Sunday Jun 09, 2013

Making a Case for Case Management

Enterprises need to achieve business results. In order to achieve the right business results, they often find themselves balancing their processes between being
  • Flexible yet Rigid
  • structured while unstructured
  • predictable yet cater to the unexpected
  • managed but free

It would be evident that this fine art of balancing requires trade-offs on both ends of the spectrum. 

In the recent years, several enterprises have implemented automated business processes to bring structure to multitude of activities during transaction processing. The business processes themselves have gone through multiple optimizations to suite business needs over the years. The optimizations follow the path of
  1. Straight thru Processing: These optimizations start with increasing straight-thru-processing and reducing the manual activities
  2. Increase visibility: Increasing visibility on both manual as well as automatic(system) activities. The visibility could range from reporting on monthly SLAs & KPIs of the processes to near Real-time reporting. 
  3. Process Control: ultimately leading to better process control
If we take the narrow view of a business processes, we could easily fall into the trap of making structure a prerequisite for implementing BPM. This is really not the case though, each business process can have varying degrees of 

  • Predictability: The sequence in which tasks & events are executed are known. In highly predictable processes there is little or no change in the sequence.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility allows the process to reach different results every time the process executes. The ability to reach different results is based on business dynamics and modeled as rules
  • Visibility: If we have low predictability & high flexibility, what will business owners do with the KPI metrics they collect? the process is unpredictable anyway.

Let me use a  simple metric called "score" to rank the degrees of predictability, flexibility and Visibility required on process execution & plot it on a radar chart

 Process Characteristics  Score (1..10), 10 Highest
 Predictability  3
 Flexibility  8
 Visibility  3

You can easily now see that the above scores show the process in question is high flexibility with low visibility & predictability. This process I believe would require a "Case". When you design(structure)a case, you are designing for unpredictability.

This looks good in theory, but in real tangible terms, what is the advantage to business to design a case rather than a business process? For that, let me use my favorite example, the Loan Origination Solution. If you closely look at the LOS example that is implemented, you'd see that we are following the path of structure, for example,
  • The decision making follows a more the structure approach of Branch --> Zone-->Region-->Central as would be followed by any bank in India
  • Business Rules decide the level of approval based on values such as loan amount, Net worth of loan seeker, customer credit scores etc.,
  • Canceling the loan means just terminating the loan process.
  • and several other sequential activities
Modeling the Loan Origination Solution as a Case would require some new thinking!!
  • The decision making should done by stakeholders of the case rather then structured management hierarchy
  • The activities could be modeled based on milestones instead of sequence of activities
  • each case would be handled by a case manager 
  • Canceling a loan is just one many case events that the solution allows for. It does not necessarily terminate the case
  • The case activities themselves could be either modeled as BPM processes or simple Human Tasks
  • Below is the brief story board design of the case, quite a departure from earlier storyboard

Monday Jun 03, 2013

The Curious Case of Morning Routine: A Simple Example of Case Management

Here is an example of Case Management I tried out over the weekend. It is a Case of a Person's Morning Routine. Every person performs certain tasks every morning, but, perhaps not in the same order. A Person may choose to not perform some of the tasks too.

Some of the morning activities of a person may include

  • Brush Teeth
  • Jog
  • Shower
  • Get Dressed
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Check Email

Every Person may handle the morning routine differently. A Person may even choose not to perform an activity as part of the routine. I've illustrated some sample routines

You will notice that the routines are different, but, certain patterns could emerge out of each case, for instance, activity "Get Dressed" always succeeds Shower. There can be other patterns based on time taken for each activity. If we wanted to add complexity the case of Morning Routine, we could parallelise tasks and model Eat Breakfast & Check Email together.

When the number of persons increase you could potentially detect patterns based on the persons age, sex, country and so on. There are many possibilities!!.

I have developed a bare bones case management application using Oracle BPM PS6. It includes

  • The case itself
  • Each case activity modeled as a BPMN process
  • Business rules to trigger case activities
  • Case UI (This one is from the sample Case Management UI)
  • etc.,


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