BPM vs. Case Management Yet Again

  • July 9, 2010
  • Scott

Keith Swenson has another post where he compares Case Management to BPM:

“The two approaches are very different:

  • Sherlock Holmes will use a case management approach, not a BPM approach, when solving a case.
  • Bank of America will use a BPM approach, not a case management approach, to support signing up people for new regular accounts.
  • Admiral Thad Allen will use a case management approach, not a BPM approach, when responding to the oil disaster.
  • Amazon will use a BPM approach, not a case management approach, to handling sales of common books.”

I’d propose another example:  I sure wish BP had been using a BPM approach on that oil rig, rather than a case management approach that allowed winging it with decisions like whether or not to use drilling mud.  I wish there had been a little more BPM going on in the mortgage business pre 2008 – not just signing up new accounts but making sure that customers actually met credit and income requirements.

I think there are more than just mundane examples of where a little more BPM would be a good thing.

Keith has another interesting comment:

To say that these approaches are the same, because they both help to get work done, ignores the very essence of BPM and case management. Yes, they are both techniques to help accomplish work, but they achieve this result through different means.


This has nothing to do with any vendor’s product. I am not making a sales pitch here. Those that say their favorite BPMS can do all of this are simply pointing out that these two management practices can be supported with similar technology – and many products will support both approaches. But remember, BPM, and Adaptive Case Management are not technology, not products. They are both approaches to managing work.

Interestingly, because they are both approaches to managing work, the same people are likely to be involved in both approaches.  One can argue about which approach “wraps” the other approach, but as BPM is an amalgamation of techniques and approaches, the question (to me) is whether case management is just another one of those, or whether it is a whole “methodology” unto itself.  A relevant example:  Six Sigma and Lean are examples of different approaches to process improvement that, today, most people lump together because they both represent useful sets of tools for the same set of people engaged in process improvement.

Steve Wood, in the comments, captures my thoughts well:

“So, for example, when I look at how an agent supports a customer through an issue. At the high level, it’s very BPM-like, at the implementation level it’s very hybrid. I can optimize some tactical processes to improve performance and also optimize tactical experiences to improve case management.”

And of course, Max J Pucher has a well-worded  comment also:

“Analytic knowledge provides conversation pieces but no practical how-to knowledge and is thus quite useless.

The ‘war of who owns ‘adaptive cases’ is thus quite senseless. I do agree that I am chasing windmills in asking for a common sense approach, but at that is also the reason why the question whether BPM, ECM, E20 or ACM will bring adaptiveness won’t be agreed upon.”

Its an interesting read in the discussion / comments and the wealth of different perspectives – even from people who co-authored “Mastering the Unpredictable”.  Unfortunately, as with most of these discussions, there is a little too much focus on the arbitrary limitations of software tools (the specific experiences of the authors with either specific ACM or BPM tools), rather than sticking to Keith’s original premise that we’re talking about two different kinds of work, but it is a small blemish on a good discussion.

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