Proper case management can minimize the surprise

Case management has become an essential tool in plant engineering. In some instances, there are no defined processes and no predictable outcomes, but information must still be collected. Case management will enable better decision-making about potentially expensive or even dangerous exceptions.


Every industry needs to be able to capture surprise events and report on those events. Case management is not just a health care industry term; it refers to the documentation of events or complex processes that don't fit well within an existing documentation workflow, but have the ability to impact future operations.

Case management has become an essential tool in plant engineering. In some instances, there are no defined processes and no predictable outcomes, but information must still be collected. Case management will enable better decision-making about potentially expensive or even dangerous exceptions.

While critical to a plant's operations, case management is often manual and plagued by delay and poor visibility. This is because, without a built-in process, people retain much of the necessary knowledge in their heads. The process becomes difficult to analyze, structure, and replicate.

According to the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), the global community of information professionals, a case is "any project, transaction, service, or response that is opened and closed over a period of time to achieve resolution of a problem, claim, request, proposal, development, or other complex activity. It is likely to involve multiple persons inside and outside of the organization, with varying relationships to each other, as well as multiple documents and messages."

"Case management is described as operating on bundles of content rather than individual documents or images," AIIM added. "A case is a compendium of information, processes, advanced analytics, business rules, collaboration, and sometimes social computing that relates to a particular interaction with or issue involving a particular party."

In the plant environment, that "party" may be a thing. Here, case management usually relates to equipment that needs repair or preventive maintenance, and the documentation is handled through a work order. But, what if the information being collected is not really work order-related? Think of shift notes, operator notes, production stops, accidents, emissions, spills, government reports, and so on.

Maybe a company wants to record the behavior of a piece of equipment under certain conditions that were observed. All of these events or happenings may be worth recording, but because of their nature, recording them via work orders is not ideal. Liquid on the floor will be cleaned up through a work order, but there is no place to document whether it was from a spill–a one-time event—or a more far-reaching cause such as condensation leaking from a piece of equipment, wherein action must be taken to prevent it from happening again.

Sometimes machinery operates above specifications; this either may not require a work order or the need for a work order may not be immediately obvious. Ultimately, though, the cause will need to be identified and action taken, such as recalibrating the machine to extend its life and prevent a larger surprise event in the future, should it burn itself out earlier than expected. An accident has potentially many consequences, and there can be many steps involved in handling them: meetings with OSHA, meetings with lawyers, equipment modifications to prevent the accident from happening again, follow-up meetings and inspections, and further modifications, among other things.

Defining responsibilities

Navigating these activities successfully requires the ability to define tasks and responsibilities; timelines; regulatory requirements, such as certain documents that must be submitted; the ability to associate work orders; and follow-up inspections. An enterprise asset-management system should include a case management function that is designed to manage both the collection of this information as well as the ability to act on it, resulting in better outcomes. It should make the data accessible for years—in a controlled way, to all who are involved in the case—so that information can be revisited in the event that proof of corrective action is needed.

Certain cases like industrial accidents require the submission of governmental forms. Linking these forms to the type of case can greatly improve efficiency and avoid time lost in searching for the proper forms. Additionally, built-in templates provide invaluable user assistance when completing these forms.

Plants need to be able to create cases automatically as well as manually. And when events occur, automatic notification of the proper individuals will save time and money and mitigate risk. These notification capabilities ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, so they are not simply forgotten. The consequences of noncompliance are much too risky, costing the plant money, time, and potential danger.

Case management is a necessary tool for capturing the type of operational and exceptional intelligence that doesn't automatically have a place elsewhere. That old adage, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," may or may not apply to everything, but it is certainly true that undocumented information will be lost. That is simply not an option for organizations that face regulatory requirements and want to improve operations and preserve a safe environment for their employees.

Mike Edgett is industry and solution strategy director for process manufacturing at Infor.

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