Editor’s Note: Forrester's Craig Le Clair doesn't mince words when talking about the danger of "untamed" business processes: He's said these out-of-control processes "choke the productivity and creativity out of the workforce." In this lively Q & A, ebizQ Editorial Director Hannah Smalltree talks with Le Clair, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, about using dynamic case management (DCM) to better manage such processes. The transcript has been edited for clarity and editorial style.
ebizQ: First, let’s set some context. What is dynamic case management
and why are so many people talking about it these days?
Great question. “Case management” is a well-known term to many. If you talk about it to someone from the legal profession, they nod their heads. Government people get it; their work has been caught up in cases for years. Certainly in the medical-provider community, cases are very common.
There's a perception that dynamic case management is really just a new spin, a new marketing or repositioning of [the concept of case-based workflow]. But what is different about dynamic case management is that it reflects and supports a completely different way of working that is emerging as we move deeper into the 21st century, which is supporting information workers who have to do more than ever before. We all know this; we’re all working very hard.
We've automated a lot of the production processes out of existence and we've offshored a lot of them out of existence. The people who are left are moving into newer, more intellectual types of jobs.
What dynamic case management offers is a way to provide the context and the information for a particular task in a role-specific way, in a contextual way, and the views of the information are transitioning from state to state based on the events.
“Progressive” is a key term in defining case management because the state of the case, of the process, will change based on a human decision. There's a balance between human changes to the process and system, and things also may change based on external events. So the case technology is architected in a much more flexible and dynamic way to be able to adjust to these more dynamic processes.
ebizQ: Some people use the term “advanced case management.” Is there difference or is that just semantics?
“Advanced case management” is used by some industry groups; Forrester happens to use “dynamic case management.” They're the same.
ebizQ: How is case management different from business process management?
Business process management’s genesis is really in more production types of systems that were dealing with paper—paper “factories,” trying to automate them. The process approach to those types of systems is fundamentally very different than supporting the information or knowledge worker.
For example, in the production world, the attempt is to articulate every aspect of the process, including all the exceptions, in a predetermined way and really to give all the control for the process to the software in the system to—in a rough way of saying it—keep workers at high RPMs. In case management, there's no pressure to predefine the process. In fact, it's almost impossible to [do so] because the number of potential paths that a process can take in a more dynamic environment supporting more knowledge workers is almost impossible to define. So that's one of the core distinctions.
The traditional production type of processes had a strong burden to try to do that complete mapping and that complete articulation of the process. Case management really frees you from that because you're creating loosely coupled state transitions that don't have to be completely connected.
ebizQ: Now let's get into our main topic: using dynamic case management to manage untamed business processes. What exactly do you mean by “untamed” business processes?
We [at Forrester] define “untamed processes” as processes that form in the seams and shadows of an organization. They weave in and out of structured processes and structured applications like enterprise resource planning and CRM type of systems that encompass off-line behavior or human behavior as well as online and system behavior. Too often, there's a focus on that structured application or structured system that needs to absorb data and not enough focus on the complete end-to-end process—and that's really the untamed process.
A lot of the cost and the way that companies can differentiate is by getting a handle on that invisible part of the process, that untamed aspect that is not embodied in the strict controls that are put around the structured elements of that process.
ebizQ: Why should companies be worried about these untamed processes? To put it another way, what are the financial or operational benefits that companies get from “domesticating” these untamed processes?
Well, a lot of the non-value added activity that I spoke of with regard to untamed processes is just invisible to companies. They don't even know it exists. There's no way to measure it. So one of the goals is to standardize and control these untamed processes—not so that you're restricting the human from making the right decisions, but to have visibility into that. One of the big drivers for domesticating these untamed processes is to get visibility into this invisible form of work.
Another driver is compliance. If you think of where we were with the financial crisis of 2008, we had a lot of documentation via Sarbanes-Oxley. We have the Patriot Act type documentation. But that didn't do us any good but because the regulators didn't have insight into the process. They didn't have insight into the untamed aspects of the process.
So the shift in the regulatory environment is to have more specialized and custom inquiries into organizations to understand elements of that untamed process. And, in fact, that's where a lot of the bad things happen. So from a compliance standpoint, if you can have the rules governing the decisions made by human beings visible and auditable, if you could have the lifecycle decisions tracked and part of an audit trail for that decision-making, if you can look at how you handled a sample of cases over time, you can look at how you could improve the process. That can only come through standardization of the process, which is where the real advantage comes from companies trying to tame these untamed processes.
ebizQ: Can you give us a few examples of some of these problems that companies have encountered from not having these kind of tools in place—and tell us how they overcame them?
One of my favorites is customer onboarding. The [typical] customer experience for account opening, or onboarding a new customer, is driven today by the needs of that transaction system underneath that actually has to set up the account.
So we drive the customers down this tunnel where we expose to them the complexity of our business because we need this field and this field filled in and they don't know why. It’s in our language, it's in fields that are required by this system that may have been built 20 years ago.
So customer onboarding has to be looked at as the complete end-to-end process and to be controlled not only by feeding that transaction system underneath, but looking at the entire realm of customer experience. The movement there is getting to what we call “client-centric” account opening from product-centric account opening so that you don’t have to enter information over and over and over and, again, have that experience dominated by that transaction system. So that's one great example of an untamed process.
Another one is in insurance. Insurance companies have literally thousands of untamed processes, so you have an experience that is very siloed in insurance companies. You have a submission process; you have a policy- creation process; you have an underwriting process that's in between that; you have servicing and claims. Each one of those is managed separately as a department. A lot of activity that drives inefficiency in insurance companies is when content and thought and process moves between those gates. That's where you have to reenter data, you have to search for information, you have to check status.
By looking at the untamed processes as being the collective aggregation of all those functions, and starting to put metrics on an end-to-end basis for the entire process, and leveraging something like case management to be able to coordinate those activities and provide the right human guidance—that's a clear gold mine for untamed processes.
A third one is invoice processing. We've been paying invoices for a couple hundred years here in the United States. You think we'd have it down, but we don't. Part of the process is that back-end [enterprise resource planning] system that you have to enter information in that will post the transaction, pay the invoice and keep the transaction record.
But that's only really a small part of the process. The process starts up front with getting faxes and e-mails with PDFs and paper invoices. All that information needs to be aggregated and matched to a requisition that may have been set up. You may also have rogue purchase orders and exceptions. Most of the accounts payable staff is really dealing with those untamed activities well before getting to that final step. That's an example of a very untamed process.
ebizQ: Let's close with some advice. What are some of the best practices for using dynamic case management to manage untamed processes, and on the flipside what are some of the pitfalls to avoid?
First, put tools aside. There’s a lot of excitement in the market on the technology side about new products that are coming out with more dynamic capabilities or event-driven capabilities that allow a caseworker to make changes in the process during the actual activity of the process. But put all the tools aside and just think about the process. Don't think about the way it's done today; think about it in a new way.
Steve Jobs had a great quote saying that “simple can be harder than complex.” You have to work really, really hard to get your thinking clean so that you can isolate the customer experience to the simplest terms.
Also, there’s just being incremental. One of the nice aspects of case is that it allows the incremental release and development of functions. You might target a process that’s highly visible so that you can gain some viral support for case. So a process that's not overly complex but is highly visible—that's how innovation spreads in organizations.
Finally, take a design-for-people approach. Don't think of feeding those underlying transaction and enterprise research planning and CRM systems. Think of how you relate to the customer and how you define metrics. One of the values of case is that you can really understand metrics in a different way. In performance management, metrics are moving toward things like net-promoter scores or customer-experience metrics.
So think of taking advantage of the combination of analytics and BPM engines and unstructured content management, all these business rules, all these things that are embedded in these case platforms, to be able to map the real outcome of the real business goals of the process to the strategic goals of the company.
Have you used DCM to "tame" processes? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Based near Boston, Hannah Smalltree is editorial director of ebizQ as well as the Business Application & Architecture Media Group at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. Reach her at hsmalltree[at]techtarget.com.More by Hannah Smalltree
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