of case management, Part I

Document-centric BPM and the emergence of case management, Part I

By Alan Earls , 12/10/2010

Some application categories are short-lived. Capabilities change, business conditions morph and buzzwords fade away. But in the instance of what’s currently called (at least by some) document-centric BPM, there’s a remarkable degree of consistency between the old and the new.

According to Sandy Kemsley, an independent BPM consultant based in Toronto, its roots go back some 30 years.

In the early 1980s, new document-imaging and workflow approaches were emerging. “BPM was always part of document management, but then it started to become a separate discipline in the late 1990s,” Kemsley says.

Big analyst firms came in with new theories and terminology proliferated. Now there was human-centric BPM, integration-centric BPM and, of course, document-centric BPM.

Where does that leave decision-makers who are considering a document-centric solution–or living with one they already own? Kemsley says that despite being in a somewhat “muddled” state, document-centric functionality is a well-established winner. When it comes to systems that handle things like transactional documents, the value is clear: the ROI comes from reduced need for data re-entry and reduced head count. “That has been the case for the past 30 years and nothing has changed that,” she says.

What has changed is the emergence of additional flavors of BPM, especially case-management-centric BPM (sometimes known as dynamic BPM), which offers potential efficiencies for workers handling complex semi-structured or unstructured processes.

“A current challenge is to know your problem and then figure out how to map requirements into structured or unstructured workflow—and if it falls in between, you may need to do both,” says Kemsley. For example, she notes, an insurance claim may start off very structured and then quickly get into unstructured case management territory, where processes and solutions have to be invented or applied uniquely. It is still the same “case,” but having the right tools makes for better management.

Case management can also be thought of as a form of customer service, she says: “One person can now see everything that is being done and what stage everything is at.”

Document-centric BPM has revolutionized processes in many organizations and case management offers similar potential. “This kind of system means people don’t have to be at their desk, they can start to work at home or wherever,” Kemsley says.

Adds Gartner analyst Toby Bell: “If you are doing document-centric today, you should look to leverage that toward a case-management, human-driven approach in the future.”

‘People-driven’ BPM

When explaining what case-management-centric-BPM is and why organizations need it, Kemsley says simply: “You want to get away from people having notes about clients stuck to their monitors.” Elaborating on the difference between the two BPM flavors, Kemsley notes that document-centric BPM has focused mostly on enhancing repeatable, process-oriented activities, traditionally built around paper documents. In contrast, its offspring–case-management or “dynamic” BPM–links documents, people and all kinds of social media to enhance the messy process of addressing an insurance claim, a government benefits appeal or a legal case. “In situations of that type, when people are able to more effectively share and track information, it benefits the individual and the company gets benefits, too, so they can incentivize the individuals to participate,” she says.

A 2009 Forrester Wave report (“Dynamic Case Management – An Old Idea Catches New Fire”) contends that demand for case-based or “people-driven” BPM products is an outgrowth of the service sector’s adoption of many of the Lean and Six Sigma approaches long used in industry.

The result has been the gradual elimination of many tasks through automation, outsourcing or process improvements. Analyst Craig LeClair, who wrote the Forrest Wave report, uses an insurance industry claim as an example. “Scanning in claims documents and entering data into a claims system is where traditional [document-centric] BPM would coordinate activity among the submission, underwriting, policy creation, claims and customer service,” LeClair says. BPM would also traditionally extract metadata from core processes and make it available to better serve customers across all lines, he notes.

Exceptions to the rule

What’s left, increasingly, is “exception management” – handling the more complex tasks that can’t be fit into a preformed solution. In other words: case management. “Today’s knowledge workers have a greater variety of tasks to deal with and they aren’t locked down in one place, like the production workers traditionally served by document-centric BPM,” LeClair says. The tasks left over are more diverse and require a broader level of information support and even analytical support.

What the new processes look like might be “snippets of structured functionality” as well as social technology to get access to expertise. “Image capture and document management are still very important, but case-management capability is where the big, high-value developments are,” says LeClair.

If you’re considering a case-based BPM system, LeClair recommends thinking about it from a business-process vantage point. One key distinction between the document-centric BPM system you might currently have and a case-based system is that all “exceptions” are carefully scripted in document-based system, he says. In contrast, in the dynamic or case-based world, the business outcome becomes the driver. For that reason, “companies need to involve their business process analysts early,” LeClair says. “They should try to align desired business outcomes in their existing BPM system with the strategic goals of the organization, and then use that as the basis for moving forward to dynamic, case-based BPM.”

In his report, Le Clair notes that the rapid emergence of dynamic BPM may spur acquisitions among industry players and could bring in others, such as Oracle, which has relevant ECM and BPM assets. And, he warns, BPM pros need to keep in mind that case management needs to be considered as a “lean approach for automating processes,” but with much more control given to the “worker.” Indeed, he urges a “design for people” approach that incorporates Web 2.0 approaches.

And, he recommends: “Reengineer the process first, then pick the tool. Focusing on the tool too early is a huge pitfall.”


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