The rise of knowledge work is making it more important to have a strategy addressing improvements for untamed manual processes in paper-intensive environments. In this second article in my series on Adaptive Case Management (read the first one: How Adaptive Case Management Helps Businesses Overcome Challenges and Improve Performance), I discuss the role that adaptive case management technology can play in that strategy.

The Challenge of Knowledge Work

In the recent McKinsey article “Rethinking Knowledge Work: A Strategic Approach,” Tom Davenport issues a challenge:

In the half-century since Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge workers,” their share of the workforce has steadily grown -- and so has the range of technology tools aimed at boosting their productivity. Yet there’s little evidence that massive spending on personal computing, productivity software, knowledge-management systems and much else has moved the needle... It’s time for companies to develop a strategy for knowledge work -- one that not only provides a clearer view of the types of information that workers need to do their jobs but also recognizes that the application of technology across the organization must vary considerably, according to the tasks different knowledge workers perform.”

Applying case management for business improvement can help address this challenge by focusing on better ways to accomplish the continuum of knowledge work, dealing with complex problem areas that can provide differentiation. Examples of the breadth and adaptability of case management include activities surrounding a patient record, a lawsuit, an insurance claim, a disputed order, a citizen service request or a contract. Throughout all of these examples, the common theme is the need for human involvement in the process.

Human Judgment is the Common Theme

There is always human judgment involved with case management, though the amount depends on the degree of structure for the case type or pattern. The case management approach seeks to amplify rather than replace human knowledge and collaboration in those case patterns to improve productivity and business outcomes.

With a case management strategy, organizations have achieved 20% to 35% current year productivity gains in their respective industries, and have sustained those results through permanent changes that eliminate paper, innovate and extend services through online channels, and create improved collaborative decision making environments.

The Role of Technology

As organizations pursue a strategy to use case management for transformative change, technology can help guide and accelerate time to value. Forward-thinking organizations are wielding technology in several creative ways:

  • Invest in knowledge work
  • Design for user adoption
  • Use fit-for-purpose tools

Invest in Tools for Knowledge Work

There is a central tenet in case management of enabling knowledge work and workers. Further, there is an understanding that driving effective human interaction -- by enabling “smarter workers” -- has an enormous ability to positively affect business outcomes.

There is a balancing act between “free-access” and more “structured” approaches (as Davenport calls them), but the desired outcome should be the same in my opinion -- autonomy for the knowledge worker to accomplish their goals using their best judgment. It is our responsibility to provide the environment, technology and information to enable that to happen in a productive fashion. Traditional BPM process automation techniques are effective when the process is predictable and repeatable. According to the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC),

In contrast, knowledge work involves processes where goals and certain tasks are well established, yet the exact sequences of these vary with each case. These processes are not nearly as predictable as those found with traditional applications, business process management and workflow, but the need for achieving productivity in knowledge work has never been greater.”

Using a case management approach enables organizations to invest in “smarter workers” by delivering intuitive, context- and content-aware process applications and collaborative capabilities to support and guide the daily work of process participants. This is often called the “guardrail” approach by my colleague Tom Shepherd. Adaptive case management delivers that autonomy. This includes richer “workbenches” for knowledge workers and integration of social technologies, such as improved collaboration tools and improved support for process participants via capabilities such as mentoring and self-adjusting processes.

Design for User Adoption

Despite automation gains, industry processes are still heavily people- and paper-oriented. So, it stands to reason that improving the way business is done means finding new ways of handling information and revamping manual processes. In its global survey “What Successful Transformations Share," McKinsey advises that, given the importance of collaboration, leaders at companies starting a transformation should put a priority on finding efficient and scalable ways to engage employees.

In a digital era characterized by increased collaboration, organizations are shifting from a purely IT-centric strategy to create dynamic, business-driven process solutions. A critical element in that shift is the renewed emphasis on designing user-centric environments and controls. Part of this growing trend is the move to support less-rigid patterns of work. For maximum impact, these process improvement initiatives must have an obvious and direct impact on each individual stakeholder. Further user-centricity requires the availability of context-driven content and the ability to support decisions via the integration of all pertinent data, tasks, milestones, discussions, events, policies and processes. Collaborative case management is responsive to less-prescriptive processes where work is centered on and driven by the process participants.

Managing and controlling processes is what we are ultimately trying to achieve. The fact is that most work processes, including the hardest ones to control, are carried out by people rather than computer systems. To amplify human-driven processes, leading organizations are including user work study and a focus on user interface design in their business improvement strategies.

Accelerate Process Improvement with Leaner “Fit-for-Purpose” Tools

As the global economy begins its recovery, organizations do not want to return to the “business as usual” of the past. There is an increasing demand for lean tools to get more done with fewer resources. Case management meets this demand.

First, case management itself is a “fit-for-purpose” technology that can be tailored to a particular process role to provide exactly what is needed to accomplish the work. Consider, for example, case management solutions for new insurance policies that provide an underwriter “workbench,” where there is a need to involve and balance people, paper and process and where human judgment often is required for exception handling or contextual decision making. In addition, case management can support projects for faster time-to-impact across the value chain.

Some case management technologies can provide a leaner fit-for-purpose approach by delivering a more component-based toolset to enable configurable solutions, providing greater impact at a lower cost. Faster-time-to-impact can also be driven by case management’s ability to leverage an organization’s existing infrastructure as well as provide a scalable solution to support a wide range of implementation types -- from application-specific process improvements to transformational business initiatives. To drive down the cost of solution deployment, case management can sit lightly on top of legacy systems without a “rip and replace” required, and can leverage enterprise-wide technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint and Visio, for example.

Does your organization have a knowledge work strategy? What approaches are you using to assure that technology supports that strategy, and are they succeeding? In my next article, I’ll begin sharing case study stories and lessons learned.