dinsdag 2 april 2013

An introduction to Oracle Case Management

Oracle makes a habit of adding important functionality to minor patch sets. In the recent 11G Release 2 Patch set 6 of Fusion middleware, Oracle has added a milestone in the BPM stack, the Case management functionality. Discussions around this topic had already been going for a while, but finally the first part of it is included in the Fusion Middleware stack.
In this blog I will elaborate its importance and what is contains Since this an important functional addition we will publish more detailed blogs around this topic in the near future.  

What functionality is needed for Case Management? 

Organizations increasingly need to deal with unstructured processes that Business Process Management Suites are not designed to cope with. Case Management is a way to govern and control these unstructured processes, but Case Management solutions can be challenging to develop. Developing Case Management around a BPM solution preferably in conjunction with an Enterprise Content Management System solves many of these problems.  

What is a case?

A case is a collection of activities that support a specific business objective. Each case has a lifecycle. During that lifecycle there will be a range of activities and requirements; information and content may need to be gathered in a wide range of formats (such as documents, email, minutes, interviews, photos and other data). Throughout there will be process related tasks and actions, human decisions and interventions. At any time in the lifecycle we should be able to have a holistic view of the case, create reports and review audit trails. A case will be subject to organizational policy or procedure, which determines the appropriate outcomes.

High level overview 

The architecture around a case management solution consists of three main components:

Portals and Dashboards – Portals bring together all information around the case, 
lifecycle related activities, finished work, involved persons, gathering media into a 360 degree view. Dashboards give insight in SLAs and KPIs related to the case.

Processes and Rules Management – BPM and rules management play an important role in the execution of all tasks by participants and related applications. 
Flexibility can be added to the solution with rules management.

Integration – A core component in the solution enabling integration of case management with the application landscape, including connections with an Enterprise Content Management system.

Case Management in Oracle Fusion Middleware

Case Management is ‘just another’ set of functionality needed in the Oracle Fusion Middleware stack to support Fusion Applications. Oracle Fusion Middleware has been created from the ground up with the principles Complete, Open and Integrated in mind. Added to that is the principle of re-use to the max;  

Re-use of components across the Oracle 11G Fusion Middleware stack, for instance a Database Adapter, is essential. It improves stability and predictability of the solution. BPM just is one of the components plugging into the stack and reuses all other components.

The result of this principle is that adding Case Management to the Fusion Middleware is ‘only’ a matter of adding core Case Management capabilities, such as lifecycle management, the ability to combine together processes and activate case functionalities based upon events.
In the current version all design and run-time case management functionality is included except the portal component, this will likely to be part of release 12c.  

Main components of Oracle BPM/Case Management

After creation of a Case Management in Oracle BPM the two main components of the implementation appear, a Case object and a Case related rules set.

The case object gives the ability to define the case definition on a high level. Milestones, Data and Documents, User Events, Permissions to name the most important. Here an example of data objects as defined in an example case provided by Oracle (the car loan example).   

The Case Rule engine is the work-horse of the Case management implementation, which is based upon the well-known Oracle Business Rules engine. In this Rules engine a predefined set of Case Management data objects can be used to steer anything going on in the case. This rules engine enables a complete event driven case management solution.

Examples of the Case Management rules engine when an event occurs; a sequence of actions; Closing of Milestones (reach milestone); Withdrawing of activities.

How do processes and a case work together

An (asynchronous) process can easily be connected to a case. After creation, the process can be promoted to a Case Activity. This will make the process part of the Case lifecycle and enables it to be used in the Rules engine.

First experiences

It takes some time to understand the true power of Case Management as part of Oracle BPM. There is maximum reuse of existing BPM assets. The shared data & documents environment enables easy sharing of information across case activities, and the complete event based rules approach enables complete lifecycle management in a simplified way. This all enables fast delivery of a case management solution. Improvement points however are the current lack of a portal component and a more business oriented design environment, since Business rules is rather techie aimed.

Léon Smiers works as a Solution Architect for Capgemini The Netherlands in the area of Oracle Technology and Architecture, where he is one of the leading Oracle specialists. He has done a lot of work and research in the field of Integration and new technologies, like RFID, SOA, EDA and BPM, on which he wrote articles and presented on international conferences. Currently Léon is setting up Solution Architectures for large Oracle based projects and is Oracle BPM Thought leader for Capgemini. Based upon his close cooperation with Oracle development and product management Léon was awarded with the Oracle ACE title in 2010.

Léon is co-inventor of the Common Reference Architecture mode or CORA model, which helps in getting control over the IT landscape in a Hybrid environment and delivers a predictable, repeatable and risk-aware solution design (http://www.coramodel.com).
Prior to Capgemini Léon worked for Ernst & Young Consulting, USoft, the City of Rotterdam and has over 20 years of experience in IT. Léon obtained his Master of Science in Astronomy at the Leiden University


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