Before picking a DCM platform, know cases and processes inside and out

For years, dynamic case management (DCM) has played a central role in the health care, insurance and legal sectors. Today, DCM’s gaining traction in a variety of new industries. As a result, business process management vendors have begun to develop a range of DCM platforms in addition to the industry-specific, packaged applications traditionally used by those same markets.

For many businesses considering DCM, the most pressing question is which platform to choose. The importance of making the right choice is simple, says Connie Moore, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst. “The right platform will enable you to change your process very easily within the moment,” she says.

Conversely, the wrong platform can actually hinder case management efforts by failing to address critical process-management needs. To avoid that pitfall, experts suggest keeping these considerations in mind: the nature of casework, basic IT requirements and the style of processes and content involved.

When it comes to deciding on a DCM platform, Moore says, “understanding case [management] is the most important part of the whole thing—not so much one product versus another.” In other words, you need to know exactly what’s involved with managing your company’s work in cases to develop a list of products qualified to support that work.

Many businesses remain unacquainted with the elements of casework, meaning they risk making an uninformed decision when it comes to picking a case-management platform. The better you understand case-work components—from business rules and guidance to collaboration—the more likely you are to make the right technology choice, analysts say. Determining which of those components are most important to the cases at hand means digging down into processes to categorize the work and its style.

“Establish whether your processes are highly collaborative, case-like, form-driven or straight-through processes,” suggests Janelle B. Hill, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc. “Then you can do a much better job of matching the architecture and technology of a BPM suite to the demands of your process style.”

Assuming that the processes are unstructured, Moore and Hill both recommend considering a platform that offers dynamic binding of process fragments, a technology that enables workflow to rapidly change direction. “With very late binding, the BPM engine is receiving a set of instructions at the very last second,” Hill explains.

It follows that companies should pay close attention to the type of content they intend to manage with the DCM platform. A case that deals strictly with documents, for example, will need a different range of capabilities than a case that deals with video or audio files.

According to Craig Le Clair, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, many of today’s DCM platform vendors have developed competencies in three key domains: service request, investigative and incident management. For example, a platform geared toward service requests might be designed to integrate easily with customer relationship management software, while one geared toward investigative case management might handle compliance particularly well. The specific domain strength of each platform should be taken into account when creating a short list of options.

But the most common question when it comes to choosing a DCM platform is whether to pick an industry-specific platform or a horizontal one. Horizontal platforms are configurable, flexible and applicable across all three of the domains mentioned above; industry-specific platforms are designed for one particular field of business.

While some companies prefer an industry-specific, packaged application designed for a particular work type, they should consider the drawbacks. Many such DCM platforms lack the full scope of DCM capabilities that horizontal alternatives provide, such as repositories and business rules. At the same time, horizontal platforms often fall short at incorporating the rules of a niche domain.

IT considerations are top of the list, too: DCM platforms on the market today are split between Microsoft- or SharePoint-oriented systems and those that are more Java-based. “You want to pick the case solution that's most compatible with your IT organization,” Le Clair says.

It’s also prudent to pick a platform with the caseworker in mind. The best DCM products give caseworkers the flexibility to change the path of processes under special circumstances, but they hold back on giving them unchecked influence; many processes within a case must remain unchanged.

Still, DCM remains in its early stages, and the market reflects that reality. “There aren't very many BPM suites on the market today that are really good at case management work yet,” Hill says. “I think there are a lot of buyers sitting on the fence, waiting for the vendor landscape to settle down.”

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About the Author

Stephanie Mann is the former assistant editor for ebizQ and its sister TechTarget site, SearchSOA. Before joining TechTarget, Stephanie was a contributing reporter and proofreader for a Boston-area weekly newspaper and an editorial intern at a Cambridge, Mass.-based publishing company. She has also worked for several nonprofits and as a freelance editor.

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