Ken Orr on Case Management

[Submitted via email re my What is Case Management? column on Posted with Ken's permission.]

I enjoyed your article on BPM and CASE management. It is a sticky subject. The BPM folks don't understand CASE management very well, and unfortunately, the CASE management folks don't understand BPM any better. At the heart of the problem is that "CASE Management" is a catchall phrase that is often simply a glorified electronic filing system.

CASE management is big in law enforcement, social welfare and medical systems where you tend to track something for a long time. But my observation is that often what is being tracked is not a "case" but a "person". This causes a lot of confusion when the same person has multiple cases. A few years ago I was involved in doing requirements for a Juvenile Justice system and I finally told them that they didn't have a "case system" but a "kid system".

As you pointed out, many case systems are really glorified document management systems. Indeed, since many workflow management systems were originally developed to replace routing slips attached to documents, a lot of people think that if they have a big catchall case item and a few simple forms they have their business process problems solved.

Unfortunately, most of the case management systems with simple forms have a very lightweight data interface (i.e., they really have trouble accessing and updating real industrial grade enterprise databases). This tends to lead to lots of unconnected systems. I work with an organization, for example, where they've been installing workflow lite + document management for 5 or 6 years and they now have about 100 separate workflow apps without a lot of data integration.

I think that there are two major forms of BPM systems: (1) one based on document-centric workflow and (2) one based on data-centric workflow. There are lots more of the 2nd category than the first, but I think that?s going to change of the next couple of years are the vendors figure out how to combine robust data base applications with business process and with business rules. I've actually help one vendor develop a workflow engine that is integrated with a data-centric application generation engine and I'm also talking to a business rules organization that is working to integrate their business rule engine with a standard workflow engine?so there is some hope.