A word about Case Management

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.

Pie’s Application Separation

Interestingly when I first read Pie’s tweet to advertise this post I thought it was going to be focussed on Content Enabling applications. I suppose it is but some of the applications he talks about content enabling are very close to the platform services being provided, e.g. WebPublisher and Centerstage. Does this mean I think it is wrong? No, not at all. Pie has exposed a model which is very interesting. With the Core Server customers would buy the platform and a way to interact with the basic services the platform provides, it would be interesting to understand where the line is drawn on Basic Content Services…e.g. is MOSS in this group?

For Applications Pie adds the likes of WebPublisher and Centerstage, the Documentum apps. In this space I see some separation between these style of products and the more vertically focussed implementations. Something more akin to:

– Extended Content Applications – those applications which are still focussed on providing horizontal content solutions but with enriched services focussed on a specific ECM Use Case such as Web Content Managment or Digital Asset Management;

– Business Solution Content Applications – those applications which are taking a specific business solution where there is a need to interact with unstructured content and providing the application to perform these tasks;

It is the latter which I am becoming increasingly interested in, I’m making some notes on a post about Case Management which I hope to post this side of Christmas.

So will Pie’s model work? Yes. Do I think the market is ready for this? Not yet, and I think it is the vendors who are the farthest away from this concept although CMIS should provide a vehicle for them to provide this. Take Documentum for example, with their CMIS release they have some very basic content services which they can expose…the decision they need to make now is which services form the rest of the platform services and how can they expose these in a way which enables CMIS to develop.

There is also a certain amount of kudos which is taken from having your app used by customers at the front end, moving ECM closer to being an infrastructure may not be something the vendors will necessarily embrace. But then how many times will you hear people say things such as “Documentum is a really annoying product” (Quote taken from a quick search of Twitter for Documentum)? The answer is quite high, and this is something which creates a poor reflection on Documentum as the users are typically complaining about the way they interact with the services and not necessarily the services themselves.

Any vendor that can shape themselves to providing the most scalable, performant, secure and compliant unstructured store which provides a rich set of services which can be used will be one step to establishing a differentiator for themselves. The second step will be to get a strong strategy of working with partners to use those services in business focussed applications such as Contract Management, Case Management and Purchase to Pay applications.

Blog Trends

I was just having a look at some of the stats on my blog and thought I would have a look at the stats for all time…..just which of my posts have seen the most hits. The top 5 is as follows:

Gartner Report
EMC Documentum and MOSS
Documentum Records Manager
Documentum Archive Services for Sharepoint

Interestingly the numbers are quite different, Gartner Report having nearly 3 times as many hits as Documentum Archive Services for Sharepoint. Of the top 5 the Liferay one is the one which surprises me the most, okay it is a detailed post but I did not think the subject matter would catch people’s attention. The others can be attributed, largely, to two keywords Gartner and Sharepoint.

Even more interesting is the bottom 5:

Information Architecture
Natives and Immigrants

The thing that strikes me is the brevity of the titles and the lack of product names in them. A couple of those posts still stand, at least in my mind, as valid and interesting, a couple are very brief and would probably be better served by Twitter (which I was not using at the time).

What to take from this….? Make sure the posts are titled well and use that to ‘bring the punters in’. However I don’t use this as a means to bring the punters in, this is a forum to put information and insights which may or may not be useful to people…just hitting home with one will be enough for me.

BTW I’ll be monitoring the hits on this post, if I’m right this will be near the bottom 5!