When was the last time your work day went as anticipated? A predictable day with all data found on the first try, and a series of activities that occurred in a predefined well-mannered order? A day with no problems, no errors, no surprises? Not recently is my answer, maybe never! The reality is as knowledge workers we all need to deal with uncertainty in business.

A perfect day then is one where we’ve adapted to the unexpected, overcome the challenges, and managed the unpredictable nature of our business activities to accomplish our goals. I think that case management might be just the right technology to achieve this perfect day. Here is the first in my series of articles on adaptive case management and the role it can play to improve knowledge worker performance.

The Ascendance of Knowledge Work

As market forces continue to change, business leaders are searching for the best ways to deal with uncertainty and deliver improved performance. Most leaders are realizing that human capital represents one of their most important assets. In many cases, people are the organization’s best competitive advantage, whether the focus is continuous product innovation, superior service or faster response time. The book Mastering the Unpredictable references that knowledge work now accounts for 25% to 50% of all work, with the percentage growing. Businesses are taking a hard look at strategies to better serve knowledge work requirements, reaching beyond traditional technology and mindset to be more dynamic and collaborative.

In a March 2009 essay by McKinsey’s worldwide managing director Ian Davis entitled The New Normal, he wrote

The new normal will be shaped by a confluence of powerful forces -- some arising directly from the financial crisis and some that were at work long before it began. Through it all, technological innovation will continue, and the value of increasing human knowledge will remain undiminished.”

Many believe we are experiencing not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order. The question is, “What will normal look like?” McKinsey suggests that while no one can say how long the financial turbulence will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.

Business Challenges in the New Normal

As a result, adapting and improving mission critical processes has become increasingly important to survive and thrive in the new normal. Case management will prove essential to those efforts.

In their research report Dynamic Case Management – An Old Idea Catches New Fire, Forrester Research, Inc. describes major business drivers behind case management:

  • Increased need to manage the costs and risks of servicing customer requests -- like loans, claims and benefits
  • Greater emphasis on automating and tracking inconsistent “incidents” that do not follow a well-defined process
  • New pressure on government agencies to respond to a higher number of citizen requests
  • New demands that regulators, auditors and litigants place on businesses to respond to external regulations
  • Increased use of collaboration and social media to support unstructured business processes

All of these drivers reveal the increasing need for organizations to adapt to the unpredictable nature of business as it happens.

For banking and insurance, increasing compliance demands from federal, state and other regulatory bodies require more agile processes that can evolve and adapt on a continuous basis. Process improvements are needed that leverage the capabilities of existing personnel and applications, gathering and presenting information from disparate data sources for optimum decision-making to retain profitable customers and attract new customers through a myriad of distribution channels.

For the public sector, there are increasing demands to improve service delivery under tightening budget constraints. This is particularly difficult where the service requires the ability to adjust guidance in context based on events that occur as the service experience progresses, particularly in the justice or social services arena.

The commercial sector is seeing manufacturers and retailers deal with demands to cut costs without disrupting their supply chain. Retaining key suppliers, delivering new products and continuing to provide high quality customer service all require more dynamic and responsive processes along the value chain. This requires better ways to deal with exception processing in pursuit of the “perfect order” when orders fail to follow -- as they so often do -- the “happy path.” Market drivers are pushing customer-to-cash priorities in the financial supply chain and demanding process improvements that can maximize cash flow while holding risks to acceptable levels.

Adaptive Case Management Helps Businesses Win in the New Normal

The essential distinguishing characteristic of adaptive case management is the “unstructured” progression of a case from initiation to its final state. In case management, human judgment, external events and business rules don’t determine paths through a predefined diagram. Instead those factors determine at runtime which activities need to be performed and whether additional steps are required.

Moreover, a case is rarely a single process in the conventional BPM sense. It is a collection of processes and isolated tasks, the number and identity of which cannot be fixed by a predefined template or rules.
Conventional BPM can manage the various individual processes involved in a case, but it has difficulty managing progress of the case as a whole. In case management, the case folder provides overall coordination of the entire case, partially defined in advance, but with the flexibility to change in real-time as each case proceeds.

Case management solutions enable a shift from the predefined, model-driven approach of traditional business process management to providing user-focused capabilities that allow people to adapt to business in real time. With case management, executives leverage their workforce to achieve 25-30% productivity gains in their business units and across their value chains.

In what is at best an uncertain world, case management presents a better way to accomplish work, dealing with unpredictable, complex problem areas that can provide critical competitive differentiation. The result -- case management solutions are delivering on boardroom priorities: improving current year measures and driving transformative change.

In my next article I’ll highlight the case management strategies that are being used to improve decision making, eliminate paperwork from processes and enhance the overall customer experience.