If you think case management is just something that social workers do with problem families, think again.

The definition set out by AIIM, a Washington, D.C.-based association for information professionals is broad enough for almost every business: “A “case” is any project, transaction, service or response that is “opened” and “closed” over a period of time to achieve resolution of a problem, claim, request, proposal, development or other complex activity. It is likely to involve multiple persons inside and outside of the organization, with varying relationships to each other, as well as multiple documents and messages.”

“Everybody has it in their mind that case management has something to do with healthcare, Social Security, or social work,” says Doug Miles, director of market intelligence for AIIM. “But when you actually come down to it, a huge number of businesses are managing case types of material in the workplace.” Case management has three main components, he says:

  1. Bundling together a bunch of content into a thing called a case, and allocating a case number to the bundle
  2. Constructing a workflow of some kind to show you how to process a case
  3. Allowing workers to proceed in different directions to solve a particular problem and pull in people who may have limited their access to some of the case files.

More recently, organizations have been looking at something called adaptive or dynamic case management. Miles says that most police and healthcare professionals continue to manage cases in a specific workflow that doesn’t allow them much flexibility, adaptive case management, by contrast, gives users the ability to adapt the workflow as the case progresses.

While the technology platforms for case management systems have changed from mainframe to client server to web forms, the functionality still involves moving every customer issue from open to closed, and tracking activities and interaction points along the way, says John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). “Old case management tools assumed phone calls. Today’s systems need to be more flexible to support quicker and less complex interactions, such as chat, and capture customer self-service interactions to better understand total support volume.  The dozens of clicks required in the old days to open and close a case are no longer acceptable.”

Software that supports adaptive case management offers many advantages over paper files, which can live in only one location and are hard to share with people in a secure fashion. Paper documents may also restrict workers to a subset of the documents, which may prevent them from getting a complete picture of the problem, Miles says.

Case management systems also have significant advantages over email systems, where documents are stored in a file-sharing system or attached to the email message. “There’s a security issue, a fragmentation issue, and a huge monitoring issue,” Miles says. These systems often prevent supervisors from monitoring tasks assigned to specific people, he says. While project management software offers that type of monitoring, it often doesn’t offer document management tools. “You need to bring the two together in a case and monitor them as workflow, so that even if what’s involved in the workflow changes, you know what it will take to go through the process.”

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