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ebizQ's Business Agility Watch


Making the Case for Case Management: Speaking With Fujitsu

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Listen to my podcast with Keith Swenson, Vice President of Research and Development at Fujitsu America, Inc. and the Chief Software Architect for the Interstage Family of Products. Keith recently co-authored the book, Mastering the Unpredictable: How Adaptive Case Management Will Revolutionize the Way That Knowledge Workers Get Things Done. In this podcast we cover Social BPM along with several questions that came up during Fujitsu's Tweet Jam on adaptive case management.

Listen to or download the 9:01 minute podcast below:

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PS: Some folks are calling process wikis Social BPM. Do you agree with that?

KS: Well, I do in part. The ability to collaborate on process design in a traditional BPM environment is very important. And bringing social techniques into the designer process is something that is very useful and it helps you to get better business processes. But I think that's not where the real power of Social BPM lies. I think there's other promises.

PS: Then so exactly how would you define Social BPM?

KS: Well clearly, it's going to be bringing the techniques of social networking software such as Facebook, or LinkedIn, or some of these other systems bringing that into the business realm. And you could bring it into -- you could look at traditional BPM, which is based on scientific management. It's based on this idea that you have a separation between thinkers and doers. You have people who design processes and then you have people that execute processes and let's keep those separate. In that situation, the social techniques can help the design of the process.

But what about the case where you have knowledge workers and knowledge workers are people that both do the thinking and the doing. What I mean by that is that knowledge workers design their processes as they do them and every process is one off. In that situation, the social networking software needs to be available to the business users themselves. And when you bring social techniques into the workplace and allow workers to actually use it directly to do their work, I think they're going to be some fairly big, fairly fundamental changes in the way that business processes are represented and completed.

PS: And that certainly makes a lot of sense. Now, there's been a lot of buzz about Social BPM. Can we just cover some of the potential upsides and downsides of it?

KS: There's a lot of upside in making it easier to complete your tasks. Right now, we seem to have a lot of difficulty with tremendous amount e-mail and a tremendous amount of sort of work that has to be done. And what people notice when they start using a tool like Facebook is that it's very, very easy to remain aware of what lots of people are doing. So if you could build that awareness directly into your business system, then you might be able to get away with completing processes without having to have such a strict definition of exactly what the process is.

You may be able to bring that awareness of what people are doing into the task assignments so you could use your social network. You could use your network of friends, for instance, although you might have different kinds of networks, Networks of work associates and you could use that network to assign tasks and to distribute tasks to reallocate tasks around. So it may allow you to replace what was a very formal process with much less formal process that gets things done more effectively.

PS: Interesting. Now, how does this introduction of social media into the office change exactly what's needed for business processes?

KS: BPM in the past has been oriented towards processes which are routine and which can be predicted in advance. The whole idea behind BPM is that you're going to optimize your process so you're going to design a process which is going to be run many, many times and you can make claims about whether that process is optimal or not based on looking at the last thousand times you run the process. But with knowledge workers, those processes are not predictable in the same way, they're not repeatable, they're not done the same way every time.

So what you'll find that knowledge workers do is they need more power in the capability to create processes on the fly so to speak, some people call these ad hoc processes. But they need the ability to decide for each case when they're in the middle of a case what they're going to do next, what they're going to ask people to do around them, and how they're going to organize things.

So that's kind of a different approach to looking at process. It's an approach that's a little unsettling to control oriented managers who want to prescribe exactly what's going to happen in every situation. But when you're dealing with knowledge work, you don't have the luxury of being able to define everything in advance. The whole world is constantly changing. And in order to responsive, and in order to be agile, you need to have a system that supports this idea of flexibility, and defining the processes as you do them.

PS: Definitely. To change speeds a little bit, with both your book, Mastering the Unpredictable along with your Tweet Jam today on case management. Why has case management suddenly become such a big deal right now?

KS: That's an interesting question. I think it partially lies in we have a much more mature understanding of what BPM is. If you looked in the past years, last year, last couple of years, I think that a lot of people were expecting BPM to be much more flexible than it is. It seems like we should understand ahead of time what we have to do in particular situations, especially when you look back on something that you've done you always think, oh, I should've seen that coming. I should've known that.

The fact is that in many situations, you can't see that coming and the inability to define a process ahead of time has now become understood and people are looking for a new approach and case management is not a new approach; it's an old approach but we're kind of returning back to case management now saying, oh okay. Now, maybe there was some value in this approach and there's awful lot of interest in it this year. A number of main software vendors are now touting their ability to support case management as if it were a new thing.

PS: Now I can image a lot of people listening right now are thinking well, so say I have BPM, why should I consider case management?

KS: Oh. BPM is very useful, will always be useful for routine processes so a routine process, routine work is something that you know ahead of time how you're going to approach it, how you're going to complete it. You have some pretty good understanding on how to predict what is going to happen. So a large part of work is routine processes but there's also a lot of evidence that a large part of your workforce and a large part of work is knowledge work. Knowledge work is by its nature unpredictable.

Some estimates range from 25% to 50% of the workforce is doing knowledge work so that means that your BPM system, it's going to be good for up to half of your workers. But what about your executives, what about your managers, what about the people doing research? These people have a hard time applying BPM to their work because it requires you to design the process ahead of time. For those people and the number of knowledge workers is increasing because as we are implementing BPM projects, we're removing the need to have people do routine things and we're using those people more for doing thinking and doing knowledge work.

So ACM, Adaptive Case Management, becomes an approach that you need to use as well as BPM in your workplace. They both go hand-in-hand. In any given situation, you'll find that there are routine aspects of it and there are unpredictable aspects to it.

So you'll find in the long future that you'll need both a BPM approach and an ACM approach. And I think what we're also seeing is that the vendors of those technologies are recognizing that as well and BPM suites are getting more powerful. BPM suites themselves are getting to the point where they will support a BPM approach and they will also support at the same time a case management approach. So you may find that you can get both of these needs met by the same vendor.

ebizQ’s expert blog team covers a broad range of BPM, business integration, business analytics/monitoring, collaboration, content and related issues.

Peter Schooff

Peter Schooff is Contributing Editor at ebizQ, and manager of the ebizQ Forum. Contact him at pschooff@techtarget.com

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