Why Case Management Needs Content Management


One thing that I have observed in the last month or so is that people think that I either don’t understand Case Management or think that Content Management vendors shouldn’t be messing around with Case Management.  Well, both those observations would be wrong.

I thought I would take a moment to share some of my Case Management experiences and why I think that Content Management vendors NEED to be involved in solving the problem.

My Case Management 101

As I’ve discussed previously, well over a decade ago I was the tech lead for a Correspondence Management system for the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force (SAF).  The system was called SCATS (Suspense Control and Tasking System), and in the late 90s, it was the system for managing correspondence  for SAF.

It was pretty simple.  Incoming correspondence was scanned into the system.  The content was then OCRed and indexed.  Based upon the topic, it was assigned to an organization, who then assigned it to a sub-organization, and so forth.  This continued until it reached the Action Officer.

The Action Officer would work the case, potentially asking sibling organizations for input, and craft the response.  Once completed, it would work back up the chain for approvals, and depending on the signature required on the response, would go through a different review cycle before being printed, signed, and delivered.

Over the years, I learned that each piece of correspondence could be modeled as an individual case.  I encountered many other types of “cases” and learned that while the terminology varied greatly, the overall approach to successfully managing cases were the same.

  • Capture: All cases are triggered by something.  An email, letter, phone call, or form are examples of common things that can initiate a case.  These triggering actions need to be captured.
  • Classify: There is a process by which the case gets to the person or group that will work the case.  For very small organizations, this isn’t so much a process as a quick check against business rules that are either recorded or just known.  There must be enough information collected in order for this to occur.
  • Work: This is the gooey, collaborative center where the real work is done.  Research may be done to identify prior, similar cases.  Second opinions may be sought and it is possible that a whole team of people may work on a case.
  • Close-Out: Finally, there is the final process where the outcome of the case is reviewed, approved, carried-out, and then stored as a record.

There is a lot of variations in this and there can be quite a bit of complexity.  I’ve seen a process embedded in the Work stage, but in my years of experience, most cases can be boiled down to these four steps.

There are lots of little details for execution though.  The user experience for the case worker needs to be different than the one for those involved in the management of cases.  People don’t also don’t like changing between systems to work on cases.  You have to track lots of data about entities (people, locations, items) that may exist across multiple cases.

These complexities are why the one-size-fits-all approach has failed so effectively over the last fe decades.

Why Content Management?

One thing that is common across a majority of case management scenarios is content.  They pretty much all have content.  This is because you cannot model every conceivable piece of data or identify/control every possible source of data.

When you have an car insurance claim, there are reports and inputs from third parties that don’t all collect the same set of fields.  Your insurance company has several fields that they may need from the police report, but in the end, they still want that report faxed in as a supporting document so they have all of the data.

So, where do we store this content?  In a BPM suite?  Well, most of those do okay with content, but they don’t always do well when it comes time to perform true collaboration.  They also have varying degrees of effectiveness in sharing common content, and data entities, between processes.

How about using a collaboration platform?  That does work will for more collaborative cases that are lighter on the defined processes, but many don’t scale well.  In addition, in order to have the ability to archive a case, you need to have all of the related artifacts in one unit, which usually translates into a workspace/site/room.  The number of these work areas can quickly become a nightmare for case workers.

There are other systems, CRM, that can also be brought to bear, but they all have weaknesses.

This is where Content Management systems come into play.  Most have decent collaboration interfaces, the ability to perform at least basic workflow, and Records Management.  This will usually get you to the 80% mark.  Some have full-fledge BPM capabilities while others have great collaborative workplaces.  Most importantly, they usually support CMIS, allowing content to be accessed by external systems.

What this means is that Content Management can readily be used to support Case Management, and in many ways, makes it easier.  Need a place for the gooey, collaborative “Work” for a case to take place, find a system with good collaborative features.  Have a nice area to work, but need some more advanced BPM or RM capabilities, now you can find a system to leverage.

What to start all over and just tie into existing systems for data?  A Content Management system may make a good starting point.

Obviously there are a lot of issues involved in making all of this work, but that is a topic for my next post…What we need from the Content Management vendors to support Case Management.

8 thoughts on “Why Case Management Needs Content Management

  1. Very interesting. I think for many businesses, case management is content management, in much the same way you outline it here. The big difference is the medium for the content management systems. Going digital is becoming more important, and by consequence, so is enterprise level content management with fast retrieval capabilities.

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    • Scratch “becoming”. It has been important. Some industries are just getting to the point where they are ready to address those particular problems. Others made the transition in the 90s. Every industry has a particular issue that triggers the need for Content Management. For the pharmas, it was all about drug submissions pushing them into the field, which only fits the Case Management paradigm in sub-components. For others, it was Sarbanes-Oxley which made RM a key feature and the need to keep corporate documents, also not Case Management. For the insurance industry, it was all about cases.

      For the medical profession, the Case paradigm works and is how a lot of providers will be, and have been, justifying the purchases. They are really starting the transition to EHRs. One thing that we, the Content Management industry, will need to do is to educate the Healthcare community about what standards and lessons learned already exist to help them in their transition.

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  2. John says:

    I’ve been thinking about this from the other way around: why does content management need case management? Namely, why does it need it in order to be explained or to be relevant? It is as though a big deal is being made out of one use of the concept … and I’m still not sure why.

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    • Content Management doesn’t need Case Management, however, because the inverse it true, there is a lot of money to be made by Content Management vendors by offering Case Management.

      A lot of my projects in the past have not been Case Management, and I am sure that will continue. Vendors that develop Case Management solutions at the expense of their core Content Management capabilities will do well in the short-term, but find their long-term prospects not so bright in the ECM world.

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      • John says:

        This sounds like the push for solution verticals to make “content management” applicable to difference businesses. From a theoretical level, it is all the same — CAD drawings, legal documents, medical records, etc. There are nuances that make each of those verticals want to feel special from a vendor, or so it seems. In the end, it is very much “how can content management work for you?”.

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  3. Al Brown says:

    Good Article. Case Management is important and probably the next area of innovation for ECM/BPM vendors. Case Management in my opinion consists equally of Content and Process (Structured or Ad-Hoc) and it is important for Content vendors to participate. It’s not just BPM + Rules. The filing cabinet of closed cases are as important as operating efficiencies for open/active cases.

    There is a new RFP at the Object Model Group (OMG) that is looking into specifying a Case Management modelling format.

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