The Great Case Management Debate that Wasn't #BPM11

Scott Francis
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I was interested to see the “Great Case Management Debate” at Gartner’s BPM 2011 conference.  After all, it has been quite the topic, ever since Keith Swenson put his weight behind the ACM moniker more than a year ago. But right off the bat, Toby Bell reset expectations- that this wouldn’t be a debate, it would be a “live research session” (whatever that means).  Toby Bell represented ECM (content management), Janelle Hill represented BPM, and Kimberly Harris-Ferrante represented insurance…?   It would have been more interesting to have someone really representing and advocating for case management, versus someone really advocating for “BPM” – instead we had a bit of an odd triangle.   For most of the session there was no debate at all, there wasn’t even nuanced disagreement. A definition of Case Management was given:
Case management is the optimization of long-lived collaborative processes that require secure coordination of knowledge, content, correspondence, and human resources and require adherence to corporate and regulatory policies and rules to achieve decisions about rights, entitlements, or settlements. The path of execution cannot be completely pre-defined; human judgment and external events and interactions will alter the flow.
Even Toby poked fun at the very Gartner-ness of this definition.  They talked a bit about why Case Management hasn’t caught on better in the marketplace – and there was some consensus that part of the problem is the word “case” – what is it?  To many businesses, this is sort of a meaningless term.  Kimberly proposed that Case Management would get better traction by adopting industry-specific terminology for the “objects” that are cases. Janelle gave an example of a collaborative, content-rich process:  university applications selection.  As she put it, they want to pick from a big applicant pool (lots of people applying), pick better students, and get a higher acceptance rate. ( Well, actually these last two goals are contradictory.  The better your students are, the more options they have, and the lower the implied acceptance rate.  However, what increases acceptance rate are things outside the selection process – reputation, communications, campus and facilities, faculty, cost, financial aid, etc.  Universities have been competing for top talent for a long time, since well before terms like case management and BPM were coined. ) The closest we got to a real debate was with respect to the marketplace.  Toby took a light-hearted shot at BPM vendors by pointing out that ECM vendors were adding case management and process management capabilities as obvious add-ons to their software packages.  Janelle’s retort was well-said:  that ECM vendors were pursuing BPM functionality out of necessity, looking for a way to grow when there are only 4 or 5 vendors left.  Whereas in BPM, there are 60-70 vendors, growing in the BPM space, adding ECM functionality as a rounding function, not out of a necessity to find new growth opportunities.  I think she has a point – for some of the ECM vendors it looks a bit desperate rather than aggressive.  It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t continue with the strategy but it does look like a strategy of necessity. As Sandy Kemsley reviews it:
Looking at the issue of products, they showed a slide that looked at overlaps in product spaces, and puts BPM in the structured process/data quadrant, with case management far off in the opposite quadrant. As Hill points out, many of the BPM vendors are extending their capabilities to include case management functionality; Bell stated that this might fit better into the ECM space, but Hill countered (the first real bit of debate) that ECM vendors only think about how changes in content impact the case, which misses all of the rules and events that might impact the case and its outcome. She sees case management being added to ECM as just a way that the relatively small market (really just four or five key vendors) is trying to rejuvenate itself, whereas the case management advances from BPM vendors are much more about bringing the broad range of functionality within a BPMS – including rules and analytics – to unstructured processes.
Not everyone shared my disappointment at the lack of debate – I thought it was a missed opportunity to really dig into one of the few controversies in BPM.  The session was still good and well worth attending – it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

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