Cases Managed The World Over

June 21, 2009

A recent spate of interest in Case Management is good to see (I always called it Case Handling but the concepts are the same). The OMG is about to vote on an RFP (Request for Proposal for a new standard) on Case Management. As some of my regular readers will realize, I have a special interest in the subject of Case Management.

Some of us have been talking about the problems of dealing with Cases for a number of years (e.g. this post in 2007). My own experience started with the development of what would today be called Case Management systems starting in the mid-80s and culminating in an Oracle-based object oriented repository in the early 90s – way too clever by half for that era so I canned it in 1992 and became an Analyst looking at other peoples products, writing white papers, etc. Since then I put together a number of white papers specifically talking about the issues of Case Management:

  • In 1996 a paper called “The Business Case for Case Handling” and although the vendors I referenced at the time have since disappeared (bought out), the issues are just as relevant today.
  • Over the last few years, I published a couple of papers that start to explore some of the related issues (these papers are available on BPM Focus with registration). In particular, these two papers address many of core concepts of Case Management.
    • “Process Innovation and Corporate Agility – Balancing Efficiency and Adaptability in a Knowledge-Centric World”
    • “Business Processes and Customers – Difficult Domains to Integrate”

So with this post, I am having my own stab at defining the issue. I have been invited several times by those in the OMG to take part in this particular enquiry, but hesitate to get involved as these things can act as an enormous time sink. So first let me point you at some other perspectives. In recent months, we have seen several bloggers discussing some of these ideas (touching on the need for adaptability and agility):

  • Jim Sinur of Gartner talks of “… Agile processes that are tapped into emerging events and contexts driven by organizational and community goals … the need for creating and managing unstructured processes. This kind of environment requires organizations and vendors to master goal driven processes.” In another post he said “Today most processes are Flow directed, but the future will likely require goal direction for at least a portion of the process. This is what we call unstructured processes that are composed of process snippets that are flow directed and portions that are completely dynamic. A combo looks to be the way forward.” See here, here and here.
  • Neeli Basanth Kumar (of Cordys) talks of Process Patterns in Adopting Case Based Solutions (he even uses one of my diagrams from a 97 paper – The Workware Evaluation Framework … where I tried to highlight the role of Case Management).
  • A discussion paper put out by Dennis Byron at ebizQ provides a sort of summary of some of the thinking of the vendors that replied to his request for information (originally it contained references to my thoughts and some of my graphics but that content was pulled after I pointed out the provenance). 
  • Bruce Silver commented on the RFP discussion going on at the OMG and postulated what he sees as the difference between “traditional BPM” and “Case Management”.

For me, it all comes back to the continuum of Process. On the one hand, we have the image of the organization as machine, with mechanistic “Procedures” used to control the work of the resources available. Most BPM initiatives are still stuck at this level, seeking to automate things and remove (human) resources from the equation. If Productivity = Value / Resources, this reductionist approach is all about reducing the resources involved in the deliver of a given value.

At the other end of the spectrum, we could consider processes as more like evolving “Practices.”  Think of what you do personally and see if this concept makes sense – some parts of what you do are defined in Standard Operating Procedures, other parts you interpret and apply your judgment. The more leeway you have to make decisions (in your job), the more knowledge you exercise in carrying out your job. Most knowledge workers are goal oriented, regarding procedures as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Managers tend to be goal oriented.

We could think of high level processes as being about a “Purpose” – and how that Purpose is interpreted will inevitably be somewhere on that spectrum Procedure and Practice. Indeed, one finds that most business problems need a combination of both – hence the approach that has become know as Case Management. Now we’ve got this concept established, from a process perspective you could think of Case Management as applying to the Practices end of the spectrum. Workers here are goal oriented, and typically apply processes to achieve those goals.

Case Management is a very important “Design Pattern” for supporting flexible work Practices instead of more rigorous Procedures (where no adaptability or run time flexibility is needed). Different products take vastly different approaches to Case Management, all with the aim of providing flexibility and adaptability to the user, yet still providing support for the organizational objectives (processing more work, more efficiently and providing traceability).

Case Management proffers a way of mixing overarching support for that Purpose – normally through a high-level, outline procedure, which is then supported by a library of process fragments that can be bound into the parent as determined by the user. In some cases, the user has complete control of what should happen next; in others, the ability to progress from one phase of that high-level outline to the next is constrained in some way. Some products leave it very loosey goosey, others are all about constraining the user. Depending on how strong the need for adaptability is (in the target domain) the user may even have the ability to develop new process fragments to support a given need (imagine a Software Engineering project … it’s not always possible to predict every possible permutation). In others (say a Bank for example), it might be good enough to have the user select from a library of available sub-processes to bind to the parent. Indeed, in a Bank or Insurance company, it is unlikely that the run time adaptability would be allowed (the last thing you need is a clerk getting creative with a bank draft).

With careful architectural design, it is possible to create a Case Management environment out of many different BPMS products. But that implies that the end-user organization already have a clear idea of how such environments are constructed. In a sense, they create an application layer above the BPM Suite. 

My concern with the OMG RFP is that it is trying to standardize something that is poorly understood (as evidenced by the varying perspectives given in the OMG BMI mailing list). 

While the rest of this document goes on to outline my own views on Case Management, I believe that developing a standard in this area at this point would only result in hampering innovation. Having said that – there is a definite need for much more discussion and exploration of the domain of Case Management.

I believe that the approach proffered by Cordys represents just one way of approaching Case Management. There are others, and I do not believe that tying everyone down to one interpretation of Case Management at this point will be a good thing in the industry. Other vendors with Case Management approaches include:

  • Singularity
  • Cordys
  • Global 360
  • Sword (was Graham Technology)
  • Itensil
  • TIBCO
  • EMC Documentum
  • IBM (FileNet)
  • BizAgi
  • Pallas Athena
  • Pega
  • Polymita
  • HandySoft

All these vendors have some sort of capability that could be described as Case Management (and I am sure there are plenty of others that would put themselves on the list).

Finally those in the Process technology world are starting to see that a pure “one sized fits all approach” to the standardization of process definitions is entirely inappropriate when it comes to the needs of humans and knowledge workers. Moreover, Case Management approaches provide all sorts of benefits to companies in that they enable a far more flexible response to the needs of customers.

As different vendors struggle to work out the best approach, the last thing they need is to be tied down to a “standard” approach. In the end, it will be the Darwinian process of selection that will see the best products win out; not some imagined need for standardization and interoperation between wholly different approaches to the problem. 

Notes

Most BPM efforts could be characterized by their incessant focus on process standardization. They are predicated on the assumption that overall business effectiveness improves through better control. And while this is true for procedural, back-office problems, the reality is that customer facing and knowledge work processes are extremely difficult to standardize (if not impossible).

This is a real problem for long term BPM adoption. Ask yourself how many organizations you know in the BPM arena that have more than 5 or 10 processes “under management” (i.e. using a BPM Suite to ensure that things don’t fall through the cracks). And then think about how many spreadsheet are used in those same organizations to coordinate work.

In the paper “Customers and Business Processes – Difficult Domains to Integrate” I suggested that there were several different types of Case Management (Case Handling). These range from the traditional BPM Suite (which struggles to support the necessary adaptability), through what I called “Design Time Case Handling” on to “Run Time Case Handling”.

Case Management and BPM

Case Management and BPM

The vast majority of BPM Suites and Workflow tools assume that all activities/tasks/steps (and the potential paths through them), are modeled a priori (beforehand). Putting that another way, they focus on driving work between employees based on a model that maintains the status of a work item. The process model must exist up front, which presents the first hurdle of process discovery—i.e. ensuring those models are “correct.”

Further, in most products, all work of a given type share a common process description (rather than copying the model to support each work item). In such situations, the engine will normally allow the end-user little or no choice but to follow the pre-defined procedure.

Of course, the challenge is then for process modelers to predict all possible permutations in advance—something that is virtually impossible to achieve in customer facing situations. To get around show stopping scenarios, a few products incorporate features that provide the ability to bypass, redo, and rollback steps, while most rely on re-assignment of work to the supervisor (who must then step outside the system to resolve the problem). It does not take long before the supervisor becomes the bottleneck as cases mount up (those that do not follow the “happy path”).

Change is only possible through re-development of the common process model. New items of work then follow the modified process description (most products incorporate some form of version control). Change to an individual work item normally requires the deletion of all threads of work and the work item is then recreated under the new model (compromising any future audit). Alternatively, mechanisms must are needed to move an existing case to the new model.

These adaptability issues are not constrained to customer facing scenarios. For example, as government regulations change, the firm needs to revamp its process models to handle that change. There might be thousands of cases in the system, the vast majority of which will complete before the new regulations come into force. But imagine that there are still 100 cases outstanding at the point the new regulation comes into effect. For most products, it would simply be impossible for them to handle this problem in any sort of constructive fashion. Each of those work items would have to be manually stopped, and then restarted (somehow) under the new process definition that met the new government regulations. The only viable way of approaching the problem is to incorporate mechanisms to migrate individual instances to the new model.

For Case Handling support, the key differentiating factor (of the BPM Suite) is the ability to link multiple processes to a given case of work—the primacy is with the case of work, rather than the processes that are used to support it. Each case is usually “managed” by a relatively loose (high-level) parent procedure, but the worker can then add new procedural fragments to handle each different requirement of the work in hand. Effectively, the user is binding new procedural fragments to the case at run time; either by selecting them from a library, or by developing new ones.

Of course, this sort of approach is reliant on a BPMS that can facilitate such modifications to work in flight. For most products, it will also require great care in the design of the process architecture itself, and may involve the development of an external application.

(Some of these thoughts have been culled from my past White Papers on the subject of Case Handling)

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BPM – Is it a Software Engineering Tool? A Technology? or a Management Discipline?

November 30, 2008

In his excellent posting, Keith Swenson makesmany good points. He points to the range of interpretations of BPM, and particularly highlights the issues associated with its interpretation by software engineers as just another piece of hype on the road to good programs. But I think there is another, perhaps more important strand that is buried in there. As Ketih points out, BPM is about the Management of Business Processes.

As we all know, everyone’s interpretation of the term Business Process is different. In my training (whether that be BPMN, or higher level training on BPM Methods), it is one of the first things I get people to write down (inside the first 5 mins), and not surprise, every definition is entirely different. And when those people are senior managers in a ciompany, their interpretation of the term is invariably what I call “Process as Purpose“. The point is that they see Processes as being more about the purpose than the constraint implied by sequencing of steps. They are there (at the training), because they see the importance of “Managing” their processes. Indeed that concept (Managing Business Processes) as central to the success of their companies.

[[ I am still down in Brazil, and I am really struck by the process sophistication of the people I am meeting. They all get it. I was more than surprised to find two “Business Owners” (people who own significant businesses), giving up 3 days of their time to come on a course around how to structure and run BPM programs. They were cherry picking from the broad range of techniques we covered, but ask yourself whether you could imagine the CEO or COO deciding that they should attend a public training course. That’s what I am getting at about the sophistication of the Brazilian business climate. ]]

Coming back to Keith’s post, he describes a spectrum of BPM interpretation – from pure Software Engineering (where the SW Eng tries to reflect the needs of the business person’s Business Process); through Business Processes being modeled by a business person, then tossed over the fence to a Software Engineer to finish them off; to the Business Process as modeled by the business person, then being directly executed (what he called “Pure BPM”). I am not quite sure I agree with the Pure BPM bit, but I do know what he is pointing to … where the processes of the firm are driven by models (without translation to some intermediate executable format (like say BPEL).

One of the comments on Keith’s post points to the challenges of getting business people to model their own processes and make the resulting collection of stuff useful. He described the usually resulting mess as an “expensive disaster”. And the reason for this is that business people dont usually have the sophistication to understand their business problem as a set of inter-releated processes that between them deliver on the “Process as Purpose” concept I referred to earlier.

Invariably, process modelers (whether IT or business) tend to see a process problem as a single process. They interpret the high level Purpose as a single implementation process (which invariably it is not). They make all sorts of mistakes such as mixing up the “Handle an Instance” with the “Manage the Flow of instances”; they switch from batch mode to handling a single instance; they dont think about the interfaces between processes (handing information from one to another), etc. What they do is try and connect up everything that sounds like an Activity into one convoluted process.

Now software engineers are usually more adept at the necessary abstract thinking, but that doesn’t mean to say that business people cannot wrap their pretty heads around the notions. It is merely a reflection of the fact that they have not had adequate training. What is missing (across this entire industry) is better learning around “Process Architecture” – what “chunks” do you need and why. Poor chunking leads to unnecessary complexity (and even “expensive disasters”).

We are still stuck with decomposition as the prevailing mind set – where sub-processes are always contained within the parent. SOA concepts seek to get around this, but there is also a higher level “Business Services Oriented Architecture”. Processes should not be regarded as some sort of static hierarchy, they are more accurately regarded as a network of interacting instances. Think more jigsaw puzzle than org chart.

When I gave a “Power Breakfast” at the last Gartner BPM Summit on BPM and Process Architecture I had a packed room (it was starting at 7:30 in the morning so these people were keen). I described a set of methods that you could use to go from “What Business Are You In” to what “Processes Do You Need” right down to the SOA components if that is what you wanted to do (I would recommend looking at a BPM Suite first rather than going straight to the SOA software engineers paradise). I only saw one person out of the 90 or so get up and leave, and nearly everyone else gave me their card at the end of it. The room really was comprised of mostly Enterprise Architecture folks from the IT community, all of whom struggle with this transition.

Switching tacks – the vendors BPM Suites are unconciously making this architecture problem worse. With only a few exceptions (Pega, Itensil, BizAgi … I am sure there are others in this category too, these are the ones that spring to mind), vendors interpret the business process problem as being entirely seperate from the data and artifacts associated with the process (business people see them as intertwined). They regard the process relevant data as a set of named value pairs … the information required by Process A is declared on Process A, and must be recreated on Process B and then mapped from one to the other (if the processes need to communicate with each other). That means that there is an extra (unnecessary) layer of complexity for business people trying to reflect their business problem. Moreover, if you change one process, then you need to refactor all the interfaces. This is “software engineering” oriented thinking.

The other approach is to define your data structures (perhaps as an “Entity” defined as an exstensible set of XML artifacts) and then describe the views on those artifacts at the level of the data structure. Then it is merely a matter of associating your processes with the Data Entity, and all the different views become available. Process interfaces become an order of magnitude more accessible (to the business user), you can use any number of processes to support a single case of work, and again it helps move away from the software engineering mindset we find in so many BPM tools (which were often created to solve the problem of Enterprise Applicatin Integration … hence their association with Software Engineering).


PegaWorld Keynote – Mhayse Samalya – President of Farmers Insurance

October 21, 2008

Update – you can view the Keynote itself here (requires registration).

This division of Farmers deals in the small business insurance market – a $95B market. When Mhayse joined Farmers, they had just 2% of that market. He saw it as an incredible opportunity – where 47% of business in the small commercial insurance sector, are with small business insurers. The question is why these small players succeed against a big player – it’s because they know their local community, they are part of it and know how to communicate with their customers.

Mhayse described his approach that really started with a clear Vision … He set out with objective of becoming #1 in their industry, and then laid out a strategy of how to get there.

The vision was to:

  • Excel at the core
  • Build deeper expertise
  • Leverage predictive modeling
  • Expand the appetite and sophistication of the organization,
  • Create a targeted set of offerings for agents and their customers.

Only then did they start to think about how you deal with the small business opportunity and the efficiency end of things. Sure you need an efficient way of doing the business, but the primary focus of that vision was on growth and the customer experience.

He went on “You cannot expand the appetite for more … unless you can automate the way in which the business operates. I didn’t know what I was searching for – but I was looking for something that would help us … something that would give us a clear line of sight to the solution to the business problem. I had to understand what it was going to feel like. However we get there, we had to create the right sort of agent experience … we had to get them (agents) fully engaged to get the benefits of the gem we had in our hand. How do we reap the benefits … it has to be done in increments. I wanted to know where the short term goals and pointers were (pointers that would indicate we were being successful). Trying to get there all at once is probably going to end in disappointment. We had to do a set of projects, and do them quickly, while being flexible along the way.”

At this point I was really engaged … I hadn’t heard a business leader at this level talk about a BPM project in such an impassioned way. This was his project, and he had been driving it top down. Now I started recording the slides and some of the related phrases:

Create the right agent experience – we had to demystify that experience so that it really helps the agent – pre-filling information into forms and easing the user experience.

  • Eliminate the useless questions and options
  • Automated underwriting decisions
  • Automated pricing … it used to take us far too long to price a policy.
  • We had to increase the pass through rate … the time to get a bound policy.
  • We were looking at (touching) 80% of the business that was passing through, and were closing just 20%. That should have been precisely the other way around.
  • The question was how could we enable the local agent to be local in terms of how they work.

Focus first on Agent expansion and New Business Growth

  • First support environment was delivered in 5 months.
  • Restaurant product went countrywide in July 2007
  • Rolled out the Auto policy facility in Oct 07
  • And getting an “umbrella” policy available as an add on in June 2008

The results:

  • 14 days to 14 minutes
  • Close rate was up 5%
  • New business was up 70% “do you want Fries with that”.
  • Renewals up 60%
  • Added over 1000 new agents (later updated in the flow of conversation to 1500 new agents).

We focused secondly on efficiency … not how many people we could chop out

  • Endorsements
  • Renewals …
  • Focus on the desired business result
  • Eliminate all the non Value Add steps, take out the noise and red tape.

Put the business change in the hands of the business

  • Pulling together cross functional teams
  • Finger pointing is the wrong way to go …
  • Rapidly iterate
  • We don’t always know exactly what we want
  • We are sometimes representing other folks … like the agents that work for us
  • Test, monitor and respond quickly.

Building the right team is critical

  • Empowered … someone who is on my team that was also part of the IT organisation
  • Dedicated cross functional teams – jammed them together, locked them in a room and told them they couldn’t come out.
  • Wanted to have a partner with skin in the game. Developed a Customer Intimate relationship with Pega. Their compensation was linked to the delivery of our results. Now we really are on the same page.
  • Get participation and engagement – with the agents.

Farmers had gone from low on the food chain … to the fastest growing at Farmers, the most profitable at Farmers, acquiring over 1500 new agents. They acquired a business along the way and have now grown to around $3B, representing 3% of the available business out there. Tied for first place.

Questions – How do you change the culture? At the end of the day it comes down to individuals. The traditional solutions were not going to get us to where we wanted to go. We have 1000s of people and unless you start to align the objectives, their compensation, etc. then you will have problems.

There has to be a common and shared vision – one that get both business and IT people excited. Too often there is an assumption in the business mindset that IT folks don’t have that sort of vision – that they don’t respond to the challenge. Point was that with the BPM program (still ongoing) they had proved that wasn’t true.

The key point for me was that he focused first on the Customer Experience. They had a strong visionary leader who publicly aligned himself with the overall success of the program. Theydrove partnership and engagement through cross-functional teams to achieve results The business results speak for themselves.

I just hope that Pega and Farmers agree to put the video up on the web so that we can point others to this powerful case study.Its one that every COO and CEO should see.

 

 


Alan Trefler – CEO Pega Opening Address

October 20, 2008

PegaWorld 2008

A great opening pop video – let’s see how far we’ve come. How far we’ve come is reflected in that a vendor gets to have more delegates at their own conference than the mighty Gartner. 850 people all gathered and sitting together to discuss their respective journey’s and approaches.

Alan starts off with a couple of anecdotes about history of Pega and how they started on Main St. Product has now gone through 4 from scratch rewrites – yet the core vision of the company is still very much aligned. A lot of M&A activity has led to an evolving landscape of customers – JP Morgan Chase now represents some 10 original Pega customers.

I see that Alan’s 6 Rs have been there for a very long time too (and I am still not sure that these 6 Rs do anything more than confuse poor Caddie the Customer). The core message – about Process Automation – where the business and IT learn to work together. All about allowing them to change roles, which is a little frightening for most. And a lot of this change of roles is about persuading IT folks to allow business people to get involved in real world implementations. It’s not about the IT and data, its about the business and their ability to get things done.

There is no layer to BPM – neither is there a rules layer … it is more like a DNA that needs to live in the body politic of the organization. Yes, how you control it and how insert it into the organization needs careful thought, but it is not some part of a stack on an IT architects chart.

Mind The Gap

The requirements specification is a dead and outmoded way of thinking about systems that hasn’t changed since the mid-sixties (something I have been saying for yonks). Its about allowing the business and IT people to work together, so that instead of starting with documents, the approach lets you generate documents as recordings of the state at that time in your thinking. It’s far more effective to use a model driven environment to support that – it’s also cheaper and quicker.

But the IT folks have human beings acting as some sort of typing pool to translate conversations about business intent into some sort of arcane language. Automating the programming is not sufficient – we (Pega) want to automate the business logic. You have to capture the entire user intent. This is not about putting a Pega system on the desktop, it’s about putting the user intent on the desktop.

Platform as a Service – enabling people to set up an entire Pega system for a part of their organisation, they can create their own SaaS enabled applications doing it easily and directly. To use Pega to put parts into your web site … to insert Pega functionality into your web site.


BPM Technology Showcase and Awards – An Opportunity to Save Hundreds of Hours and Thousands Of Dollars

February 12, 2008

Well after a lot of hard work the event is now fully fleshed out. Of course there are a million and one things to get done to organize a major event – and I am still getting through them.

But we have a full program of really interesting vendors (IMNSHO). They cover a range of different themes that regular readers will recognize. This is a real opportunity for people involved in BPM projects to save hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars by assessing all the best vendors in one place, picking up on the best practices, pitfalls and other implementation wrinkles.

In no particular order they are:

BPM and SaaS – Appian, Integrify, Itensil, Lombardi (Blueprint) … I am not sure whether I should put Cordys, and Fujitsu in that category (since apparently they can do this combination but haven’t made a big noise about it).

Case Handling – Cordys, Graham Technology, Itensil, Pallas Athena, Pega

Complex Customer Interaction – Graham Technology, Pega

Knowledge Workers – Appian, HandySoft and Itensil

Microsoft and .NET – Ascentn, Bluespring Software and BizAgi

BPM-SOA Stack – BEA, Fujitsu and TIBCO

Unified Data Model – BizAgi, Pega

They all have something special about them – they are all becoming more and more “model driven” (some are better than others), they all feature mechanisms to monitor and track work. Here is the complete list along with links to their web sites.

AppianAscentnBEABizAgiBluespring SoftwareCordysGraham TechnologyHandySoftIntegrify ItensilFujitsuLombardiPallas AthenaPegaTIBCO

That’s 15 vendors, each delivering 4 sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon on each of the core showcase days (Tuesday and Wednesday). The Showcase itself is capped off with a simulated product bake-off where each vendor demonstrates how they have built out one or other of the two core scenarios we will provide them with.

I intend to create short 5-minute videos of each vendor, featuring their best points and place them on YouTube with links to their product profile – which I will endeavor to get up on the BPMF site within a few weeks of the event (but I am traveling for the month of March so it might not be till mid-April before that happens.

Oh – and lets not forget the Monday when you will hear a keynote from Connie Moore (of Forrester), followed by three new case studies (the best submissions from the Awards program – Wells Fargo, Geisinger Health and Louisiana Supreme Court), the three inclusive ½ day training courses:

  • Ensuring BPM Project Success – from me
  • Modeling in BPMN – from Stephen White of IBM (the main author of the BPMN specification)
  • BPM Overview from the WfMC

And all of this is available for the killer price of just $395 (up until close of business this Friday … after that it reverts to $595). Just to put that price in perspective, that’s less than you would pay a traditional conference for their pre-conference workshop !! We have deliberately kept the prices low so that you can bring the team – to form a shared understanding of the issues and the way ahead (and it’s impossible to get around all 15 vendors in the 12 sessions that you will have time to attend).
You can get directly to the registration page here

Download the brochure here