Adaptive Case Management: the road ahead?

This past July (2013), Keith Swenson and I were invited by Jorge Sanz (IBM Research) to write a position paper on the current state of adaptive case management, and challenges and the next steps ahead for the industry and academia, for IEEE Conference on Business Informatics. Here is an excerpt, you may read the complete paper, here.

The landscape of work in the organizations has changed significantly. Over the last decade automation has been a major focus of organizations in IT and in other work segments. As the result, a lot of less skilled workers have given their place to machines and software [25]. Workers today spend less of their time on routine tasks, most of which are often automated, and more of their time on things that really require thinking, than was possible just ten years ago. The challenge today is how to support higher skilled modes of work: knowledge work. We can also call this kind of work “unpredictable work” because one cannot predict in advance the exact course of what will be done. It requires thinking in order to figure out what to do. The exact course of what needs to be done cannot be known in advance, and this is the central challenge to the traditional way of designing IT systems. The name “case management” is used to talk about an approach that supports the knowledge worker, without requiring that the work be constrained to a set of pre-defined actions.
Indeed, between 25% and 40% of the workforce can be classified as knowledge workers today [1]. Knowledge workers include managers, decision makers, executives, doctors, lawyers, campaign managers, emergency responders, strategist, and many others who think for a living. While extensive software and tooling support are provided for routine tasks, this has been less the case for knowledge workers and case management. The state of the art in technology support for case management can be described as systems of record, today. These approaches rely on people maintaining consistent information records, using disparate applications and manually tracking pieces of information related to a case across different systems. Substantial information related to cases lives outside the applications, often in the personal inboxes of knowledge workers without being linked to and shared with other relevant applications. This fragmentation makes it hard to reconcile case information.

As technologist, we are biased to see this change in the work landscape as a technology trend. However, what the current practice in case management needs to realize is that we are seeing a fundamental shift in our workforce, and in the ways they are managed. Not only are companies engaging their customers in new ways — using social media, mobile computing devices, and social networks — but managers are engaging workers in similarly transformed ways. The office is being transformed from an assembly line for the processing of forms, to far more agile and effective patterns for accomplishing organizational goals. While knowledge workers try to leverage recent technology developments in managing case work, there is a need for new approaches to support knowledge work in an integrated, flexible, worker-driven and holistic manner.
The term adaptive case management refers to managing the work needed to handle a case in a flexible manner by adhering to the principle of planning-by-doing, considering the work context, and the ability to accommodate changes in the environment and the work context [3]. Today, knowledge workers use a mix of applications (emails, communication, document and where applicable workflow management applications) and human work. Indeed, the majority of cases (74%) in Fortune 1000 companies are managed using multiple applications or are mostly done manually [3]. Some of the issues in this context include the fact that critical information to the handling of cases live in disparate systems, information loss on workers’ hand offs, workers who are not on sync, and the fact that communication and information exchange tools (such as email, chat and other tools used for sharing case information) are un-aware of the work context.
In this writeupe, we provide a brief overview of case management historically and offer a framework for understanding the work spectrum in the enterprise (doing a comprehensive survey is beyond the goals of this paper). We highlight research challenges in supporting knowledge workers, and review few recent work and products that take initial steps in this supporting knowledge workers. We describe a grand vision for an architecture of software systems for supporting knowledge work.  Continue reading here.

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