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Choosing case management tools starts with needs, not architecture

Case management can mean different things whether you ask a business expert or a software pro. But marrying these two perspectives may be the enterprise's only hope.

There's business process management, iBPM and adaptive BPM. There's microservices, SOA exposed services and APIs....

And depending upon what you read and hear, these are all the same thing, or they're wholly different from one another, or they're functionally overlapping approaches to building and fielding dynamic applications.

But who cares? The only thing that makes any of them important is their ability to facilitate the implementation of solutions that successfully address business needs. So, rather than parse the nuances and then figure out how and where to use them, it's better to start with those needs and work backward from there.

Remember the fundamentals

As a business discipline, case management is all about capturing, monitoring and using information relevant to a particular business issue to resolve that issue as efficiently as possible. These issues cover a wide spectrum, ranging from navigating lawsuits to insurance claims. Lawyers, nurses, social workers, investigators and plenty others engage in case management on a daily basis, and they constantly crave new case management tools that can help them keep related information together more cohesively than they can by using their ubiquitous manila folders.

As a software term, case management is a distinct flavor of BPM that helps people find, compile, share, analyze and act upon information that is being compiled. This information can be either structured or unstructured, and can encompass a plethora of information sources: text documents, database data, images, social media posts, video clips, audio clips and, of course, paper.

Marrying these two perspectives nets us this slightly simplified set of functional requirements:

  • Content/records/document management: Information can be efficiently captured, found and used.
  • Collaboration: Information can be shared and commented upon by and for others.
  • Workflow: Information can be routed, notifications delivered and requests for action sent to all interested parties.
  • Metadata management: Tags describing content can be related to one another, standardized and used to enable effective search/find/linking/routing.
  • Dashboards and analytics: Progress can be monitored, measured, analyzed and reported upon.
  • Audit tracking: Compliance can be assured and post-mortems conducted for process improvement purposes.
As a software term, case management is a distinct flavor of BPM that helps people find, compile, share, analyze and act upon information that is being compiled.

Then there are these two others that are especially salient, given that most case management users already have jobs and don't want to have to become computer scientists as well:

  • Simplicity: Encourage people to actually use the system.
  • Flexibility: Readily accommodate users as they join and leave the case, and the various formats and media types that may be involved.

If this list of high-level needs strikes you as being dauntingly hard to meet in a single solution, you're right. The good news, however, is that the job is easier today than it ever has been. Various capabilities are showing up more often and in more offerings than in the past. The hard part is for an organization to understand its own situation well enough to separate the wheat from the chaff amongst case management tools.

To that end, there are a few questions to ask when sorting through the myriad case management tools available.

First, do you already have pieces of this puzzle in place? This could include a SharePoint installation or a document repository or an image store that you're already using. See if any of these pieces have case management capabilities built in but perhaps simply haven't been activated. Also, see how well they can be connected to or work with any new case management engine you might acquire. And if you do acquire one, see if it's possible to save money on the license by deactivating any redundant features.

Next, are your users on site or do they move around? How you answer this question will determine whether or to what degree you'll need mobility to be part of your package. If you need mobile apps, think about if you want the application to be web-enabled, a web app or a native device app. Also, think about which devices take priority. Every factor will have an effect on resources, cost and timetable.

Third, what's your corporate philosophy (and budget) regarding hosting, maintenance and support? Determine if it's better to handle everything exclusively in house or find a cloud-based solution where the brunt of the mechanics is handled by someone else. It's also possible to split the difference and "insource" the job by hiring an outside firm to come into your place and do it for you there, rather than at a faraway data center.

Finally, are your use cases essentially variations on a theme, or is each instance very different from those that have come before? How you answer this may help inform whether or to what degree you want to encourage reuse of implemented capabilities? This is generally a good idea, but can be impacted by complexity and the level of abstraction at which you want to work. Again, the conversation of differentiating things like microservices and SOA comes into play.

There are still more individual factors to consider when thinking about choosing your case management tools, and the details will undoubtedly reflect particulars like the size of your operation and the vertical market you occupy. The points made in this piece, though, are fine universal truths. Using them as soup-starter should help you avoid picking the wrong technology ingredients and prepare a well-rounded case management meal.

Next Steps

Find more advice from Weissman in our handbook on embracing intelligent BPM

Learn how case management can bring your SOA environment back together

Why people belong at the heart of your SOA governance model

This was last published in January 2017

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