The Case Management Mirage

Many of today’s law enforcement and regulatory agencies face the challenge of maintaining capacity and capability within an environment of increasing complexity, uncertainty and diminishing resources.

The natural and logical reaction is to find a way to do more with less. To address this, investigators must increase operational outputs while maintaining investigative quality. Craig Doran, COMtrac’s Founder and CEO, remarked:

“For many agencies, reacting to treat operational efficiency and effectiveness sometimes turns out to be a timely and often misguided departure from business as usual and at times, yields limited results. This is because with the issue of improving efficiency, quality and effectiveness of investigations, many agencies assume that investing in a new case management system (CMS) will be the solution.”

Convinced by the promise of modern technology and the array of task management, data capture, link charting, reporting, time tracking and accountability features on offer, agencies wedge recently acquired new CMS into the operational environment.

“After implementing these new systems, often with resistance from the actual end-users, agencies find that their shiny new CMS has not yielded the promised increased productivity. Although accountability, tracking and reporting of cases has increased through the CMS, the efficiency and effectiveness of investigations have remained unchanged or in some cases deteriorated,” he added.

The question is why?

The diagnosis of this failure varies between agencies. Typically, the key culprits are a mismatch of CMS to agency needs, resistance to cultural change and implementation difficulties. But perhaps the true reason, is that the CMS was in fact doing the job it was designed to do, namely managing the case (case management) when to achieve increased productivity, what it should have been doing was managing the investigation (investigation management).

Consider these issues which are often found to be the cause of poor investigations:

  • Lack of experience of the investigator
  • Little or no strategic direction
  • Organisational or individual cultural issues
  • Complexity of investigations
  • Mismanagement of evidence
  • Failure or Lack of leadership or suitable mentoring
  • Misuse or inefficient use of resources.

A CMS is unlikely to be able to deal with any of these issues. Craig explained:

“In fact, introducing a CMS may actually reduce efficiency even further as investigators have to spend hours entering data to maintain the system. They often get frustrated with the complex or time-consuming data entry requirements. To avoid having to use various components of the CMS, investigators may take shortcuts with evidence or information management. This resistance often contributes to further quality control issues.”

Most agencies have one form on CMS in place or another. Whether it is a simple database designed in-house, or an elaborate system purchased from an external provider.

Historically the primary purpose of a CMS is to record complaints, track investigation progress and report on outcomes. Some have evolved to allow the upload of scanned documents and folders, relational link charting, time tracking and a myriad of other case reporting and accountability features. But do these features have anything to do with investigation management?

Case Management versus Investigation Management

Some of the more recent discourse around distinguishing case management from investigation management has been framed by contrasting structured and unstructured work.

“While the CMS tools have delivered improved cycle times for many simple structured investigations (for example, insurance and private investigations), automation of unstructured investigations that have a higher standard of proof and depend on costly skilled human resources (for instance, criminal, accident, regulatory and corruption investigations) remains elusive,” Craig remarked.

Neil Dutton, one of Europe’s most experienced and high-profile IT industry analyst expands on this issue by defining two types of work processes – Transactional Work and Exploratory Work.

Transactional work is work in which the inputs and outputs are well-understood, and there is a strong correlation between carrying out a very clear, particular set of actions and consistent transformation of those inputs into those outputs. Transactional work in the context of investigations are areas of complaint recording, task tracking, link analysis, exhibit management, business reporting and other structured activities (as often found in many CMS).

Exploratory work is more complex. It often lurks underneath verbs like “investigate”, “diagnose”, “analyses”, “co-ordinate”, “solve”, “determine”, “arbitrate” and so on. The inputs to exploratory work may be broadly categorisable but are probably not completely predictable.

The outputs are likely to be well-understood in terms of high-level goals, but probably but not in terms of tight specifications. Most importantly, the set and sequence of actions needing to be performed, and the people or roles needing to perform them, are very unlikely to be known ahead of time.

“There may be some high-level waypoints or milestones that are common to a particular type of exploratory work (verify the complaint, identify offender, prove the breach, secure prosecution) but they provide a very loose, rather than tight, structure. In exploratory work, as the label suggests, the overall experience for both the investigators and other stakeholders is that of a set of possibilities being explored rather than a recipe being followed,” according to Craig.

Exploratory work is the natural and fluid work that forms key components of an investigation. Many CMS has tried to engineer out the variances, eradicate the exceptions and force-fit natural interactions into transactional boxes.

“In the age of increasing public expectations and as we witness a shift towards truly digital enterprises, we cannot afford to ignore the potential upside of supporting exploratory work with specialised tools that make it more effective, more efficient and less error-prone, without reducing its nature,” Craig added.

COMtrac’s investigation, management software automatically configures the investigation workflow and creates the digital brief of evidence and investigative outputs. It supports investigators as they gather evidence and conduct their investigation from both transactional and exploratory work.

The Rise of Digital Briefs and Virtual Courts

The Impact on Future Investigations

Agencies must ensure they truly understand the characteristics of the harms, risks, or issues they are trying to solve and whether they are based on transactional or exploratory work. Failing to understand these characteristics may lead to the implementation of new processes which improve the transactional work and reporting component of investigations but fail to have any impact on the exploratory work where the true nature of the issues exists.

Agency decision-makers should have a clear understanding of the difference between investigation and case management systems if there is a true desire to increase the productivity and quality of investigations.

Improve your Investigation, Evidence and Brief Management with COMtrac

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