Tom Shepherd is Director of Case Management for Global 360. In addition to driving product strategy for Global 360’s industry-leading case management solutions, his work at Global 360 involves helping customers realize significant business benefits through the adoption of case management solutions. Tom’s career spans fifteen years as a software solution provider in the business process management (BPM), enterprise content management (ECM), and business rules industries. His experience includes working with some of the largest companies worldwide on a variety of business process improvement projects. You can read more of Tom’s writing at http://www.tomshepherd.net and @TomShepherd on Twitter.
Pega have recently acquired Chordiant and recently at a Forrester Tweet-up they talked about a convergence between CRM and BPM. Do you see a convergence happening in the market between sectors that are dissimilar on the surface ?
I do see convergence starting, but I’d clarify that I don’t believe that CRM and BPM (or any of the other TLAs describing software segments) are dissimilar in what they are trying to achieve. What I see are different software solutions trying to skin the same cats, albeit in slightly different ways. I say this having worked with a number of insurance providers over the past decade to try and solve the same problems with different tools ranging from a business rule / configuration engine to enterprise content management platforms to business process and case management solutions. In the end, companies are really just looking for a way to deal with the processes that provide them with a competitive differentiation (and therefore are relatively complex and not so cookie-cutter). There’s actually a post or two on my blog that loosely deals with this concept as well.
To your point, Pegasystems has traditionally been labelled a BPM company, but a lot of their traction has been in customer-service business problems, effectively CRM types of problems. Acquiring Chordiant seems to me to be a natural evolution. Now take a look at the market for what Forrester is calling Dynamic Case Management (or Adaptive Case Management by the WfMC). You’ll see a great mix of vendors from traditionally separate segments including niche case management providers, BPM, enterprise content management (ECM), and CRM players.
So yes, there’s convergence on providing a better platform to deal with complex business problems.
What’s your definition of BPM ?
From where I stand, BPM is an approach to managing the business problems that a company and the surrounding ecosystem face in every day operation. When I think of the business process lifecycle, it includes process analysis, modeling, execution, (hopefully) optimization. I say hopefully because too often I’ve seen companies take a once and done approach to automating a process that leaves out the continuous improvement aspect of the cycle. BPM platforms provide a means to automate some or all of this process lifecycle, usually with a focus on capturing the model or map of the business process.
And what’s the difference between traditional BPM and Case Management ?
I take a somewhat heretical view here and believe that BPM is really a subset of case management (ACM). Let me clarify before you write the idea off. If we look at a typical problem that ACM should or could solve, there are aspects of it that can be completely ad-hoc, unstructured, non-repeatable, chaotic, or whatever word you want to use to describe it. The fact of the matter is, you don’t know and can’t predict with certainty when a customer will call to cancel an order mid-stream, when a major software defect will require a shift in development resources, or when a judge will overturn a ruling. And if you can’t predict it, you really can’t predefine or model it.
Yes, there’s all kinds of things you can do to try and capture all the possible permutations a process may take, and you can leverage business rules to try and make it easier to manage, but at what point do you decide that trying to predict the future is impractical and simply give users the tools to deal with business as it happens?
With that said, there are definitely times when a structured, pre-defined process model is valuable, and being able to leverage those processes within the context of a case (where the case represents the customer or order, the development plan, or the legal proceeding), is critical. This is where traditional BPM capabilities are important for all the reasons we’ve talked about for years, for example eliminating re-keying of information, automating non-value-add tasks, providing a standard approach to dealing with work.
I also believe that a major difference between traditional BPM and case management is in the assembly line approach to work enforced by BPM tools. Many BPM tools still require serial processing of work because of the mechanics underlying the work packet or process instance where it needs to be locked before a user can do the work. Case management solutions should be designed from the ground up to encourage collaboration at run-time where there is no need for locking, enabling multiple parties to work on the case simultaneously. When you apply for a mortgage there are numerous tasks that happen simultaneously (or nearly so) including a title search, underwriting, property inspections, etc. We care less about the order in which they happen than we do in the fact that they get done by a certain time and that they are audit-able. In reality, we have little control over the actual steps these go through when the title search and property inspection are done by third parties.
Case management allows the case (in this example the mortgage) to become the coordinating object with which all parties interact, allowing for integration of structured processes only where necessary and valuable.
Gartner talks of managing ad-hoc processes and Forrester speaks about ‘Dynamic Case Management’, is this something emerging in the Case scene ?
I think it’s a revival of a concept that’s been around for a while. Case management isn’t exactly new, but there’s renewed interest in using case management to deal with some of the more complex business problems enterprises face. Often these are the processes that provide competitive differentiation, so it’s critical that the solution put in place doesn’t inhibit the knowledge workers who typically do the work and force them to create workarounds. I personally believe that people are reali
zing that some processes are just too unpredictable to model up front,
and that to support those processes they need far more flexibility like that inherent in case management.
With that said, Gartner, Forrester, and organizations like the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) are trying to put a stake in the ground by defining what this next generation of case management really is. So while there are vendors who have been providing case management solutions for the better part of a decade (Global 360 for one), I expect to see an evolution of the capabilities they provide. This is especially true in light of the convergence we talked about above where vendors coming from different segments will initially have varied solution sets.
Forrester recently said they’ll be turning to the process professionals more in 2010 and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant underwent a makeover in how they approached their analysis last year. Do you still see a need for the kind of research which is perceived to be vendor led given the rise of independent professional blogs and insights ?
I’m excited to see the rise of independent professionals and think that in some ways, this is the one of the waves of value we’re seeing from the viral spread of social media. The instant access to information from a much broader set of professionals is extremely encouraging. The value to me is that with a little due diligence, people looking for insight into methodologies, solutions and experience can find a broader array of information much quicker.
I also think that there’s a lot of opportunity for smaller companies who have struggled for visibility with the market to be able to demonstrate what they’re capable of where they might previously have been overlooked. I think the traditional analyst research still has a place as it’s established and some companies will always look to those firms for their advice. The change I think we’ll see is more collaboration and communication from those analysts to meet the demands of the new clientele who expect accessibility and instant information (and we’ve seen that already with people blogging and contributing to Twitter streams).
‘Social BPM’ seems to be creating a wave that appears to be knocking down a lot of silos, is it revolution or hype we’re seeing right now and if revolution, is it purely a customer focused initiative or do you see it affecting how we work internally too ?
I look at the term Social BPM as a general shift in approach in advance of new capabilities that we’ll see implemented over time. So from that point of view, yes, it’s a bit of a revolution. It’s not unlike the consumerization of applications internal to the enterprise. Think about the impact that Amazon.com
and Google had on our expectations of how enterprise systems should work. “What do you mean I can’t simply type a few words and figure out what work I need to do?” “What do you mean you can’t tell me when exactly my life insurance policy will be issued?” Social technologies are having the same kind of impact across the enterprise and beyond. Peoples’ usage of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Gist, Plaxo, FourSquare, and other platforms are driving innovation in the enterprise software community as they look to interact with their work networks in the same ways as their personal ones.
So the short answer is that I see Social BPM a catalyst for change.
With a few vendors picking up on the iPhone success and launching BPM focused apps do you see an increase in BPM or Case Management becoming mobile ?
There are clearly business problems that are natural candidates for increased mobile adoption; law enforcement, supporting recovery efforts after natural disasters, even insurance claims could all benefit from on-the-ground capabilities. Platforms like the iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, and Windows Mobile 7 are extending the reach of mobile applications beyond the traditional mobile professional armed with a laptop and dial-up / wifi / aircard who might have been a candidate for mobile applications even back in the early 1990’s. Form factor and the widespread usage of “smart” phones has definitely helped drive interest, presumably because people already carry devices that they are comfortable using. During the course of user research for next generation capabilities, participants certainly ask the question “why can’t I complete my tasks using my iPhone?” and “shouldn’t I be able to access this casefolder from my Droid?”
It feels like we’ve reached a tipping point of acceptance, again largely due to consumer adoption of technology.
What would you like to see as the next big step in BPM ?
First is a move away from the focus on modeling and towards improving how people do their work with improved capabilities and user experiences. Starting with a better framework and providing end-users with enhanced control over their environment is key, especially as new generations of users enter the workforce with higher expectations of what their application experience is.
Second is continued convergence. In BPM alone we have human-centric, document-centric, system-centric, etc. Add case management to the mix. Throw in CRM and enterprise content management (ECM). Toss with business rules and analytics. Take a dash of business process guidance (BPG). Shake it all up and show me what you end up with. If it’s done right you have a highly flexible, adaptive platform on which to build business solutions that solve the toughest problems enterprises face. When
I think about the future of Social BPM and Adaptive Case Management, this is what I picture as the end-state.
And finally, what next for Tom Shepherd ?
Most immediately it’s the launch of the book “Mastering the Unpredictable” with the Workflow Management Coalition in April at the Process.gov
event in Reston, VA. The book is a collection of essays on Adaptive Case Management and how to better deal with knowledge work. Rather than a single consolidated piece, the book is written by a number of industry leaders in case management and BPM, each with a slightly unique view of what ACM is and how best to apply it. It’s been a great project to be involved with and has been particularly exciting given the recent surge of interest in the subject.
Longer term I’d like to see a community of sorts created around case management, so I’ll be trying to determine if that’s viable and more importantly, valuable.
After that, back to doing some blogging, customer research for the next big thing for case manage
ment, and generally trying to get people thinking
about that converged solution we talked about.