Now I’ve been heavily involved in different aspects of Case Management for some time now, from a number of different perspectives, and one of the things which is being pushed heavily at the moment is putting ECM at the heart of the Case Management solution. CMSWire have posted two articles on this subject, Enterprise CMS Usage Scenario and ECMs that implement Case Management Frameworks.
I would recommend organisations looking at Case Management to be vary wary of jumping into an ECM solution without careful consideration. Why? Well one of the key reasons is embodied in the first article from CMSWire but has not been brought to the surface, early in the article they talk about what a Case is including:
“Case Have a Single Location Storage: In a case management system, the information regarding a given client will generally be stored in a single location and in single folder where everyone concerned can access and work on that information. BPMS do not necessarily need all users to have a 360 view, whereas in case management they do.”
Great, and I fully agree it should be possible when looking at the Case to have a complete view of the information related to that Case. However later on there is the following definition of ECM, itself taken from AIIM:
“the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization’s unstructured information, wherever that information exists.”
I’ve highlighted the key term in the quote, ECM is about managing unstructured information, such as documents, audio files, pictures and video files. They are not intended to be used as a Database, although each one can be used in such a way it is a far from ideal way in which to use them. So that leaves the question of where to store the structured information?
In many Case Management implementations one will find that a common construct of a Case is a person, e.g. an applicant in a registration process, a claimant in a Claims process or a suspect in a Criminal Case Management process. Even more important is the relationships that this person may have with the information in the Case, e.g. in a Criminal Case Management system a suspect may have a relationship with a victim, or was the subject of a digital interview. A person is something which is best modelled as a structured piece of information (N.B. I am not distinguishing between Relational or Object Oriented in this use of the word Structured). There are other aspects which are best modelled as Structured including Locations and Objects (such as Vehicles).
Therefore we have a situation where we need to model and manage structured and unstructured information.
Another typical requirement of a Case Management solution is the need to be able to manage the information associated with the Case for the relevant time periods, and to dispose of it properly when needed. This, Retention Management, is a common feature in EDRM systems, its even making its way into SharePoint in 2010! At first glance this is great, but a closer inspection we find that the Retention Policies tend to be driven by the Persons involved in the Case, e.g. in Claims Management it could be a defined period after the Case has been completed or may be driven by Data Protection Requirements, again focussed on the person. So if we have a situation where the structured data is not ideally suited to the ECM system but the Retention Policies are applied based on information held within that repository we have a problem to resolve.
Now I don’t suppose to have an answer to this problem but when looking at the Case Management needs it is important for people to really understand the mix of data they hold about a Case as well as the other requirements which need to be met. If the content is primarily unstructured then an ECM could well be the answer, if there is more of a mix then the solution will need to encompass products which can serve both needs….there will still be a need for ECM if there is unstructured content within that case which needs managing, its just a question of how much of a role does it play. This really backs up some of the points which Pie made in his recent post and which I responded to where the ECM product may just supply some of the platform services but the UI and other services are provided from other products.