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Software // Information Management

Convergence Up Close

These real-world BPM, text mining and EII deployments demonstrate the value of uniting data and content. But which technologies are ready for your enterprise?

On the front lines of IT, dealing with both data and content is nothing new. Organizations have long had to correlate structured data with semi-structured and unstructured documents, e-mail messages, images and other forms of content in order to complete transactions, answer customer questions and make business decisions.

What is new — or at least evolving rapidly — is the ability to easily tap into all forms of information to automate transactions, provide better service and gain deeper insight into customers and competitors.

Two to three years ago, human interaction was almost always required when transactions involved content. Data and content integration demanded customized, API-level links that were expensive and time-consuming to develop, limited in functionality and prone to failure with each new software upgrade. Knowledge management had gained interest, but outside of high-value applications such as pharmaceutical research and government intelligence, vast stores of content remained largely untouched.

Enter XML, Web services and service-oriented architectures, which have unleashed promising new technologies and new possibilities for automating processes, integrating information and performing analysis of both data and content. Successful business process management (BPM) implementations, for example, have rekindled the decade-old dream of automating workflows by tapping into data and content stores. Text mining techniques are lowering the costs of finding value in content, opening up practical applications such as product quality assurance and contract management. Finally, enterprise information integration (EII) products are making it easier to access data, and many suites are adding tools to tap into content. Read on to find out how these technologies are making better use of all forms of information and how they might transform applications within your enterprise.

BPM Spans Data and Content

BPM is all about developing more efficient, start-to-finish processes, no matter how many systems and silos of information are involved. The technology is middleware that lets you remove process design and business rules from the underlying applications. Most BPM systems include integration technologies that enable them to access information from any source to automate system-to-system interactions. The time-consuming integration work is handled up front, and the abstracted process can thereafter be modeled, measured and quickly changed, with minimal IT assistance, to continually improve performance.

At American National Insurance Co. (ANICO), BPM software was used to bring a complete view of the customer to both customer service representatives (CSRs) and Web self-help applications. Building that view required access to both structured data, from the company's data warehouse and Cognos analytics system, and customer-related content, including policy forms and images of bills and claims.

ANICO's old customer support process forced CSRs to wade through multiple claims systems, multiple provider systems and three-ring binders with paper reports. The average call handling times at the health claims call center was eight and a half minutes; many calls went on as long as half an hour.

Hoping to cut costs and improve customer satisfaction, the company launched a BPM initiative in 1999 using Pegasystems software. The first project focused on the company's health care call center, and the company has since replicated a core CRM process at call centers supporting two large marketing groups and a credit insurance group.

"When an independent agent or insurance customer calls in, the process taps into multiple back-end systems to bring all relevant customer information to a clipboard," says Gary Kirkham, vice president of planning and support. "We've developed anywhere from five to nine pathways [at each call center] that cover at least 85 percent of the calls. As the CSR steps through the process, business rules predict exactly what the customer is going to want to know, and we populate the appropriate information from the clipboard [to the screen]."

The processes are tied into customer status levels determined within the data warehouse, so when a top-selling independent agent calls in, process rules automatically route that call for priority handling by specialized CSRs.

Over the past three years, ANICO has focused on continual process improvement, eliminating bottlenecks, perfecting call pathways and integrating additional data and content. Performance has steadily improved, and it now takes an average of four minutes to handle the health claims calls that used to take twice as long. In one of the two marketing areas, the CRM process is credited with a 60 percent increase in business in its first year. Efficiencies across all four call centers have helped the company avoid hiring 20 to 30 additional CSRs to handle new business.

Get Content Out of the Way

Human interaction with content is a given in CRM, but in most other processes, businesses are pushing to minimize people-to-people exchanges with system-to-system automation. This was the case at Hasbro, where BPM has automated supply chain processes that extend from the toy company's headquarters in Pawtucket, R.I., to suppliers in Asia and on to retailers including Wal-Mart and Target. Content is still a part of the process, but it's there for the exceptions rather than for every transaction made.

"Our SAP back end was spitting out hundreds of thousands of documents per year, and we were faxing and mailing hard copies to suppliers and freight forwarders," says David Adams, Hasbro's business integration manager. "At least 80 percent of our purchase orders could have been handled with a rubber stamp, but if we had 100 purchase orders, we had to physically look at 100 documents. We needed to relieve ourselves of all that paperwork and handle management by exception."

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