Tools to support knowledge workers range from email and basic spreadsheets to traditional BPM suites to case management tools. With the recent focus on adaptive case management, what trends should you expect to see in 2011? We asked a couple of industry experts for their opinion.

The Rise of Adaptive Case Management

These days there is a lot of attention on the knowledge worker and what they need to do their job. According to Jacob Ukelson, CTO of ActionBase (news, site), structured processes make up a small portion of the business processes that knowledge workers deal with. He says that 75% of the process are ad hoc and/or unstructured and are currently done using email and/or spreadsheets.

According to Ukelson, traditional BPM, another typical knowledge worker tool, is becoming much more of an IT tool, a robust modeling guide.  It is very structured (much like following a flow chart). But knowledge workers need flexibility, they need to adapt their processes based on the case in question and it's rare that two cases are ever the same.

This is where Adaptive Case Management comes into play. Adaptive Case Management, or ACM, is about guidelines and best practices (what Tom Shepherd calls guard rails). Is there a difference between adaptive case management and case management? Sort of. Case Management is traditionally related to "cases" handled by legal or health organizations, and there was concern that the term didn't clearly define the participant driven, "adaptable" process model that knowledge workers needed.

ACM as a Separate Market

The BPM market, of which ACM is a part, is really in a state of flux. There are a number of vendors offering a range of tools and technologies to support either structured or unstructured business process (or both). The range of features within these solutions also varies.

It has only been recently that analysts have started to recognize the BPM market as a separate market from enterprise content management. Forrester has said that ACM will become a standalone market sometime between 2012 and 2013. Ukelson sees it falling under a suite.

Dana Khoyi, VP of Product Development at Global 360, a BPM solution provider, told us that as analysts start making their lists, we will start to see vendors coming together on ACM and features settling down. What does Khoyi see as key features for ACM solutions?

  • Personalization/ the ability to define what the process does
  • UX Personas: The ability to adapt and present the right information based on what the person wants to do

He also believes that email is here to stay, saying it's a nice way for an infrequent user to interact without having to go into the ACM solution. For Ukelson, though, email is a natural environment upon which to build an ACM solution (which is what ActionBase does).

The Focus for ACM in 2011

Adaptive Case Management is an evolving market and in 2011 we will continue to see it evolve and grow. We asked both Ukelson and Khoyi what they expect to see happen to ACM tools in the coming year and their responses were similar.

Ukelson sees a focus on the interface. In order to successfully replace email and spreadsheets as the primary tools for knowledge workers, ACM solutions must be easy to use and, at the same time, provide extra capabilities. In some cases, as with ActionBase, we will see solutions built on top of email, which is a natural environment (and we know isn't going anywhere anytime soon).

Khoyi also sees the interface as a key area of improvement, especially with the development of the persona-based model described above. In addition, Khoyi believes that BPM will be a part of ACM solutions, that there will always be a BPM component within most processes. You won't need to do as much process design, he points out, as over time, you will see design processes emerge that you can create "templates" for (again what Tom Shepherd calls guard rails).

Knowledge workers will always need to be in control of the process, but ACM will provide a great platform for organizations to learn from. As outcomes and patterns are captured for different processes, you can analyze them and put rules into place. You can then put in place guidelines and best practices (or this is where BPM can come into play). 

The end goal is to make knowledge workers more productive. As adaptive case management tools grow and evolve, we should expect see wider acceptance of them and a reduced reliance on older tools like email and spreadsheets which, while effective for the individual user, do not support a truly collaborative environment.