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We introduce in this blog series the concept of Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) - An emerging concept complementary to existing Business Process Management (BPM) concepts. My previous blog entries dealt with the Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) – An Introduction and Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) – What Constitutes a Case? of case management. In this third blog entry, we explain concepts for case management systems. Furthermore, we explore the inter-organizational dimension of the case management paradigm. We do not refer to any specific system, but describe potential system components. They can be relevant in the future, but it is not guaranteed that they will be available in any product. This blog entry is relevant for enterprise architects, product managers, researchers and developers.

Motivation

BPM or workflow systems exist since over three decades in research and industry.  Although still evolving, we have a good understanding on how to design and implement them. We briefly present here the requirements and solutions for case management systems, where we can leverage existing BPM capabilities, but also need to build up on new technology.

User Interfaces

An often overlooked, but very important aspect of case management is the User Interface (UI). I wrote in my previous blog entries that case management is about dynamically evolving processes centered around business assets. This implies a high collaboration between case workers that need to creatively work with processes involving data from various sources. Thus, they need to link dynamically applications and data to work on cases. Traditional UI technologies do not support this very well. New open web-based technologies and standards address this issue. I identified the following relevant standards for case management:

  • HTML5/Javascript: These standards are the foundations for a user interface for case management. They are useful for describing dynamically evolving documents, such as cases. An appropriate framework, such as jQuery, Google Web Toolkit (GWT) or Dojo, needs to be chosen to provide access to the capabilities of modern web browsers on mobile and desktop devices. The eXtensible Markup Language (XML) is the foundation for any document processed by a case management system. JSON can be used for lightweight communication between user interface and different servers. Nevertheless, there is still a need for sophisticated software engineering tools for HTML5/Javascript, so that we can develop sustainable and mantainable software.
  • Open Social Gadgets / Mashups: A case management system supports the case workers to generate, compose, analyze and distribute any information to other case workers and stakeholders. This can be done as follows:
    • Description of data:  As mentioned before, documents can be described using XML. More structured data and relations between data objects should leverage the capabilities of the linked data paradigm. Streaming data, such as stock market quotes, can be described using RSS feeds.
    • Visualization of data: Any data processed by the case worker requires a proper visualization, so that it can be useful for others. This visualization needs to be interactive, so that everyone can quickly analyze it. Interactive Scalable Vector Graphics based on Javascript seem to be very suitable for this task.
    • Sharing data: Once the case worker has produced, analyzed, composed  and visualized data, it need to be shared with other case workers and stakeholders. This should take into account his social network consisting of colleagues, friends and customers. The open social standard facilitates this.
  • Web Intents / Web Activities: New application functionality in the case management system can be composed by more advanced case workers using the aforementioned standards. They do not need to care about where other case workers work on a case (e.g. mobile, tablet or notebook). It is just necessary to articulate what needs to be done and depending on the device different available applications are connected to perform a complex task.
  • Web sockets: As mentioned, case management is highly collaborative and also requires collaboration in real-time. This requires a lightweight, but permanent connection with a web server from the browser. This is supported by the Web socket standard.

Some of these standards are currently under development. However, case management requires open standards that support the case workers to do the case work in a flexible and creative way. If it is not based on open standards then case workers cannot share their work with others. Furthermore, tool support for these standards seems to improve rapidly.

UI technology is the interface to case management systems that provide the functionality as well as processing capabilities for managing cases.

Case Management Systems

A case management system needs to support dynamic evolving processes (e.g. [3]), rule engines and integration of various application systems and data sources. Case management systems can contain the following components:

  • The case management engine supports the stakeholder of a case to manage it. This includes definition, execution and monitoring of cases. Obviously, it should support a common standard for enabling case management. For example, the Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) – An Introduction by the Object Management Group (OMG). The engine mainly has the following tasks:  
    • Support execution of a case and the Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) – What Constitutes a Case?:
      • Ensuring correctness of the model containing business assets, activities, rules and their relations
      • Activities executed by humans and systems processing case artifacts
      • Detect violation of rules and highlight them to the users, so they can be aware of issues to solve them
      • Discovering, sharing, analyzing, composing and generating knowledge
    • Monitoring and audit functionality
    • The people management component does not assign tasks to the people, but may recommend activities, business assets or data to them based on role, content, skills, social network or previous case executions
    • Provide persistency functionality for any case artifact, such as business assets, rule, activities, people, or data objects
  • The Case Library (CL) can be compared with a Business Process Library (BPL). The CL is used and updated by every stakeholder in case management, such as case worker, case designer or case owner. It provides the users standardized case knowledge (e.g. data and assets) and logic (e.g. rules and activities). It contains content from
    • external sources: this can be reference models of various domains (e.g. supply chain management or retail) from other organizations, such as COBIT, ITIL, Retail-H, SCOR or the Making the Case for Humanitarian Supply Chain Management reference model
    • internal sources: these sources support learning from previous executions of cases to improve them. This requires appropriate means to leverage tacit expert knowledge
  • Collaboration aspects are very important for case management. It is thus mandatory to share and discover knowledge (data and logic) inside cases with other users.  Furthermore, state of the art technology should support real-time collaboration (cf. Apache Wave or SAP Streamwork) on any Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) – What Constitutes a Case? (e.g. data, documents, rules or activities) of the case
  • Standard application integration technologies should be supported, such as REST, SOAP, WSDL, UDDI, UDSL, J2EE or BPEL to integrate any relevant backend, cloud or legacy application in the case

Inter-organizational Case Management Systems

In times of globalization, different organizations need to work together. In order to work together, they need to be able to share parts of a case with other organizations. Clearly, they won’t share everything due to privacy, regulatory or strategic reasons. This means also that selected case content (e.g. data, documents, rules or activities) is replicated in different systems of different organizations. The replication process can be governed by policies, but needs to take into the account the particularities of distributed systems. Furthermore, a replicated object may exist in different case contexts. For example, a business asset “Invoice” exists in the case context of a “supplier” and a “manufactures”, but is subject to different rules or activities. This requires new case management engines to deal with replicated evolving processes (cf. [3]) and data. We illustrate this in the following figure.

 Inter-organizational case management

This is not only a technical challenge, but also a business challenge [4]. People from different organizations need to collaborate on a case.  This requires training, but also appropriate means to bring them on the same page (e.g. common workshops). Clear governance processes as well as accountability and responsibility for various aspects need to be defined, such as risks, data, systems and processes. Furthermore, a case library can help people to understand each other’s processes. The lessons learnt in the field of Enterprise Architecture will be very useful to establish successful case management systems.

Conclusion

We presented in this blog entry inter-organizational system concepts for case management. On the UI level, we can leverage existing open web technologies. On the system level, we can leverage existing integration technologies. A case management system should support further real-time collaboration capabilities. The case management library is an important component for improving and securing comparative advantages by leveraging internal and external sources for organizational learning. However, new execution engines need to be developed to support case management. Finally, we explained that there are technical challenges (e.g. replication of case data in the systems of different organizations) as well as business challenges (e.g. governance) on the inter-organizational level, where different organizations work on some aspects of a case together.  

What is next?
In the next blog entry, I will describe research challenges for case management.  This is relevant for researchers, solution architects and developers.

Acknowledgements

This work results from the collaboration between SAP Research and the SCORE group at LORIA-INRIA-CNRS of the Université de Lorraine,  Nancy, France.

Disclaimer

Please note that we only describe potential system functionality that may be relevant in the future - these functionalities may never be implemented or available. 

References/Further Reading

 [1] Olding, E. & Rozwell, C., Expand Your BPM Horizons by Exploring Unstructured Processes, G00172387, Gartner, 2009                

[2] K. Bhattacharya, N. S. Caswell, S. Kumaran, A. Nigam, and F.Y. Wu. "Artifact-centered operational modeling: Lessons from customer engagements." IBM Systems Journal, 46(4):703- 721, 2007

[3] Franke, Jörn: Coordination of Distributed Activities in Dynamic Situations. The Case of Inter-organizational Crisis Management, PhD Thesis (Computer Science), to be published, LORIA-INRIA-CNRS, Université de Nancy/Université Henri Poincaré, France, 2011.

[4] Forrester/IBM: The Next Generation of Knowledge Workers Processes Will Dominate Enterprises, October 2010.

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