Enterprises need a cohesive approach based on Case Management

Rise of Case Management – Handling of unstructured processes

Enterprises have leveraged business process management (BPM) to address the structured and controlled set of business processes in the past. There’s another school of thought that considers BPM as a discipline covering a wider set of approaches to handle a variety of business processes. However, largely, in a BPM-based approach, you study and model the process then you go ahead and build it into the BPM platform (engine). Once you have deployed it in the production environment, your organization executes it as it was modeled, you monitor processes, extract the required analytical information and then use the same modeling environment to fine-tune and optimize the process, before going through the implementation and execution cycle again. This has coincided with what companies around the world have been wanting to achieve in Continuous Process Improvement through the nineties and the majority of the first decade post millennium. BPM system in that sense, so far has been an enabler for industries to meet efficiency and process improvement goals.

This BPM approach that allowed enterprises to create a Command-and-Control environment was based on what Taylorism dictated in Industrial economy. What Taylor proposed was to identify how workers spent their time while executing their tasks and look at areas of wasted motions in the process. When businesses wanted to improve their operations in the nineties, they looked at technology as an enabler for the same objectives to begin with – waste reduction and continuous improvement of processes.

By factoring processes into discrete, unambiguous units, scientific management laid the groundwork for automation and off shoring. In their world, it was humans that would execute the optimized processes. One of the common threads between their world and ours is that the agents of execution need not be “smart” to execute their tasks. Once the time-and-motion men had completed their studies of a particular task, the workers had very little opportunity for further thinking, experimenting, or suggestion-making.
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However, in the last decade,  consumer behavior has changed drastically and digital has created an environment where enterprises are forced to find better ways to achieve customer-centric outcomes and go beyond efficiency. Hence, Case Management became an alternative to business process management system  for addressing the needs of dynamic or unstructured processes.

However, unfortunately, the treatment of BPM solution and Case Management on ground has been in either/or mode. This leads to problems because most business process areas cannot be differentiated distinctly as structured or unstructured. Every business process area has flavors of structured processes as well as unstructured processes. Organizations have struggled to find the right balance between the two choices as the platforms have remained separate for the structured and unstructured scenarios.

Enterprises need a different approach to delight their customers

In the digital world, customer experience is no longer a differentiator, but a fundamental expectation. Customers expect the same experience from large enterprises as they do from new age start-ups. Process SLAs and customer service norms do not qualify as guiding rules. Customers expect real-time response and continuous engagement. Every interaction with the customer needs to be designed and mapped to ensure the right message and action at the right time. Now, while enterprises have always claimed to aim for customer centricity, the gaps in processes are more pronounced now than ever before.

Customer centricity can come in many forms and may be driven from various directions.

Customer complaints need to be handled in context. There’s an organizational view and then there’s a customer view. From the organization’s perspective, the incident reports and customer complaint records would tell you that all is going well within the defined SLAs, processes are being done the way they’re supposed to, and people are working as they should. However, if you’ve been on the other side, at the receiving end as a customer, then you would agree that organizations are typically slow to respond and many a time the complaints are not even handled in the right context. It’s just too easy to lose the context it may seem.

While the incidents are resolved in the stipulated time, considerable time is spent  waiting for the incident to reach  the right person. Also, at times, the right skilled resources are not even involved in handling the problem since processes are sometimes just too rigid to allow you to do that. Imagine speaking to a customer representative while wanting to speak to a technically qualified person; but customer services can act like a wall at times. What’s needed in incident management and customer complaints management is the ability to involve the knowledge workers in time and the flexibility to go out of the way to act in customer context. This is because in a customer facing process, it’s nearly impossible to foresee and model all the circumstances beforehand. Also, an integrated content management system and BPM software is critical for an effective process implementation since access to the right information and documents is important for creating the right context.

Employee grievance is as critical

While customer-centricity calls for an intense focus to deal with customers in their contexts, an employee as an internal customer is as critical. An employee today has access to the increasingly digital interfaces across various aspects of life and expects no less from the employer. The environment is also becoming more challenging from regulations as well as competition perspective. The regulations such as Equal Employment Opportunity make it critical for organizations to record, store all transactions and historical background in their processes, and require that the right authority is involved in making decisions.

Also in an increasingly competitive world, the employees have visibility to opportunities outside and if they do not get access to the right authorities with flexibility in processes, a minor grievance can result in undesirable results for the organization. Bringing in the same level of customer-centricity in internal employee grievance processes is important. The approach to this must call for a similar balance between control and flexibility.

Handling of contracts is not just about suppliers

Organizations today are challenged by the imperative to handle customers and employees well. On the other end of spectrum, dynamic cost structures and increasingly complex contracting are making contract management an important area of focus, especially for organizations dealing with multiple and dynamic  service providers and suppliers. For many industries, such as healthcare, retail, and manufacturing, the ability to manage provider or supplier contracts effectively can have a direct bearing on overall efficiency of the revenue cycle. Regulatory compliance also requires organizations to have a tight process around contracting with the ability to have complete control over the contract lifecycle from authoring, negotiation, approval, execution, renewals and audits.

The end-to-end process, while standard in many ways, is also very fluid and requires exception handling through the long- living process. Additionally, a contract management process requires a well-integrated content management system for easy access and versioning of documents. The inherent nature of the contracts process is such that it calls for an exceptional route to be created for faster access to a particular service. Hence, a balance between structured and emergent approach to handling processes is needed in this area.

Product recalls are a process fault, but of a different kind

Product recalls are expensive. Toyota has had it, Honda has had it, Volkswagen has had it, Ford had it too. Nestle had to face a blanket ban on instant noodles for months costing more than half a billion dollars to the company. Chipotle faced federal investigation and tremendous loss of customer goodwill due to a series of outbreaks with stocks diving into a multi-million-dollar freefall.

And while these and all other organizations prone to such risks continue to look for a solution, it’s important to understand the recall situation. Why recalls even come into picture is that sometimes out of multitudes of incidents, some need to be paid special attention and managed to fall through the cracks.

Now, these cracks are not necessarily in the process but rather caused by the process being too tight to allow for timely interventions. Inability to involve the right authorities and experts is a process fault – fault of being too rigid for efficiency and for not being context-sensitive. Also, once recall is identified, getting the right resolution in place quickly becomes critical for  damage control, thereby, again demanding  flexibility in the process without losing the appropriate level of control.

Case Management – The right approach for managing processes

There are many commonalities among these examples. We have had systems and processes that handle these situations in a process-centric manner. And often, these processes have been focused on efficiency.

While Taylor focused on Time study of industrial workers, BPM based process solutions depended on enforcement of a modeled process on people – unfortunately including knowledge workers!

However, what has changed is that these processes have become a fuzzy combination of structured and unstructured scenarios. To address this, organizations need a solution that can handle the traditional structured workflows as efficiently as the emergent situations . A  business process management-based workflow that drives efficient execution of a modeled process is important for a majority of these process situations. However, case management-based flexibility is needed over and above the structured workflow. What also makes these processes difficult to handle is the inherent need for a content management system that supports the workflow by providing the appropriate context for knowledge workers to take decisions quickly.

Customer-centricity, thus, is not only about a customer facing process to be driven in customer context. It is also about addressing the other aspects of the enterprise that are prone to unstructured situations and affect the ability of the organization to delight their customers. Ability to manage emergent processes through a combination of case management and BPM solution is critical and so is an integrated content management system for effective case management.

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