Case closed? The difference between Dynamic Case Management (DCM) and Business Process Management (BPM)

Getting knowledge workers to be more productive is one of the great challenges of the twenty first century, writes PEX Network editor Diana Davis. Enter Dynamic Case Management. But what's the difference between it and Business Process Management?

Much of the past century looked at automating and improving structured, repeatable processes. But the twenty first century belongs to what management theorist Dr. Peter F. Drucker called the "Knowledge worker."

Dr. Robert Swaim, author of several books on the teachings of Dr. Drucker, explains that "in knowledge work the task of what to do is controlled by knowledge workers, they own the means of production (knowledge not machines), they decide what methods and steps to use, and they focus on what to do and to the right things or effectiveness."

Is this "so" last century's process?

These are workers such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, office workers, artists, social workers and many others. What they have in common is that they must decide what methods and steps to use (i.e. a machine can’t do it for them) in order to achieve a given outcome, usually by processing information and doing something with it.

The number of knowledge workers in advanced economics has dramatically increased in the past 50 years as manual and repetitive work has been outsourced to lower cost countries such as India and China. But figuring out how to make knowledge workers more productive has not proven as easy to do as achieving productivity increases in manufacturing.

Writing in an article for the McKinsey Quarterly Eric Matson and Laurence Prusak state:

"Organizations around the world struggle to crack the code for improving the effectiveness of managers, salespeople, scientists, and others whose jobs consist primarily of interactions—with other employees, customers, and suppliers—and complex decision making based on knowledge and judgment. […]The stakes are high: raising the productivity of these workers, who constitute a large and growing share of the workforce in developed economies, represents a major opportunity for companies, as well as for countries with low birthrates that hope to maintain GDP growth."

Enter Dynamic Case Management (also called Adaptive Case Management, Case Management or referred to by the acronyms DCM or ACM).

"Dynamic case management has become the new standard for managing work," claims BPM software vendor Pegasystems. "It allows you to manage not only the structured processes that are the province of traditional BPM, but also less structured, more collaborative work. It also allows you to link all of that work in a meaningful fashion, so that people or systems working on related pieces of work are not duplicating or contradicting each other's efforts."

So what’s the difference between Dynamic Case Management Business Process Management?

While there has been rather heated debate on this topic, basically the difference is in the execution and the focus.

The purpose of a stitch is to hold your clothes together but beware of using a buttonstitch when you should use a lockstitch...

Let’s take a slightly less abstract discipline: sewing. There is an incredible array of stitching techniques of which a skilled seamstress can make use: the zigzag lockstitch, the cover stitch, the cross-stitch, the hemming stitch, the buttonstitch, the topstitch, and the list goes on (but you get the idea).

At a high level all of those stitches serve the same objective – to bind fabric together so that our clothes don’t fall off when we wear them. But in execution, there are certain types of situations where you’d be more likely to use one stitch over another – sewing a button on versus hemming a silk dress, for instance. There are still certain elements that remain the same – a needle and thread are critical components of all stitches - but the technique and focus will be different.

In the same way, at the bird’s eye level, DCM and BPM also serve the same purpose within companies. They both help to organize the work that people and machines (including computers) do in order to create better performing companies.

But when the rubber meets the road, the situations in which you’d apply them and the way they are applied are very different.

Business Process Management focuses mainly on defining, optimizing and automating structured, repeatable processes. The general consensus is that BPM is more about increasing efficiency by applying straight through processing and reducing the number of human operators required to carry out a process. A finance department may use BPM to automate the billing and invoicing process or budget approvals, for instance. These are processes that require minimal human intervention and decision-making, except when exceptions arise.

Some may argue that Business Process Management can also apply to less structured processes, but Keith Swenson, Vice President of Research and Development at Fujitsu America Inc, writes that if you stretch the definition of BPM to encompass everything that a business does to improve and optimize its work, the concept quickly descends into meaninglessness.

"BPM remains important as a distinct practice of defining, measuring, and optimizing a process in abstract from a given case," he writes on an ebizQ forum. "BPM should not mean simply all means of making an organization perform better."

Dynamic Case Management, on the other hand, focuses on those processes that are unstructured or ad hoc. They are not repeatable and often require extensive interaction between human participants to achieve an outcome. The focus in Dynamic Case Management is on organizing work so that it’s easier for a knowledgeable person to make decisions and work on the details of a specific case. An example of the type of process where case management might be more appropriate is in healthcare where a doctor or nurse needs to decide the best course of action for a patient, or in the mortgage approvals process of a bank where case workers need to evaluate extensive documentation over time.

Nancy Pearson, Vice President of BPM, SOA and WebSphere Marketing, explains the difference between BPM and DCM quite simply: "Case management has a different "design goal" [from BPM] and focuses on optimization of outcomes for individual cases by providing an integrated set of information and services for the case worker."

Think about a traditional way of managing a police case, for instance. Maybe there used to be a file folder that would sit in a drawer that everyone who was working on the case would have access to. That folder would contain all sorts of information about the case such as details of the crime, the history of the investigation, contact details of the victim, lines of inquiry being explored by investigators, etc. It means that the person who is handling the case at any point in time has all the information they need to make decisions and carry out actions.

Computers have now made it possible to add all sorts of fancy features to this traditional file folder, enabling it to send out automatic alerts, centralize information, track case history, give views on metrics and reporting and many other features. When people talk about "Dynamic Case Management" they often refer more to this digitally pimped-up file folder – a way of not just storing information but automating parts of the process and giving case workers and managers greater visibility over progress and work in progress.

As a result, dynamic case management and business process management are closely inter-related. As John Tesmer, Senior Program Manager for Open Standards Initiative at APQC, says, effective process management is essential for case management.

"Considering that case management is about giving process performers at the cross-functional process level the opportunity to direct the work of the value stream in an ad-hoc fashion, case management depends on the clear articulation, management, and in many cases automation of the sub-processes that perform the work to close the case," he writes on ebizQ. "So if anything, interest in case management will drag along process folks and cause them to focus more on the management of their stuff. They're sort of pulling in different directions, but expanding the field for intelligent, transparent, and effective management of organizations as a whole."

There’s also some discussion on whether DCM will come to eclipse BPM in importance.

Keith Swenson, Vice President of Research and Development at Fujitsu America, for instance writes that he believes that eventually BPM will have automated most of the "routine processes" and "it is inevitable that new support for work will shift more toward ACM [DCM]."

But what do you think? Is Dynamic Case Management just a subset of Business Process Management or is it a discipline in itself? Can you do DCM without doing BPM?

If you want to find out more about Dynamic Case Management, PEX Network will be running two webinars later this month on different ways that organizations can use Dynamic Case Management. The first will look at how Financial Services organizations can use DCM to help manage compliance challenges from new regulations such as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). To view more details or sign up, check out the details here.

The second webinar will look at how DCM can be used to help extend your core ERP platform to help guide and automate work to improve efficiency, accountability and compliance. Sign up for that webinar here.