DCM: A valuable tool for tackling problematic business processes

Plenty of businesses already understand the benefits of using dynamic case management (DCM) for faster, better, more accurate management of their case work. These days, they're also discovering that DCM can serve as a terrific tool for ironing out and improving problematic business processes.



When Forrester Research surveys businesses about their objectives for process-improvement initiatives, standardization always ranks high on the list. "It's usually right up there with compliance as one of the top goals for bringing in some kind of case management approach," says Craig Le Clair, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst.

Le Clair himself has written a lot about what he calls untamed processes, which, according to Forrester's official definition, "form in the seams and shadows of the enterprise, require a balance of human and system support, and cross department, technology, information, and packaged application silos to meet end-to-end business outcomes." The haphazard approach results in processes that lack structure and, over time, grow "bloated with non-value-added activity," as Forrester's definition puts it.

"Those untamed processes are really spawned from the exclusion of the information and knowledge workers and their offline activities from other processes," Le Clair says. By better controlling those processes, organizations can obtain better process consistency and improved visibility.

"Case-management platforms that give the right flexibility and adaptability and provide information in context on a role basis will make for a system where knowledge workers can capture the part of the process that is untamed," says Le Clair. In other words: Provide assistance to the people participating in the process. They'll use that system and be semi-guided through the process; DCM will provide the reporting that will allow you to understand the processes or activities that are otherwise ignored or invisible. "By having the information in role-specific contexts and available in a dynamic way, you'll also be able to see how people made decisions," he says. "You'll have traceability over what was formerly untamed and invisible."

Le Clair cites the example of a U.K. bankruptcy-court system in which untamed processes ran rampant. "There were lots of people applying for bankruptcy, some of whom weren't entitled to it," Le Clair says. In addition, "many of the rules were carried around inside people's heads, so they were applied inconsistently," he adds. To overcome the problems, the U.K. Insolvency Service built 15 specific case processes. Now the court system uses DCM principles to track every bankruptcy applicant, applying the confusing and changing rules consistently rather than randomly.

DCM can also be helpful as a tool for delaying an upgrade of a packaged application, Le Clair notes: "Sometimes you can bring in case management and meet the performance drivers without having to go to a major upgrade in your CRM or ERP solution."

LEAN & AGILE

Billie G. Blair, president and CEO of Change Strategists, a management consulting company, recommends taking Lean and Agile approaches to DCM.

Her firm uses critical path management (CPM) "to track progress on projects and the interrelationships between projects, and to allow us to access data quickly, understand their meaning and make needed [just-in-time] changes in real-time," she says. Those data-driven changes can save thousands, and sometimes, millions of dollars for clients.

Her advice for success: Process and develop an understanding of the data as quickly as possible. "The magic key behind the CPM process is the use of both DCM and BPM data-manipulation processes," Blair says. DCM deals more with the unpredictable instances and can follow data paths wherever they lead; essentially, it is to process and case management what chaotic events are to management. "DCM is particularly suited to highly-complex, multi-faceted, widely-varying, randomly-selecting data," she says. Meanwhile, BPM deals with charting, chronicling and analyzing progress on the more routine business processes. But both handle multifaceted complexities of information and data with great speed.

Based on those perspectives, Blair offers the following tips for taking a business approach to DCM:

1. Avoid a "one-size fits all" approach. Often, when companies pay a substantial price for data-manipulation products, they attempt to save (or recover) money by using it for all data manipulation. "This is a mistake," Blair says. "DCM is intended for specific purposes, and if a salesman tries to tell you differently, fire him and seek out another company to provide for your needs."

2. Focus on integration. Ensure that the DCM technology you acquire will integrate easily with your other software data-manipulation packages. Says Blair: "The last thing a company needs in this current data-driven, data-hungering environment is to have stand-alone products and to face the daunting task of integrating/programming those in-house or, even worse, of integrating data sets of information after the data packages have been run."

3. Obtain the knowledge needed for a full range of data use. Too often, Blair says, IT people race to get the newest, latest products for data manipulation, forgetting that all these packages (and data) must be integrated to be useful and effective.

4. Know your projects inside-out. Become familiar with the intricacies of the projects generating data to be manipulated and the particular peculiarities of each data generation instance. In other, words, says Blair, set up a continuum ranging from "quirky" to "stable producing" data projects and select programs that treat each appropriately.

Bottom line: By implementing DCM, you can have tangible savings that are connected to control and standardization. "You can start to align a different set of metrics to the process, a better set of metrics to meet end-to-end goals, maybe relating to a customer experience as opposed to operationally focused metrics," says Le Clair. "That is the business case for DCM."

Alan Earls, a frequent contributor to ebizQ, is a freelance journalist who specializes in writing about business and technology. He's based near Boston. Contact him at alan.r.earls[at]gmail.com.

About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

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