Case Management & BPM

There is an ongoing debate about whether Case Management is really BPM or is it completely separate. This is beyond polemics as a company that may have invested in a BPM platform needs to understand whether it needs a separate investment in a Case Management suite.

The strongest argument made for it being a separate capability is the static nature of a business process or more accurately of a business process definition. For example, if I have a conditional split, I have to map out all the options or lines coming out of the split. A process instance may take one or more of those lines but all possibilities have to be mapped out. In Case Management, however things can be more dynamic, that is, the actual lines coming out of a split can be determined during execution.

Although this may represent a problem for documenting a definition of a Case Management “process” it does not represent an execution problem. Most modern BPM engines support the creation of ad-hoc tasks as well as dynamic sub process instances whose number can be determined during execution.

So while we can make a case for making extensions to the BPMN standard so that we may be able to better describe dynamic scenarios, it is quite possible to build a complete case management solution with most advanced BPM execution engines.

Case Management and BPM: Real-world application

Let’s take the example of Customer/Client Inquiries in the Financial Services world. Nowadays there are multiple channels through which a client or a potential client can make inquiries of a financial services provider. This could be the phone, email, on the company web site, via social media outreach etc. The nature of the inquiries can vary in size and scope and complexity; from actual account servicing details to product/compliance/tax questions to almost anything. Most companies would like to track this well. Not only to provide better customer service but also as a source of information that can provide insight and guide decision making. Customer Inquiry Tracking & Servicing represents a case management problem. Since the domain of potential inquiries is vast, it is impossible to tie down a set of steps to service an inquiry. You can always hit a scenario that does not fit your map. Depending on the specific inquiry a different set of groups or business units may need to get involved to either service the inquiry fully or partially or to simply be informed about it.

Looking at some of the major BPM players like Pega and IBM BPM then one can see that Pega has excellent case management capabilities out-of-the-box allowing a faster time to market to build a solution for the problem described above. Similarly IBM BPM too has all the building blocks needed to build case management capabilities and such an inquiry management system that has the needed operational capability and visibility. Conversely most stand alone case management software always has a workflow engine behind it.

So in spite of its unique nature I consider Case Management to be a subset of BPM. If a BPM platform cannot provide case management capabilities it just means that the platform needs to broaden its definition of BPM and expand its capabilities. Every process has an objective but every process may not have a fixed set of steps to reach that objective.

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