The power of process

When Toronto came under the threat of the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus last spring, Joanne Pearson had to shut down operations at the West Park Healthcare Assessment Centre offices for six weeks. Yet she and her IT staff couldn't stop processing medical insurance referrals and claims.

"We picked up and operated out of a hotel. We were able to quite easily adapt to this emergency situation," says Pearson, general manager at the Assessment Centre. She credits business-process management software - Ultimus BPM Suite from Ultimus - as the source of her staff's flexibility, mobility and efficiency. "We put our critical processes into the software, and because the system is Web-based, we were able to keep working when other people had to close their doors," she says.

The Assessment Centre began using Ultimus BPM Suite in the fall of 2002. This software is typical of BPM products in that it tracks the claims through pre-defined approvals and reminds staff members who has ownership of specific stages to complete tasks. It also alerts them of potential bottlenecks. Whether from pure-play vendors such as Fuego, Intalio, Metastorm, Pegasystems, SeeBeyond Technology, Ultimus and Vitria; from application integration vendors such as BEA Systems, Tibco and webMethods; or from big software houses such as IBM, BPM products include customizable templates. With these templates, users can input multiple stages of a process and define who to alert about delays - business unit, IT staff or partner, for example - via e-mail, page or phone call.

"These tools let users capture information on how processes are really running," says Sharyn Leaver, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "If you build a process in BPM software, you can more easily identify bottlenecks and streamline steps."

The BPM software let Pearson automate 35 processes and cut referral and claim turnaround time from 11 days to three. Without BPM software, a claim could land in a stack of papers and wait to get moved to the next stage (another person's desk), all while phones constantly ring as managers, customers and business partners call to check on claim status. The improved efficiencies represent about $75,000 per year to her organization, plus another $150,000 annually on staff she otherwise would have had to hire.

Others look to the software to help them document complex processes, eliminate paper trails and deliver more-targeted services to business partners and customers. Such is the case at Safelite Glass, an auto glass services company in Columbus, Ohio.

Dan Vaught, Safelite's manager of enterprise architecture and integration, says using IBM's WebSphere Business Integration Server gives him a detailed look at how things work and lets him better design services targeted for specific end users. Safelite uses the IBM software to integrate disparate ERP applications that contain pertinent auto and insurance data from product suppliers and service providers.

Safelite employees use the data from multiple locations, integrated automatically by the IBM software, to better schedule customers for service. Vaught says Safelite representatives can find the most convenient time and location to service customers based on the availability of a specific part and the service capacity of the agents in their area. The software helps accelerate order processing and ensure that customers get what they need the first time they call.

"Being able to identify individual pieces of work and personalize processes to a company's needs helps us deliver better services," Vaught says. "We used to measure [services and customer satisfaction] in aggregate, but being able to break out pieces helps us customize services."

Still others find that BPM software lets them show their work to management.

For Gary Lech, CIO of the city of Walnut Creek, Calif., BPM software gives him visibility into 50 city projects, which consists of more than 500 tasks, and lets him measure his team's performance against the local government's expectations. Authorized city officials can even view progress reports and understand the status of ongoing projects, he says. The visibility into IT projects helps Lech prove his staff remains within budget and on track, but if projects get off track, BPM makes it easy to assign responsibility to the appropriate party.

Lech uses Metastorm's e-Work BPM software to document and then automate processes. The BPM software integrates with the city's GroupWise and Crystal reporting systems to enable the proper notification procedures and to generate progress reports, he says.

"The council members and the citizens want to know where their taxpayer dollars are going," Lech says, "so we can't allow these projects to run amok."

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