The place where the Customer counts

Free thoughts on CRM, Business and the next big thing

The place where the Customer counts - Free thoughts on CRM, Business and the next big thing

Interview with Keith Swenson on Adaptive Case Management

Let me introduce Mr. Keith Swenson that will attend Social Business Forum 2011 (Milan, 8 June 2011), one of the main european event – organised by Open Knowledge – on the adoption of social and collaborative methodologies / frameworks inside and outside the business ecosystem.

Keith Swenson is Vice President of Research and Development at Fujitsu America Inc. and is the Chief Software Architect for the Interstage family of products. He is known for having been a pioneer in collaboration software and web services, and has helped the development of many workflow and BPM standards. He is currently the Chairman of the Technical Committee of the Workflow Management Coalition. In the past, he led development of collaboration software MS2, Netscape, Ashton Tate and Fujitsu. In 2004 he was awarded the Marvin L. Manheim Award for outstanding contributions in the field of workflow. He’s considered an expert on Adaptive Case Management (main topic of this interview) and has the most important book on this argument to his credit (Mastering the Unpredictable). You can read his insightful posts on his blog at


Question 1

First of all thank you very much Mr. Swenson for the opportunity to have this interview and to explain something about Adaptive Case Management (ACM) and its conceptual and practical interactions with Social CRM and Social Business. I’d like to start this interview asking you to give us your personal definition of ACM and its relation with Business Process Management.

Keith Swenson

ACM is more of a concept than a product category. I think it is best to define it as the software the knowledge workers use for themselves to get things done. Knowledge workers were not being served by traditional BPM, because knowledge work is unpredictable. I hesitate to compare ACM to BPM because BPM means so many different things to different people, but one thing I think we agree on is that BPM is a management practice for defining and continually improving business processes over time. To make a predefined process, the work has to be repeatable, but knowledge workers never do the same thing over and over the same way. ACM has a very different goal. ACM is not about making processes which execute the same way every time. While both BPM and ACM have the purpose to support people in the workplace, BPM is for supporting routine work for which a predefined process can be defined, while ACM is for knowledge work where the worker figures out every time what to do for this particular situation. Many of the underlying technologies are similar: many people get tripped up because they see that ACM and BPM are made out of many of the same components, and indeed often interoperate with each other. Many BPM vendors also provide ACM capabilities, but BPM and ACM are used in different ways by different people.


Question 2

Which are the main benefits in adopting an Adaptive Case Management framework? And the most demanding challenges?

Keith Swenson

Case Management itself is not a new discipline. Knowledge workers have been using a Case Management approach for many decades, for instance Sherlock Holmes would be an excellent example of how to do case management. A case is just a folder, a focal point for collecting all the information to achieve a goal. Putting cases online for electronic retrieval has been used for years. The “Adaptive” part of ACM refers to the use of the latest techniques for collaboration. For example, social network techniques help case managers collect and manage a network of contacts and associates to help communicate to the right ones at the right time. A second example is the ability to create tasks and assign them to people, and for those tasks to appear on worklists that remind those others of things to be done. A third example is the ability to reuse lists of tasks over time from case to case, allowing people to “adapt” the technique used in the last case to the next. A fourth example is the ability to automatically collect and mine the history of the cases to discover trends and patterns that might be otherwise hard to see. These are the benefits of ACM: not to constrain the worker to a predefined path, but instead to help the worker go in whatever direction is needed for the case, and still to be able to mold and grow their own personal capabilities over time.

The most demanding challenge seems to be a cultural one: we have deeply held beliefs that work should be automated. This is combined with a belief that processes should be simple. Automation normally requires that all decisions are removed from the worker, but in the case of knowledge work, this is the critical aspect that worker brings. There seems to be a general under-appreciation that the expertise that a knowledge worker brings (e.g. a trial lawyer) is so extensive and specialized that it cannot be replaced by automation. The biggest challenge seems to be to get management in general to understand that letting knowledge workers have control over their own work patterns is a good thing, not a bad thing.


Question 3

Which are the organizational and operational assumptions to the ACM framework adoption inside the enterprise? I mean, the mindset change from a serial process steps completions to a business goal-oriented approach of knowledge workers must rest, in my opinion, on a consolidated collaborative internal culture supported by social collaboration platform, mustn’t it?

Keith Swenson

You touch on a very important point. The internal culture of an organization is something that we are not always aware of, and is very hard to change. Experienced case managers have no difficulty in using the technology. However, it is hard to get people to take a “social technology” approach to exchanging information. Email was available for decades before it achieved widespread use, and now it seems that all office workers want to email everything to everyone. Remember how FaceBook brought the idea of writing on a person’s wall, and how this was considered quite odd by those familiar with email. The challenge is to get people to stop “sending” documents to another person, and start bringing the people into the case. I am participating in this year’s Social Business Forum precisely because I think the main barrier to use of ACM is to learn to use Enterprise Social Software. Once business cultures have shifted to adopt this way of communicating, I think people will use it to a large extend to accomplish ACM.


Question 4

I personally believe that in a business context, roles like sales or service agents are surely eligible for an adaptive work environment. Do you think that a realistic trend shall be more and more integration and/or overlap between ACM and Operational CRM/SCRM?

Keith Swenson

Yes. A sales person in most fields it a knowledge worker. Sales people who were simply “order takers”have been replaced by a web application long ago. If the sale is large and complex, you find that every sale is accomplished slightly differently, and an effective salesperson needs the flexibility to approach each customer in a different way. In a very real sense, CRM is case management for a specific purpose. Social CRM takes this a step further to allow others outside the principle organization to be involved directly through social network like features. I believe that CRM will pick up some of the adaptive capabilities that we talk about in the book, and that ACM will provide those same capabilities to verticals beyond sales.


Question 5

Which are, for you, the best case studies and/or industries where ACM can unleash its potential?

Keith Swenson

The four main industries which have traditionally used case management are: law enforcement, legal, medical, and social cases. In these vertical you will find many good examples of how ACM can help. But for me, the more interesting case involves executives in any industry. Consider a board of directors making decisions on the direction of a company. Someone will have to put these directives into action, and there are no predetermined processes. For example, the board might decide to merge company A with company B, and that will trigger a lot of work that is particular to the two organizations involve; it may require things that no one in either organization has ever done before, nor will they expect to do them again later. This work is important, expensive, and unique, and that is what makes it exciting.


Question 6

From a technological point of view, and according to your experience, which are the most interesting solutions in the marketplace and by which main functionality/capability they distinguish themselves?

Keith Swenson

While Case Management is an old field, ACM is still very young, and because of this I would hesitate to point to any particular offering today and hold that up as the example to strive for as a generalized realization of adaptive case management. The reason that I am particularly interested and active in Social Business Software field, a.k.a. Enterprise Social Software, is that I believe the offerings in these areas give the most flexibility and support for knowledge workers to achieve whatever confronts them on a given day. Take a look as Asana which is making “software that helps people work together more effectively.” But I don’t think that the people at Asana have ever heard of ACM per se.

I tend to look for tools that are providing good collaboration at the code, and offerings like Jive, SharePoint and Lotus Connections offer significant capability for the knowledge worker, but they lack specific features that are needed for ACM, particularly in the area of “planning”. An ACM product must have the ability to natively express goals and to track accomplishments. There are a number of product that are trying to bring everything together, like Action Base, ISIS Papyrus, Singularity, Global 360’s Case Management product, IBM’s Advanced Case Management, and Fujitsu’s Interstage BPM. Some of these are starting with a strong planning aspect, and moving into the collaboration space. Overall, at this point, there is not really a single product offering that clearly encompasses the full vision of Adaptive Case Management.


Question 7

Finally, can you give us some anticipation on your next keynote at Social Business Forum 2011 (Enabling quantum organizations as a new level of effectiveness)?

Keith Swenson

The central theme of my talk at the Social Business Forum is about our assumption that all work can be predefined to a very precise degree. Much of the work in IT for the past two decades has been to eliminate humans from doing jobs that can be automated. This has been to a large degree accomplished. Many traditional jobs, like typing pools, mail clerks, typesetters, etc. have been largely eliminated. We are approaching a limit to what can be automated. More and more of the workforce is performing knowledge work which cannot be predicted, is not repeatable, and therefore cannot be automated. The next decade will not be how we eliminate humans from routine work, but instead how to leverage true human intelligence. Before we accomplish this, organizational culture needs to adopt some new principles that appear paradoxical. You see, it was Newton who crystallized the idea that everything might be explained by a few simple formulae. People are today looking for the simple formulae to base their organizations on. But there are no simple formulae to be found. Everything effects everything else and you cannot abstract a part away from the rest. Instead of giving up, there is hope, and there are technique that organizations can use to not only survive, but to thrive, in a world of less mass production, and greater customization.


Thanks again to Mr. Swenson and see you soon at the Social Business Forum 2011.