As BPM and its process planning and automation approach lent from optimizing the assembly line is apparently leading to a dead end in a changing business environment, attention shifts (again) to those unstructured, unpredictable processes that are characteristic for knowledge work.
But what is, in fact, knowledge work? Contrary to wide-spread belief knowledge work is not limited to professionals like lawyers, architects, physicians, engineers, and scientists. Interestingly enough that Wenger’s groundbreaking Communities of Practice which is now something like a textbook for collaborative, highly interactive, and knowledge-intensive settings chose insurance claims processing as backdrop for his research. Not exactly the high-brow activity that is commonly associated with knowledge work. Nevertheless it is an activity that requires certain skills that develop into specialist expertise over time. Looking at knowledge work from this angle it comes as no surprise that we are not talking of a small proportion of the workforce. There are estimates that knowledge workers in North America outnumber every other occupation by at least 4 to 1. This means knowledge workers are the backbone of the economy and what really surprises is that their work requirements have been neglected for so long or have only been addressed with outdated technology concepts.
Now what are the work requirements of these expert workers? To answer this question we must be well aware HOW they work and make decisions to accomplish specific goals. Apart from field studies by Wenger and others, we see certain traits common to all expert work. Gary Klein has identified those traits and describes them in terms of what an expert sees:
- Patterns and relationships that others do not notice
- The big picture
- The way things work
- Opportunities and improvisations
- Differences that are too small for others to detect
Back in 1998 Wenger already observed that designers tried to tie down knowledge in forms, which is a quite common feature even today. Instead of providing insights and information such a design focuses on procedures and on hiding their meaning from users. From the above it is clear that neither forms nor formalized processes can support the key characteristics of knowledge work, whatever the specific field may be.
The technology concept and the vision behind the Papyrus Adaptive Case Management Platform do away with the patterns of prescription that business users are forced into in many service-oriented and customer-facing environments up to this day. Instead Papyrus ACM gives users full transparency to see WHY they need to do certain things to meet specific targets and provides them with the flexibility to adapt their processes during execution according to their own judgment. The ability to make decisions based on real-time access to data and communications is a prerequisite for the effective interaction with customers, which is what most knowledge workers engage in. Businesses in turn profit from this sort of empowerment because effective customer communication is the ultimate benchmark for business success and growth.