Business rules automation offers greater efficiency for case management

Adding business rules to case management can bring the insight and transparency needed to make many processes more efficient, says Craig Le Clair, a vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research.



In this interview, Le Clair explains how business rules technologies can translate large volumes of complex information to enable faster decision-making by business and case managers. He reviews the business needs driving broader adoption of both business rules automation and case management, offers advice on how to prepare for and implement rules in cases and offers a few near-term predictions for case management.

ebizQ: Automating business rules is a relatively new part of adding more functionality to case management software. Why is the need for automated business rules management increasing?

Craig Le Clair: The reason that rules are becoming more important is the need for companies to standardize and control these more ad hoc activities that are becoming the drivers of their business. The way you do that is to have that sort of guided expertise that a case platform gives you, but to have rules that can help guide that.

One big driver in addition to standardization is compliance. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation [a 2002 act reforming public-company accounting] was 60 pages. The Dodd-Frank legislation for consumer finance is over 2,000 pages and has 400 rules, of which only 10 or so are actually articulated in the initial draft. So the level of complexity around compliance, and the number of rules, and how rapidly they will change and the uncertainty around them is a problem that businesses are trying to solve.

So it's really about standardization of compliance. A case concept gives you not only rules to guide the events and the state transitions within a case, but a very strong documentation of who made decisions, when [they did so] and what rules they were leveraging when they did.

ebizQ: How effective have efforts been so far in terms of bringing together business rules and case management been?

Le Clair: Well, I think it's still early, but I've talked to 100 companies that have implemented case management in this sort of new way.

One example is the [United Kingdom] bankruptcy court, which has had to handle new relief legislation. The U.K. has a lot of people who have applied for relief who don't deserve it. There are tons of rules and every applicant that comes in is vetted depending upon the type [of claim], and there are 25, 30 or more different variations. They're guided by these rules, and they told me they could not have implemented the new regulations without having a rules-based processing within a case structure.

ebizQ: What advice can you offer case management professionals who want to take advantage of new approaches to business rules in that scenario?

Le Clair: Put the tools aside for the moment; take a look at the old process. Then think about a new process. Think about doing it differently than the way you've been doing it.

First, be incremental in how you approach the new case applications. Case management is a very good platform for incremental type development, much better than the traditional kind of workflow approach.

Next, take an area that's highly visible in the organization. The best successes I've seen with [business rules automation in] cases were where the project started with observable, highly-visible applications. If you do it well, the approach spreads virally.

ebizQ: What approaches should business-side and case managers use to build cases for case management?

Le Clair: Try to align case objectives with more strategic objectives in the organization. [For instance], take a look at how this whole world of performance management and metrics is seeping into many areas, particularly the service area, which is a very ripe area for case management. You can align metrics very nicely with these solutions that use analytics and are more metric-based than previous types of workflows, so that we're looking at throughput of a process. The case allows you to change the metrics to higher-value metrics that align with the company's objectives: things like retention rates, improved customer service, referral rates and net promoter scores.

ebizQ: What is the relationship between business rules and decision-making in case management?

Le Clair: The main drivers for leveraging of business rules in general are a little bit different than the drivers for using rules in case management.

In the rules market, you now have independent rules engines, but the original rules market was driven by these very complex processes that may have thousands of rules, like commercial insurance processes. The real motivation there was to allow the rules to be externalized from the legacy applications; so that you could have the business side understand, change and address those rules. Another driver for leveraging business rules is [the need for] lifecycle management of rules, where somebody could analyze rule collisions or rule gaps. That's where the original market originated.

Now, the rules within a case construct are a little different. They don't have to be quite as holistic and comprehensive in terms of doing collision and gap analysis and lifecycle management of rules. The goals are different. The goals in cases are around needing to understand who made a decision, and when, and what they were looking at and what rules were guiding them.

ebizQ: Then what needs are driving business rules management in cases?

Le Clair: In cases, you're trying to get more control over the real decisions in an organization that are important and may have a compliance impact. It's about lifecycle, the audit trail of a case and understanding the rules that apply at a particular time.

Standardization is a real driver for case management. Even though these processes tend to be knowledge worker-centric and more ad hoc, there are structured elements, things you absolutely want your workers to do. You want them to be governed by rules for those structured processes, so rules play very strongly into that.

ebizQ: What do you see happening in case management in the next couple of years?

Le Clair: I see case as taking over a lot of use cases that are traditionally in the [enterprise content management] and BPM world, sort of cannibalizing some of the very fit-to-purpose case solutions that have been built, particularly in areas like government and in medical. The battle will be between agility, analytics and the real rules kind of environments that are inherent in these case platforms, where the domain expertise is the fit-to-purpose aspects of some of these other case solutions. You're going to see more case platforms roll out for that.

I also think the integrators and consultants are going to get case [management], that this is the way to reduce their risk and have happier customers--even though there's less custom code.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you added business rules to your case management initiatve? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Based near San Francisco, Jan Stafford is the executive editor for ebizQ as well as the Business Application & Architecture Media Group at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. Reach her at jstafford[at]techtarget.com.

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