The Technical Case for Case Management – Part 5 – Collaboration / Enterprise 2.0

Only a few posts left on the topic of “The Technical Case for Case Management”.  If you are catching up – refer to my previous posts (Part1, Part2, Part3, Part4).  During this series I’m exploring thoughts around exactly what is Case Management and what technical features are really required to have a complete Case Management solution.

In this post, I’ll be exploring the role of Collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 in the context of Case Management.  I’ve been looking forward to discussing this topic.  Collaboration and Social Media are hot topics right now and I believe many organizations are still trying to understand how to apply consumer style collaboration (Twitter, Facebook, etc..) in the context of their organization.

Many view Case Management in the role of knowledge worker empowerment and information sharing.  They ask questions such as:

  • “What tools can help my knowledge workers collaborate better?”
  • “How can I empower my knowledge workers to work more freely, fluidly, and quickly?”
  • “How do I make sure my knowledge workers have the right information to make informed decisions?”

When I hear the word Case Management, I am drawn to the word “Management”.  I assume the mind of the executive or the manager and I ask questions such as:

  • “What tools does a manager need to monitor work in-progress and keep work flowing towards a desired goal or outcome?”
  • “How can an executive reliably drive towards a goal with unpredictable resources and actions?”
  • “How can I achieve my goal with the least amount of cost and highest efficiency?”

This is probably because of my 10 year history in BPM, with the focus on process improvement, rules, measures and control.

These different views highlight a natural struggle between empowerment of knowledge workers and managerial control over the business.

A question is raised on which view is correct when trying to improve case handling (“Collaboration and Worker Empowerment” or “Structure, Monitoring, and Control”).

Like many questions in life, Bruce Lee has the answer.

My point: Case Management methodology can be see as the proper melding of the natural and unstructured (Collaboration / Enterprise 2.0) with the scientific and controlled (BPM, Rules, Six Sigma, etc.).

As I previously mentioned, I personally have a BPM mindset.  I believe in control and structure and well-formed processes and data, and I secretly detest Blogs and Wiki’s inside an organization.  The reason I hate these things:  Inconsistent use across participants and lack of correlation to goals and objectives.  And yet, here I am blogging.  The hypocrisy is obvious.

I know I’m wrong to hold this position.  The world is grey and not black or white; the choices in life are infinite and not finite.  A corporation cannot be, as Bruce Lee puts it, mechanical and inhuman.  Employees must be able to break free from process to collaborate, innovate, and handle exceptions.

In contrast, a company cannot be ad-hoc, and purely collaborative.  Actions must be measurable against goals; structure and rules must be agreed upon; and a level of control must be exerted or else chaos will ensue.

In the modern Case Management solution, collaboration and social features must be seamlessly and harmoniously integrated with rules, controls, and structured processes.  When collaboration is separate from rules and process, context is lost, control over data quality is sacrificed and the ability to measure towards a goal is abandonned.  When process and rules do not include collaboration, we lose the ability to innovate outside the parameters, adapt to unplanned events, and handle more complex challenges that rely on instinct, rather procedure.

These concepts of enabling employees to “Think Outside the Box” (coined in 1969) and combining flexibility with rigidity are certainly not new.  But applying these concepts to modern technology, enterprise applications, and case management is still being explored.

The technical incorporation of Collaboration into Case Management must include three features to ensure a balance is kept:

  • Context
  • Consistency
  • Rules

Context is key to ensuring collaboration data and audit trails are associated with the case.  Additionally, ad-hoc collaborations must be associated with the case to enable management monitoring and reporting.

Consistency refers to consistency of data and consistency of use.  A modern Case Management solution should help the users use collaboration in a consist way and ensure collaborative unstructured data is based on a common vernacular or query-able dataset for case reporting.  Again, without some level of consistency in use and data entry, it becomes exceedingly difficult to scientifically measure the performance of case handling by participants.

Rules are something we live with all the time in our daily collaborations and must be ingrained in a Case Management solution.  Even though collaboration can be free-form, there are still understood rules for proper behavior.  We live with collaboration rules already, such as not being allowed post foul language in a public forum.  In the business world, these rules become even more complex and specialized.    For example:  “When can collaborations occur?”; “What can be said?”; and “Who you can collaborate with?”; are important considerations in Case Management.  At certain times, collaboration might need to be limited to reduce risk and not create the impression of favoritism or bias for one case vs another.  Additionally, what can be shared in a collaboration must also be controlled as to not violate HIPPA or Data Privacy laws.

In summary, Bruce Lee put it best.  We must learn to blend natural instinct (Collaboration) and control (Process, Rules and Procedures).  The modern Case Management platform must integrate these seamlessly and enable managers and developers to tune the balance between collaboration and control for their organization, through use of rules and analysis.

As usual, I look forward to comments.

In my next post, I think I’ll explore Reporting and Analysis and how continuous process improvement methodologies from BPM apply to Case Management.


Malcolm Ross

Director Product Management

The Technical Case for Case Management Series
Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Ad-Hoc Activities
Part 3: Real-Time Events and Business Intelligence
Part 4: Enterprise Content Management
Part 5: Collaboration / Enterprise 2.0
Part 6: Reporting and Analysis
Part 7: The End ??