A few weeks ago IBM invited me to a day-long conference in San Francisco to preview a new product direction around case management. At first I was a bit hesitant because case management is a bit outside of my normal research agenda, but an old pal in IBM analyst relations convinced me to come over. It was well worth the time. What I saw was much more than I expected as IBM plans to productize a true Information Workplace offering around the pervasive business issue of case management. The concept of an Information Workplace, first presented by Forrester in 2005, is defined as:
- A software platform now emerging to support all types of information workers by providing seamless, multimodal, contextual, mobile, right-time access to content, data, voice, processes, expertise, business intelligence, eLearning content, and other information through the use of portals, collaboration tools, business process management, content repositories, content analytics, taxonomies, search, information rights management, and other emerging technologies.
I suspect that we need to tune this definition a bit. For instance, the term "now emerging" needs to be replaced with "now maturing". Plus, I think there is currently a legal requirement to include the term "social" in all technology definitions. ; ) However, on the whole, it's still largely relevant.
A number of trends have made the concept a reality. Vendors like Google, Lotus, Microsoft and Novell have actively built integration between their various content, collaboration, communication and portal offerings to create a more integrated, contextual experience for knowledge workers. Lotus and Novell are pushing the experience forward with offerings like Lotus's Project Vulcan and Novell's Pulse.
So, while the Information Workplace is actively emerging, IBM's upcoming case management offering moves the concept forward in some interesting and compelling ways. What I find intriguing about the offering is the following:
- The offering is built to solve a business problem. Rather than technology looking for a business need, IBM's case management offering is designed to address a broad issue that exists today. These complex, long running business processes involve numerous stakeholders and span multiple systems, some of which are operational, some content-centric, some collaborative, some analytic, etc. The coordination of the many people and disparate systems offers great opportunity for driving efficiency.
- IBM can do a lot of it themselves. While we all want systems that are open and integrate effectively in a heterogeneous computing environment (and IBM has been a chief proponent of this), let's face it, a nice fully packaged and integrated solution sounds pretty good. To make this end-to-end solution work, IBM will tap a broad array of capabilities from their software portfolio including business process management, master data management, content management, records management, business rules, analytics, presence, communications, collaboration and social networking. That's a lot of stuff.
- The users don't know what's behind the curtain. While the roster of technology may seem daunting, they are knitted together in the context of coherent business process. Each piece of functionality is presented to the user, in context, when appropriate in the process. Faced with a complex decision and need to tap the broad organization for support? Today you might task switch over to an enterprise social networking site and post the issue and wait for responses. Although you may find that too complex and choose to just muddle through, with "muddle through" type results. In this solution, the ability to tap into a social network for help is available from directly within the application without the need to restate the issue, because all of the context is already captured. Results are fed directly back into the system and captured for reuse, again in context. And the same applies to analytics, content management, etc.
The end result is an end-to-end solution that mirrors all aspects of a complex process and drives broader participation from more relevant stakeholders. Given the amount of friction and inefficiency that results when structured processes meet ad-hoc processes and knowledge workers, the potential to drive processes that are more efficient, more accurate and more cost effective are tremendous.
The Information Workplace has been evolving for a while. A number of key areas of functionality have already emerged. The vision of solutions that extend the vision to more processes and more systems have been in "vision" presentations for a long time. With this new case management offering, IBM moves the vision forward by making a reality that you'll be able to buy and implement.