Data Integration Tools Used to Bolster BPM Service for Debt Collection

by   |   August 30, 2013 10:56 am   |   0 Comments

While business process management has not traditionally been discussed in the same breath as data and analytics, times are changing.

In the old days, BPM was mostly about connecting and integrating processes. Sure, there was some hand-off of data, but it wasn’t the big story. Now, though, with organizations awash in data that they would like to better monetize, and with vendors packing new capabilities into BPM suites, data integration, movement, management, and analytics are a much bigger part of the story.

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TEC Analytics of Sarasota, Fla., is one such example. It is the three-year-old business unit of TEC Services Group, a technology and consulting company serving the accounts receivable and debt collection industries, is one such example. TEC Analytics has been offering its customers a service which helps debt collection organizations make strategic decisions about the accounts they are handling. Specifically, debt collection is built around complex tasks—processing large sets of data, often from multiple sources—to identify how to locate debtors and their assets.

However, the company saw that its collection agency customers were having trouble sourcing and managing multiple data vendors and, as a result, they went looking for software that could support a wide range of business process management and data integration, and do it in the cloud.

Will Turner, vice president of analytics at TEC Services, says the company initially thought it could just implement a quick solution using open source data integration tools, especially for extract, transform, and load (ETL) handling of data.  However, he explains, “We wanted the ability to do complex workflows without needing to do a lot of hard coding.” In addition, the company wanted to implement reporting capabilities.

It didn’t take long to discover gaps between the MySQL database and the various open source tools – those gaps included security holes, as well as issues with processing the 30-40 million records some clients required, he notes. In addition, the company needed high availability, to satisfy round-the-clock client demands.

BPM Enters the Big Data Conversation

Lou Ennuso Adeptia CEO 200x200

Lou Ennuso

Even before the big data trend emerged, companies looking to automate business processes had been looking to get away from labor-intensive ETL processes and data-joining jobs that involve connecting databases and applications, says Lou Ennuso, CEO of Adeptia, a Chicago-based BPM suite vendor.

Now, Ennuso says, the focus in business process management is shifting toward big data environments. “On a simplistic level, there is lots of data and information available and anyone that is trying to profile what a customer or client looks like wants to get as much information on whom they are, what they are, and all their other characteristics,” he says.

Gaining an understanding of that data is where BPM tools can come into play. BPM provides a perspective on business processes and workflow. It can help spot problems or identify exceptions to a process. Maybe the “whole line” is grinding to a halt due to exception issues or maybe no one has even recognized that the line has stopped, for example.

“Exception handling is a key to delivering speed-to-market as is the ability to look at data, profile it, and present it back to the user exactly as they want it,” he says.

According to Ennuso, BPM and integration – with exception handling – is a key to being able to turn data into useful information for users. But it isn’t all up to IT.

Ennuso says users need to provide parameters—variables like target customers, the available time frame, and budgets. “The more up-front planning you can do, the easier it is on the back side as you wade through the data,” he says. Without good planning, business users may not get back the kind of information they need.

Ennuso emphasizes the need to analyze these processes in real-time. “You have to be able to deliver the speed-to-market component on the customer, otherwise someone else will beat you,” he says.

The “cheap” open-source approach was also consuming $10,000 a week in developer time and other resources, he says.

Looking for a BPM system that would provide a more seamless and complete way of handling all that data, TEC quickly narrowed the field down to a company called Adeptia, which offers a cloud-based “on-demand” model which fit well with TEC’s goals.

Using Adeptia, TEC created a service repository for maximum reusability, as well as common data structures to easily interface with data vendors and configure business rules. In the process, development time needed to on-board customers dropped to less than 20 hours.

TEC found Adeptia’s integration functionality and its ease of use to be particularly helpful. The latter, in particular, greatly reduced the need for training, while the former—integration built on service oriented architecture (SOA), meant that every time something was developed for a client, it was added to the system and could be used again later.

“It cut down our programming time and made things repeatable, as if we had built our own platform,” explains Turner.  The result is that TEC has been able to successfully bring new service offerings to the marketplace, generating millions in revenue for its clients, and growing the business, according to the company.

The combination of BPM as well as SOA and on-demand functionality has meant that it is feasible to “make changes on the fly” for clients, adds Turner.  “Rather than focusing on development we can focus on our core business, which is consulting,” he adds.

Turner says the whole process has taught him several lessons, including the value of taking full advantage of all the capabilities in a tool such as Adeptia.  In addition, Turner says the importance of documenting requirements up-front has become clear.  “The better you document client requirements, the easier it is to develop and deploy a BPM solution,” he explains.

Finally, he notes, using a hosted service—in this case, Adeptia is built on Amazon’s infrastructure—saved time and money. He says that Adeptia could fully manage the relationship with Amazon, and Amazon had the certification, such as PCI and ISO 27001 and 2002, SAE 16 and FISMA, that his clients require.

Alan R. Earls is a business and technology writer based near Boston.

Correction, Sept. 3, 2013: This original version article has been updated to reflect a correction. TEC Analytics is a division of TEC Services Group, catering to the accounts receivable industry, not to the construction industry.

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