Q&A with Michael Cerniglia
MicroPact CTO Discusses Flexibility through Data-First™ Approach and State Modeling
MicroPact Chief Technology Officer Michael Cerniglia has played a vital role in bringing MicroPact's industry-leading products to market throughout the company’s history. From the initial launch of the company’s specialized case management solution – icomplaints® – to the development of the entellitrak® platform for Case Management and Business Process Management (BPM), he has spearheaded all software development efforts.
Two key elements of entellitrak’s success as a unified platform for Case Management and BPM are MicroPact’s Data-First™ approach and the employment of a Unified Modeling Language (UML)-based state model. By focusing on information capture and data relationships, and movement between states rather than rigid processes, entellitrak is capable of delivering highly dynamic enterprise case management solutions.
To get a better picture of the philosophy behind entellitrak, we asked the CTO to talk about its evolution and to explain why the Data-First approach has been so important to the development of effective enterprise-level case management solutions.
Q: How did MicroPact’s icomplaints, which was developed specifically to manage Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints, lead to the development of entellitrak and the Data-First approach to case management?
A: Our first product, icomplaints, was designed for EEO - a very specific case management process. It rapidly became the de facto standard for processing EEO complaints in the federal government. Then, due to the incredible traction the product had gained, we began to receive a lot of questions as to whether we could use it for different kinds of case management. Customers liked how easy it was to use and how the information was placed before the process, so we got a lot of requests to build one-off applications. And being in software development, one-offs are not a good thing.
We believed the best course of action was to develop a case management platform that could be configured to manage any type of case – putting the data before the process. Then we asked ourselves: Why does it have to even be a case? Why not allow for any object or task that needs to be moved through a series of states towards a conclusion? There are so many types of business patterns and business needs that would fit that application scenario. It’s easy to imagine having data that you can model and track, forms and a web-based user interface for interacting with that data, a workflow management capability, the ability to search the data, while also being highly scalable, accessible, with a security structure on top of it all. Plus, in the end you want the system to allow you to produce some type of results – some reports, some type of metrics, some way to monitor business activity in your organization.
That's where we came up with entellitrak. We applied the same general concepts behind traditional software development to creating a case management platform that was also a fully capable BPMS. But rather than having the process be central focus as it is in BPM, we made data the primary focus. In a case management scenario it is the case and its associated data that is the core aspect of work to be managed. Therefore our Data-First approach allows us to model case objects and data elements, and then attach some specific functions to them, giving our platform a heavier case management orientation.
Q: Why is data so important in developing case management systems?
A: Case management systems are designed to support the information evaluation and decision making needs of knowledge workers. Information is data and therefore data is critically important.
“ Information is data and therefore data is critically important. ”
Mike Cerniglia, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
One of the core modeling objects in entellitrak is a Data Object that models the valuable pieces of information in an application. entellitrak Data Objects are modeled using traditional Object Oriented (OO) concepts such as properties, data types and relationships to other objects.
A “case” is really the highest level Data Object. It is an aggregation of data -- a folder containing multiple objects and data elements such as form data, documents, images, etc. – that will transit a series of states designed to produce some type of outcome such as a fulfillment or a decision. The data is important because it has to be accurate, and has to have the proper relationships with other data elements in order for that knowledge worker to have a comprehensive view of what is happening so that they can make an effective decision or ruling.
For example, while conducting background investigations, organizations must accurately track all data elements to ensure that candidates are properly vetted — and to determine which facilities, systems, and information they can access. A well architected solution, like entellitrak, will meet strict reporting and accountability standards, facilitate the case investigator’s job by managing all data elements, and will create a secure personnel folder for each candidate. The capture and effective management of data is at the heart of every step.
Q: Why did you decide to go with Universal Modeling Language (UML) for modeling Case Management applications?
A: In case management, there is not always going to be a happy path that a case follows. To accommodate the highly dynamic and unstructured nature of case management we chose to use the UML State and Activity Diagrams semantics to model how Data Objects flow through the application from state to state. The Object Management Group’s UML standard provides a powerful but simple way to go from definition to execution. With UML, states can have one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-one relationships. Processes can be highly unstructured and case-like, or very rigidly structured and BPM-like.
The need to have this modeling flexibility was immediately apparent to us. We saw it firsthand in the EEO world where cases transition from state to state based on the occurrence of events and governed by rules versus following a predefined process. We later observed this same pattern in most every other industry we worked with. Whether we are talking about labor relations or background investigations or even the simple employee onboarding processes – there generally is not a clear end-to-end path for a case to follow. The nice thing about a UML approach is that it allows you to model any type of application.
Q: What’s the future hold for enterprise case management software?
A: Most work done by organizations is now recognized as being more “case like.” I advise organizations to lose or loosen the constraints over their existing business processes in order to put more power back into the hands of the people who are doing the work.
By developing and implementing enterprise case management solutions that take a Data-First approach and put people before processes, organizations are able to adapt and change. Organizations that are able to adapt and change have a competitive advantage no matter what industry they are in.
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