Site icon Big Men On Content

What is a case?

I read a great post yesterday by Alan Pelz-Sharpe “The Case for Case Management – and  Business Intelligence.”  One phrase however leapt off the page that I think is critical for those of us with ECM backgrounds. Alan says.

Essentially Case Management means applying rules (either automatically or manually) to documents to ensure that they recognize their relationship with one another, as well as with the people who use them and any associated business processes.

At the risk of over analyzing this is not “essentially” what case management is. Stepping into the case management world means subjugating the idea of documents to the concept of cases. The case needs to be managed otherwise it is just case “file” management. We cannot fall into a document centric pattern as we think about the coming generation of case management applications and be successful.

So this begs the question – what is a case?

To be fair, Alan states it this way because later in the post he addresses the instance of customers with preexisting case and content management systems. He is spot on with his observations on the developing importance of analytics, especially in bridging the divide between existing case and content systems.

The quote does call out the key concept even if it does in my opinion place undue weight on both document and rules. At the heart of case management is relationships. Patient to condition to doctor. Officer to crime to suspect to victim. Complaint to customer to store. Cases are containers for relationships. Cases though are core entities unto themselves and must be addressed as such from the beginning. It is not enough to relegate them to basic navigational roles or simple metadata classification of the documents they contain.

These containers establish the boundaries for the relationships they contain. Boundaries first in time but also in terms of scope. For example a civil court case comes into existence when a complaint is filed. The case contains the relationships between the plaintiff and the defendant. Between the attorneys and the litigants. If new complaints are made then they are by default outside the scope of the original case unless the a process is initiated to allow it to be added. Otherwise it is a new case.

Closure of the case establishes the point in time where the relevance of the container is diminished and responsibility for the application of rules shifts to records management where the discrete components are maintained until disposition.This is admittedly a bit of an idealistic view but the vision for case management in a content enabled world should not be constrained by the documents the cases contain. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts.

Two functions around the container stand out. The control of relationships between both structured and unstructured data entities and the progression of that container through a  lifecycle. Many ECM products have rich tools and API’s for representing different types of relationships. Countless customer implementations have modeled case management scenarios using these existing content oriented platforms. What is emerging now is the productization of the API’s and services that support this rich relationship management combined with the new tooling to make implementation easier and more supportable.

It is important to point out that there are just as many BPM vendors who promote case management from a process centric view that are pursuing these same customers.  These vendors and the integrators that implement them run the risk of emphasizing process over relationship management in just the same way as ECM vendors and SI’s do with documents. As trite as the saying is it is still true. Everything is not a nail just because we have a hammer. We need a bigger toolbox.

To sum up – my working albeit academic definition of case as managed by a system is “a time-bound container of relationships between a defined set of object types that establishes the scope for the application of rules through the lifecycle of the container.”

or you could just call it a folder 🙂

Please comment with your definition.

Exit mobile version