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The Technical Case for Case Management - Part 2 - Ad-Hoc Activities

Malcolm Ross, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, Appian
May 12, 2010

In my previous post, I introducedthe topic on the technical case for case management. As case management gets more and more buzz in the BPM community, I believe it is important to define whateveryone istalking about in technical terms. Specifically, what are the exact features that can ensure a customer has all the tools necessary to build an effective Case Management solution.

The first and foremost feature in a Case Management solution is "Ad-Hoc".

Ad-Hoc simply implies the invocation of an activity or action at an unspecified time or sequence. During the design time of the solution, the designer would have no idea if and when an ad-hoc activity may or may not execute.

This concept of Ad-Hoc has been around since the inception of BPM standards like BPMN, but has not been well utilized by many customers or even properly supported by many BPM software platforms. In BPMN, Ad-Hoc activities arenested insideof an Ad-Hoc subprocess and represented by the ~ indicator on the activity. Additionally, Ad-Hoc Activities may have in-bound and out-bound sequence flow to determine subsequent scheduled or required activities, if the ad-hoc activity is triggered.

Ad-Hoc activities are key to Case Management, as they are the only methods that enable a designer to clearly define the ad-hoc nature of many activities in a case management use case. Let's refer back to the Patient Records use case in my pervious post. During the life of a patient, there are a seemingly limitless number of events or actions that can occur. A patient can get sick, require an MRI, have a standard check-up, receive a prescription, etc.. Each of these actions or events can be seen as an Ad-Hoc activity, an event that can occur at any time during the life of the patient.

When designing a Case Management solution, it is typically a goal to define upfront as many of these ad-hocactivities as possible. Using the BPMN Ad-Hoc activity type, a designer can easily model and view the possible known ad-hoc activities that can occur in the context of the patient and manage their subsequent dependent activities. In the below example, we can see that the Medical Staff have two possible Ad-Hoc Activities ("Issue Patient Subscription") and ("Refer to Specialist"). Each activity can occur at anytime and multiple times, but each time it is fired, they have required follow-up actions or tasks.

As we can see from the examples, BPMN notation and BPM tools like Appian have the built-in support to model and manage the ad-hoc nature of case management solutions. The main change required is a shift in thinking to creating models that are comprised of ad-hoc events rather simple sequential flows.

Every couple of days, I'll be posting a new discussion point on required technical features for a complete case management solution. My next topic will introduce Real-Time Events Processing in the context of case management. I look forward to any comments.


Malcolm Ross

Director Product Management

The Technical Case for Case Management Series

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: Ad-Hoc Activities

Part 3: Real-Time Events and Business Intelligence

Part 4: Enterprise Content Management

Part 5: Collaboration / Enterprise 2.0

Part 6: Reporting and Analysis

Part 7: The End ??