A platform for digital transformation brings a number of different capabilities together: processes, agents, integration, analytics, decisions, and — perhaps most important — case management. Why case management? What does that really bring to the table and why is it needed?
What is the big deal about case management? People are often underwhelmed. In many ways, case management is simple a “file folder on steroids.” Essentially it is just a big folder that you can throw things into. Traditional case management was centered on exactly that: a case folder and really that is the only physical manifestation. It is true that the folder as a collecting point for documents and data of any kind — but there is a little more to it.
I already have shared folders, so why do I need anything more? The biggest difference between case management and shared folders is how you gain access to the folder.
My shared file system already has access control. Right, but there is a question of granularity: it is a question of granularity. If the access can be controlled only to the whole folder, it means every participant has all-or-nothing access and that is to much. At the other end of the spectrum, if every file can be assigned to any person, it gets to be too tedious: adding a person to a large case with 50 files can take significant effort, costing more than 10 minutes of work. People may be joining and leaving the case on a daily basis, and going through all the documents on every person might leave you with a full time job managing the access rights. A case manager is too busy to do that. A better approach has to be found that blends the access control together with other things that a case manager is doing.
For example, let’s say that you have a task, and the task is associated with 10 documents in the folder. Changing the assignment of the task, from one person to another, should at the same time (and without any additional trouble) change the rights to access the associated documents from one person to another. It is reasonable to ask a case manager to assign a task to someone. It is unreasonable to expect the case manager to go and manually adjust the access privileges for each of the 10 documents. It is not only tedious, it is error prone. Forget to give access to a critical document, and the worker can’t do the job. Or give access to the wrong document to someone with no need to know might constitute a confidentiality violation. This is one example of how a case management blends the case management and the access control together. Another example is role-based access.
My shared file system already have role-based access control. Many document management systems offer global roles that you can set up: a group for all managers, a group for all writers, a group for all editors. You can assign privileges to such a group, and simply by adding a person to the group gives them access to all the resources of the group.
This is a complete misunderstanding of how cases have to work. Each case, needs its own groups of people to play particular roles just for that case. For example, a case dedicated to closing a major deal with a customer will have a salesperson, a person to develop and give a demo, maybe a market analyst. But you can’t use the global groups for salespeople, demo developers, and market analysts. This case has a particular sales person, and not just anyone in the sales person pool. That particular sales person will have special access to the case that no other sales person should have. A global role simply can’t fit the need.
I could make individual roles for every case even in the global system. Right, but creating and modifying global roles is often restricted to a person with global administration privileges. The case manager needs the rights to create and change the roles for that case, and for no other case. This right to manage roles needs to come automatically from being assigned to the case manager role for that case. Case management adds mechanisms above the basic access control to avoid the tedium of having to manage thousands of individual access control settings.
So that is all it is, powerful access control? There is more to it. It must also have the ability to create tasks of any kind and assign them to people at any time. This means that the case management needs convenient ways to find all the tasks assigned to a particular person, and to (1) produce a work list of all currently assigned tasks, and (2) email notifications of either the entire list, or the items that are just about to reach a deadline. These are BPM-ish capabilities, but there is no need for a process diagram. For routine, pre-defined processes just use a regular BPM product. Case management is really more about completely ad-hoc tasks assigned as desired.
So there is no pattern to the processes at all? Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that. There are patterns. Each case manager develops their own style for getting a case done, and they often reuse those patterns. The list of common tasks are usually copied from case to case in order to be reused. At the same time, the patterns are never exactly the same. And they change after the case is started.
Since tasks are assigned manually, there is a strong need for a capability to “see who is available” which takes into account skills, workload, vacation schedule, and other criteria to help locate the right person for the job.
There are also well defined routine processes to be called upon as well, and you use BPM for that. The tighter the BPM is integrated to the case management, the easier it will be for case managers to complete the work.
The above discussion is not an exhaustive list of capabilities that case management brings to the table.
- It is a dumping ground for all the work that can not be known in advance. A kind of safety valve to catch work which does not fall neatly into the pre-defined buckets for process management.
- It collects any kind of information and documents, and makes them available to people working on the case.
- It offers powerful access control that is integrated into the case logical structure so that it is easier to use than a simple document-based access control system.
- It offers tasking so that assignments can be made and tracked to completion.
- There are often portal features that can reach out to external people to register themselves and to play a role in the case.
- It has calendars and vacation schedules that give workers an awareness of who is available and who might be best to do a job.
- Conversation about the case is simplified by connections to discussion topics, commenting capability, chat capability, unified communications, email, social media, etc.
Knowledge workers need these capabilities because their work is inherently unpredictable. A digital transformation platform brings all the tools together to make solutions that transform the business. Knowledge workers constitute about 50% of the workforce, and that percentage is growing. Any solution destined to transform the organization absolutely must have some case management capabilities.