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Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and research director of MWD Advisors, speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about ways to get concrete business results from dynamic case management (DCM). Here, in Part I, they talk about options for using DCM to achieve larger business goals. In Part II, they discuss real-world examples of DCM in action. This Q & A, excerpted from an accompanying podcast, has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: Let's start by discussing how you would define case management.

Case management is something that is defined a lot of different ways. It's still a bit fuzzy. The way I always try to describe it is that it's solution-implementation approach that you can take when you're trying to reengineer work or improve work. You can think of it as kind of a pattern, or an implementation approach, to coordinating the way that work gets done with software.

There are many different ways you can do that....Historically, we've had packaged apps that can help you do some of that: ERP systems and CRM systems have had an element of that. And we have what we might call kind of traditional BPM systems that can help you do that.

But those have typically focused on helping you with very structured kinds of work definition and deployment and helping you improve work, where you can design the work up front and you can say up front what you want the work to look like, who needs to do it, and when, and in what order. If you follow that that recipe, if you like, then you'll get the results you want.

Where case management comes into its own and how it's different is that case management is a style of implementation which is really specialized for what I call "exploratory work." That's in contrast to transactional or automated work.

When I talk about transactional work, I talk about work that's very predictable, where you're essentially conducting some kind of business transaction. Maybe you're doing some kind of simple account-opening, or you are reconciling some figures, or you are changing someone's address in their account, or you're closing an account--that kind of thing.

Exploratory work is fundamentally different in nature. You may know what you actually need to get to, the goal you want to arrive at, but…actually going through the work is not something you can follow a recipe for. You may have a rough idea of what you need to do, but it feels more like exploring a space of opportunities and options than following a prescribed recipe.

So just to recap: A case management approach is really an approach to implementing a system that’s going to support the way that work gets coordinated. It's where the work you're really trying to focus on is more exploratory in nature and it's not so easily definable up front.

ebizQ: Now how would you say case management can then help a company achieve its larger business goals?

When you're thinking about business goals, I think it makes sense to come back to this idea of exploratory work. Some people would call it "knowledge work," but I think that's kind of problematic.

Fundamentally, if we think about the companies we work for-- particularly, if you think about large companies or large organizations in any industry-- we've already had 20- or 30-plus years of engineering of work. That has led to outsourcing, off-shoring and quite a lot of automation.

You even think about things that are prosaic now, like email and office productivity suites and sort of personal productivity stuff. That has really driven a lot of automation. It's got rid of whole rooms and football fields full of typists and administrators. We've gone through a lot of back-office administration. You look at what ERP has done in the back office to automate a lot of basic sort of grunt work, very basic transactional blocking and tackling. That's all happened.

So think about all the work that happens in a company, how much of that has been automated, how much of that has been routinized and really designed so that it's not really competitively differentiated anymore.

So what's left? Where do you get your edge? More and more companies are trying to get their edge by fundamentally doing things that are about grabbing the knowledge that is in experts' heads and making it applicable directly in business operations. That's something that industry has struggled with for decades. We've been through the era of knowledge-management systems, for example, and agent-based systems, and expert systems, and collaboration systems. We've been trying to basically harness people's knowledge and apply it consistently and repeatably and scalably in an operational situation.

The value that case management brings to the table is that value. It's about creating a system, a platform, where experts--knowledge workers, if you like--can really apply their knowledge consistently and scalably and repeatably, in an operational environment.

So it's about improving the way that the work gets done in the domains that make you competitive and differentiated. You'll see a lot of these areas in, for example, customer-facing areas [such as] customer service situations: things like problem resolution, fault management, complaint-handling, other kinds of important customer-facing scenarios. You'll see it in more complex kind of account-opening or account-maintenance situations. [We're talking about] a lot of customer-facing scenarios where you really can't automate your way out of the challenge. You can't routinize it. You have to be able to apply some latitude to deliver a great experience to your customer.

Case management really supports goals that you have. If, in your organization, you have goals to try and improve the customer experience, for example, to drive it like a customer-intimacy strategy or something like that, then case management approaches should be playing a pivotal role in helping you do that.

ebizQ: Can we drill down a little further on that? What are the measurable business results that businesses can see from case management?

The actual kind of measurements side of it is a really tricky one. I'm going to use that term "traditional BPM," which might sound a bit strange. But when you look at that, that's the thing that organizations have been doing for ten, or maybe more years, looking at designing processes up front and then making them operational and measuring them and so on.

Now, we have a great big body of knowledge that stretches back all the way through Six Sigma and Lean and TQM, and all of those kinds of movements. We used to have that stretching back 20-plus years. We don't really have that in the case management sphere, that body of knowledge around how to analyze the work, how to design the work, how much to design it, and where to leave freedom of movement for the knowledge workers, how best to measure the effectiveness of the work, and how best to set goals. A lot of that people are still working out. So you find that there's a lot of value variation in terms of the actual business results people try and measure.

But typically speaking, in customer-facing situations, you'll see case management initiatives being applied to things like increasing customer lifetime value, decreasing churn--so decreasing the rate at which people leave your company to go to a competitor--increasing net promoter score, the degree to which people recommend you. Typically, they're kind of metrics that are related to customer satisfaction and advocacy and the long-term value of a customer to your company.

So in those kind of situations, those are the results that people are trying to measure and tie them back to you. But we're still in the fairly early days. You'll find that people are applying this stuff in many different domains and they have many different ways of trying to measure results. It's not quite as simple as the results you might look for in a more traditional process-engineering kind of domain. That's because in those domains…people immediately gravitate towards metrics that may actually be overly simplistic, but they're metrics that everyone understands: things like cycle time, the amount of time it takes you to get from the start of your process to the end, or the cost, the activity costs associated with doing it.

If you're in an environment where you are essentially saying "This work is unplanned and it's exploratory," then it doesn't necessarily make sense to measure the time from the beginning to the end because you can't really make a value judgment about what that means. Is it always good to resolve a case quickly? Well, maybe not, if you resolve it in a way that doesn't ultimately get you the right result. It's not always the best thing to do to just drive towards the goal as quickly as possible.

See Part II of this Q & A to learn about real-world examples of DCM in action.

How does your organization measure the results of its case management efforts? Share your experience with ebizQ's staff by emailing editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

About ebizQ

ebizQ is the insider’s guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.

We cover BPM standards, governance, technology and continuous process improvement, as well as process discovery, modeling, simulation and optimization, among many other areas. We follow case management, decision management, business rules management, operational intelligence, complex event processing and other related topics. We closely track important trends such as the rise of social BPM, mobile BPM and BPM in the cloud. We also explore BPM’s use in functional areas, such as supply chain and customer management, and in key verticals, such as financial services, health care, insurance and government.

ebizQ's other BPM-oriented content includes podcasts, webcasts, webinars, white papers, a variety of expert blogs, a lively online forum and much more.



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