There’s one simple foundational rule for building a sound dynamic case management (DCM) architecture, and it goes back to best-selling business author Stephen R. Covey's “7 Habits of Highly Effective People:” Begin with the end in mind.

Having a clear vision of what you ultimately want the DCM architecture to do for your entire business—not just one piece of it—will help you get the most out of whatever you choose, whether it’s a bare-bones framework that requires extensive customization or a solution that can easily be dropped in to your existing infrastructure and tweaked for your company’s needs.

FIRST STEPS TO A SOLID DCM FRAMEWORK
To start with that big-picture view, consider a particular system’s features, then get into the actual physical integration, advises Nathaniel Palmer, executive director of the Workflow Management Coalition, an industry group.

“Very often, you see architecture approached [in a way] where you're trying to put all the pieces together,” he says. “Instead, think about how the pieces should work together, not necessarily how they physically connect.” Case management itself is about considering the larger picture.

“Ultimately, the case folder should be the system of record,” says Palmer, who is also the chief BPM architect for SRA International. “That means that it's not immediately using the database or document management system; it’s using all of those things, but not focusing on one.”

DOCUMENTS VS. CASES: KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Companies tend to get hung up on the idea that document management equals case management, and often, they’ll expand the metadata described around a document folder to accommodate other items in the case. “That's an obvious case-management fail,” Palmer says. In viewing the larger picture, companies have to understand that the case folder contains documents and other items, as well the timestamps to meet evidentiary requirements.

To illustrate the point, Palmer cites government work, which frequently requires agency employees to demonstrate the policy they used in making a particular decision. The traditional method for such documentation was writing a memo and adding a timestamp. Case management, however, automates some of the policy logic as part of a rule set. It creates accountability, and the rules would be programmed into the architecture.

Such an approach can be accomplished in a multifaceted case management environment. According to Forrester Research’s September 2011 DCM report, “Dynamic Case Management: Definitely Not Your Dad’s Old-School Workflow System,” a product offering that kind of case-management environment should include predefined templates.

THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY CHOICES
To allow a DCM system to best meet your company’s demands, choose technology that allows for long-term flexibility. Processes change, and one central idea behind DCM is being able to account for unexpected events. As Forrester notes, DCM leverages dynamic capabilities for unpredictable service-management scenarios, investigative scenarios that unfold over time, and incident management in response to unpredictable events, such as disaster relief.

“You really want to look for technology that has the ability to model goals and has the ability to model a case concept,” says industry analyst Neil Ward-Dutton, founder and research director of MWD Advisors. “Within that case will be steps and tasks that may be predesigned to some degree and rules about certain constraints that may need to be set aside—for example, ‘To complete this case, you must always carry out this task.’”

DCM typically provides an environment that allows for faults, such as unpredictability in situations, according to the Forrester report. Some vendors blend an approach of referencing a central product description through a database pointer, while others allow the copying of process fragments during installation.

GO FOR A STRONG BUT FLEXIBLE APPROACH
In any case, some believe that the ability to handle case fragments dynamically must be front-and-center with technology chosen. “All changes to processes and their resources must be possible without needing programming projects,” advises software architect and entrepreneur Max J. Pucher, a contributor to “Mastering the Unpredictable: How Adaptive Case Management Will Revolutionize the Way That Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (Meghan-Kiffer Press, 2010).

According to Ward-Dutton, however, a platform that can do everything may not be a viable option. To really implement a successful DCM architecture, “if you're in an organization which has any kind of heritage in IT, it's going to be something you'll have to pull together from scratch,” he says.

The company and its architects need to understand how things such as content management, document management, output management, business rules, analytics and business intelligence technologies for performance management all fit together.

Flexibility can only be achieved with a layered, object-oriented architecture, according to Forrester. That includes the ability to associate the objects mentioned by Ward-Dutton with a case, as well as including an independent security model, an integrated data model for structured processes, a strong event framework to assist the knowledge worker with decision- making and the ability for cases to create “child cases.”

COMMUNICATE AND COLLABORATE WITH CASE MANAGEMENT STAFF
As in any other large-scale software implementation, communication between IT and the rest of the business must be open and comprehensive.

“If you are going to try to improve the way that work gets done in the organization, and that covers the DCM area as well, you'll need to choose the participants for leadership and sit them down—and I mean that literally,” Ward-Dutton advises. “They need to sit down together.”

In fact, that kind of collaboration is central to effective case management, he says: “It [requires] co-located teams and subject-matter experts, the business side, project sponsors, IT architects and developers. They need to work together in a very iterative, collaborative way.” He acknowledges that such cooperation isn’t necessarily an architectural requirement—but it’s still a critical factor for DCM success.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you built a case-management architecture, or are you considering doing so? If so, what do you think about the "begin-with-the-end-in-mind" advice our experts offered? Share your opinions--and your alternate approaches--with ebizQ's staff. Please e-mail Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She's based in West Springfield, Mass. Contact her at christine@christineparizo.com.

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