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It's About Quality... End-to-End Process Quality

It's About Quality... End-to-End Process Quality

March 24, 2010 0 Comments

Hey everyone! I haven't written in a while because I'm still getting used to my new role and am freshly back from a nice two-week vacation. Why does all the juicy stuff get released while I'm away? Anyway, I'm sure it's not about me (this time). [Apparently I have a lot to say! Sorry for the length of this post in advance. The short version is: 1) It's all about improving "business quality", and 2) Make sure to read the Gartner blog referenced below.]

I wanted to weigh in on this RPM thing... Last week we announced the launch of our Responsive Process Management (RPM) suite. What's it about? I'll leave the "brochure-ware" posts to the marketing folks. I have been talking to many of our customers and field, and while there's some confusion about what it means... RPM's benefits are quite obvious.

It's all about the "quality of the business".

Now marketing may not like how I leave out all sorts of important words/phrases... like real-time business visibility, immediate sense & respond, or continuous process improvement. Those concepts are all very important but they sound very familiar.

What differentiates the Progress solution is that we're enabling, quickly and layered over your existing infrastructure, the ability to react in real-time to your business conditions and exceptions to more tightly control the quality of your business as your customers experience your service/products.

Don't get caught up in the words. Progress' offering is new (and IMO innovative). I know, the jury's out and we have to prove that. But trust me on this one... at least long enough to let me explain.

Let me start by pointing out that all other vendors that "already do that"... well they don't. Don't believe me? Believe Mark McDonald at Gartner. In a blog from February 2010 he points out:

"... in 2010 more than half of CIO's do not feel confident in their ability to achieve results when improving business processes."

If all these other vendors have had a solution for this problem in the market for five years, but 50% of CIO's still don't trust it, something's wrong with the solution.

We can argue this point back and forth for hours, as vendors, because we love our solutions and it's a totally unproductive waste of time. Of course I (usually) believe my stuff is better than others. If not, I should just go get a job with the other guys. Right?

So, let me share some personal thoughts on process quality, what it really means (from a consumer's perspective, my own experience with a bank on a recent transaction), and it's importance will be obvious. I'll not attempt to prove that the Progress® RPM suite is better than the others here... but I hope you'll leave with an understanding of our intent and some of the less obvious challenges companies face when trying to solve problems with their business process quality.

I recently used a government program to refinance a home through Wells Fargo Bank. It's a very paper heavy process. I had the original mortgage with Wells Fargo and since it was a government program, there wasn't any variability to the process. It's a coastal property, so they need to verify up-to-date flood insurance. Of course, since they held the original note on the property -- they had up-to-date flood insurance proof on file.

A few things struck me right away:

  1. Even my mortgage broker had no idea what the process was like because it was a government program. He told me that he'd submit the information, and eventually something would happen.
  2. The person who eventually called (couple weeks later) and asked for my insurance certificate (which, remember, they had on file -- and, yes I could have canceled the insurance, but I sent them the same proof they had on file, so my point stands.) didn't leave a phone number. Or an application tracking number. Or an email address. Just a fax number and a first name. It took me a few days to get to a fax machine, on which I left my phone number and email asking for a confirmation of receipt because I wanted to make sure we completed this step.
  3. I got another call (from another person) to discuss the process and confirm the final information. The inbound caller ID didn't show my bank's name, so it went to voicemail. It took me a couple of days to return the call during which she called again. When we finally spoke, she handed me off to yet another number/person who I'd have to call if I had any questions when I received the closing package.
  4. The closing package asked for the insurance certificate again. And, the loan amount was higher than my current balance. The HUD-1 I got had the same numbers, but they weren't explained anywhere. Having all the dysfunctional experiences above, I had very little confidence in the process and almost decided to scrap it. I had to call the call-center again. When I did they quickly and clearly answered my question and confirmed that they had the insurance info so didn't need it again.

Why did these things stick on my mind? In large part because they're unnecessary and affected my experience with the bank. Do I really want a company this sloppy and disorganized in charge of my money?

The process worked. But, the quality of the process left a lot to be desired. In left me feeling uncertain (as I mentioned, I almost didn't proceed) and it was inefficient for them. Multiple calls to the data center, answering questions that everyone would have and where the answers were readily available. And, before you think it's sloppy human process (the part about not leaving a return phone number with questions, etc.)... there are tells that can be used to recognize poor human process too (like tracking how many calls to the call-center occur per mortgage, and how long the average response time is to each time they ask me for information... and whether there is a correlation, etc.).

Process Visibility

Somewhere, someone in the bank knew the process. They had to. But that information wasn't shared-with or accessible-to my broker. He submitted the paperwork and told me I'd hear from someone.

If you worked with two banks... one said "we'll call you soon" and the other said "you'll hear from us by Tuesday, after that you'll get a package in the mail that you'll have to get notarized and return, the whole thing should take about 6 weeks, so by March, you'll be on the new rate" which would leave you with more confidence? Which is the better experience?

Companies need to be able to track the end-to-end business process. And, as Mark McDonald points out, they need to do that regardless of whether the process is embedded in their legacy systems, formally orchestrated in a BPM engine, or ad-hoc across distributed services (or all of the above!).

Frankly, it must be really hard to do, or more companies would do it. Was this process hard to track because it was part of a government program? Was it handled by different "systems" or teams for compliance reasons? Was there an external government processor that the bank integrated with and left the bank without a clear understanding of the SLA? Was the technology just not agile enough to meet the speed of the business? Said differently, the government was able to roll-out a refinance program faster than Wells Fargo's IT team could react, leaving Wells Fargo hanging with both the government and their frustrated customers. We all know the government is slow... is Wells Fargo's IT really slower?

Flood Insurance

This one baffles me. Aside from the fact that they already had the information they needed, it took me a few days because they wanted it via fax. I was uncertain because I thought maybe they needed something different than what they had, and was frustrated because I had no way to communicate with the person requesting the information.

I'm pretty organized. All my paperwork is scanned and searchable on my computer (and backed up!). Had I received an email request for information they would have had it in 5 minutes. Instead it took 5 days. That sounds like a compelling optimization. Someone has to care how quickly these things get processed (besides me and President Obama). Wasn't one of the early criticisms of these programs that they weren't being implemented quickly enough? After reading this story, do you wonder why?

Loan Amount

I was told it was a no-fee process, but the loan amount was way too high. I figured the bank didn't know what they were doing. A reasonable assumption based on my prior experience with the process. My call to the call center cost the bank money, and took more time. In truth, it was two calls. The first time I called they were too busy, and I waited then had to hang up. Why not just explain it clearly up front? Do they even know how many customers call with questions once receiving the paperwork? Do they know the length of the calls? Perhaps they can see the length, realize it's a quick question, and see if they can improve... again, it's not about the people or thought that goes into things. It's about sensing current business activities, and responding to patterns to improve the quality of the business.

Summary

Finally, I'm actually annoyed that I had to call the bank to see what the rates were. In fact, the bank should be scared of that as well. Imagine if I had called a competitor instead? Apparently the federal program I qualified for had been available for a while. Why wouldn't the bank have reached out to me? It would have impressed me, but also ensured I didn't call that competitor. In fact, this is a use case I worked on recently with an insurance company (different process, same idea).

Imagine being able to sense your customers' behavior and respond to their needs before they have a chance to look at a competitor?

Understanding the quality of the end-to-end business process and having the ability to take action based on events in real-time... that's Operational Responsiveness. It elevates the game and creates a barrier to entry against competitors. That's what the Progress® Responsive Process Management (RPM) suite is meant to deliver for our customers.

david bressler

View all posts from david bressler on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.

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