By: Kris Collo, CEO, President and Founder, MicroPact
While “follow the yellow brick road,” proved to be a (mostly) helpful mantra for Dorothy and her pals in The Wizard of Oz, sometimes following the defined path can lead to the duplication of efforts and backtracking to gather necessary information. Just as Dorothy first arrived in the Emerald City only to be told she needed to go back and procure the broom from the Wicked Witch of the West, all too often enterprises follow a defined process only to realize at some point – usually after they’re way down the road — that they are missing vital information integral to completing the task.
Think Dorothy would have changed her approach had she known better, focusing more on the end result (the data) then the yellow brick road (the process)? Most likely. So why do organizations use the typical Business Process Management (BPM) approach? After all, it also emphasizes process over data. In fact, BPM’s core value is the continual maturing of processes to the benefit of the organization.
While defined processes can certainly be necessary and helpful, frequently the parameters of BPM are too narrow for the information-centric world we live in. While there is beauty in the theory that everything we do follows some optimized path, in reality, life is often messy. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to and there are typically outliers to almost every situation. This is where case management comes in.
Unlike BPM’s focus on the process, case management, which follows a “data first” approach, instead focuses on making sure the right data is in front of the right person at the right time so they can make the right decision. To that end, case management’s core value is in delivering an appropriate outcome for each case.
In fact, at a time when the majority of an organization’s information is captured and stored electronically, and as more work today is being viewed as “case-like” in nature, the move to “follow the data” rather than “follow the process” is becoming increasingly important. No longer does a cookie cutter process work for systems that are dealing with unstructured data, which can include things as simple and varied as emails, forms, video testimonials and photographs, to name a few. Systems that manage things like university admissions, mortgage applications, veteran’s disability benefits questionnaires and appeals over denied healthcare claims require flexibility and the ability to “file” all necessary documents in one electronic manila folder.
This is not a new problem, either – just ask the U.S. Postal Service, which is preparing to suspend Saturday mail delivery. That’s because every day organizations are moving away from traditional means of contact, such as so-called snail mail, and are instead relying on online information that is automatically captured in a database and hopefully routed to the right person internally.
Another prominent example is the IRS and the ability for citizens to file their taxes online. While there is certainly a process we all go through to complete and file our taxes, there is no right or wrong way to do so. Do it yourself online, put pen to paper or hire a tax professional – in the end, it’s all the same, and all that truly matters is the data, the tax forms and supporting documents. Additionally, just as the IRS likely has a process in place for how they review received tax forms internally, their first step is to make sure all the necessary information has been received. Without complete and accurate information (data), IRS agents won’t be able to provide an appropriate outcome for the case regardless of what process they follow. In this situation it is the data that is king, not the process.
Whether you work for the IRS, in university admissions or in the mortgage lending department of a bank it’s easy to see that moving down a defined path without the right or complete data is like trying to fit a full-length couch into the back of a Smart Car – futile and foolish. Instead of building a system with defined processes and trying to make the data fit, a case management approach will allow you to build the system you need to fit the data you have while only building in as much process as is necessary.
All of this is not to say that BPM has no place in the enterprise or that case management and BPM are mutually exclusive of each other. I would actually contend that the best systems should contain elements of both. However, as more work is viewed as “case-like” and many of today’s knowledge work processes do not follow a structured path, it’s important to look for ways to accurately capture necessary data, and not just blindly follow the yellow brick road.
Kris Collo is the CEO, President and Founder of Herndon-Va., based MicroPact. MicroPact serves more than 200 federal agencies and organizations, as well as Fortune 500 companies, through the development of advanced Case Management and Business Process Management software.