Management Strategies

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Len Lombardo, chief information officer, TransUnion
Len Lombardo, chief information officer, TransUnion
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Business-Process Innovation

What better way to hone a competitive edge than by converting inefficient, manual activities into streamlined, structured processes that can be automated and closely monitored to support business innovation?

Company: TransUnion LLC, part of the Marmon Group
Headquarters: Chicago
Employees: 3,600 in 24 countries
Founded: 1968
Line of business: Credit-reporting agency

Business imperative: Reduce fixed costs and improve operating efficiencies; introduce new credit-related products and services

IT statistics: One terabyte of information managed on a daily basis and 2.1 billion items of information processed every month

Over the past decade, TransUnion has used various automation solutions to streamline operations. As a leading credit-information provider, we carry out millions of credit transactions for consumers each day. It's essential that we continue to enhance our automated infrastructure to deliver quality services. We've made a number of changes in our business-process and workflow-automation systems that complement our corporate strategy for increasing efficiency. A new business-process management (BPM) initiative is a cornerstone of these efforts. We view our business processes as key corporate assets that we need to leverage across business groups and continually improve to enhance our competitive position. As such, we need a BPM solution that supports fast system development and easy process modification as business conditions change. We also require sophisticated monitoring and reporting features to track performance over time, letting us maximize our operations on an ongoing basis. Our former workflow solution simply couldn't meet the depth of our business needs.

TransUnion has offered credit information to financial institutions for more than 30 years. In keeping with the trend toward consolidation in the financial-services industry, our services today encompass a wide range of business-intelligence capabilities that help companies worldwide manage financial risk. These include advanced target-marketing tools, credit-approval assessment, fraud prevention, portfolio management, and risk and profitability modeling. In addition to serving the financial and banking industry, TransUnion provides products to collection agencies, communications companies, direct marketers, energy companies, health-care facilities, insurance providers, mortgage and real-estate companies, and retailers.

Privately held TransUnion is based in Chicago but has a presence in all 50 states and in 24 countries. We maintain several of the largest databases of consumer-credit information in the world. In fact, our U.S. system processes more than 2 billion data items every month. Maintaining accurate and current files on virtually every credit-active American consumer is a major undertaking. Information needs to be protected yet accessible in an instant to authorized parties.

Individual business units have the authority to implement systems that best address their unique business needs and processing demands, but this can result in application redundancies and a failure to leverage existing systems, leading to higher costs. TransUnion's IT department is looking to create greater efficiencies and cost savings from shared services. We recently rolled out a corporate strategy of "maximizing the enterprise," with the goal of leveraging the comprehensive intelligence of all our business units to improve operations.

One key to this effort is collaboration among the various corporate and IT groups that address cross-organizational needs. TransUnion has upgraded its entire IT infrastructure over the past several years, including databases, networks, and packaged and custom applications--all based largely on open standards. The new environment is better suited to supporting cross-enterprise processes and operations.

As part of this undertaking we decided to replace our decade-old workflow package, which was not flexible enough, with a comprehensive BPM solution. Our business structure is extremely process-centric, and flawless service delivery demands the consistent, sequential completion of associated steps. Also, because many of our services rely on the same customer data, efficiency demands integration of our various corporate systems, ranging from accounts receivable to customer databases.

After evaluating a number of BPM solutions last year, we selected Savvion's process-optimization platform as our corporate standard for automating operational processes. Savvion BusinessManager will let individual business units automate processes such as the development, approval, and deployment of new products, while TransUnion implements cross-enterprise systems, such as employee self-service, that streamline processes across divisions and with our vendors.

By standardizing on a BPM platform, we expect to gain the following benefits:

* Time and cost savings from process automation and improved information-sharing.

* Enhanced data access and analysis to better manage our business.

* Visibility into our operations, with real-time process-monitoring to see what's happening at any given time.

* Better business management by leveraging operational visibility to identify and resolve issues before they become problems.

* Improved business agility using real-time monitoring to quickly respond to changing business conditions, such as product enhancements and the service fulfillment of our vendors as we work together to meet competitive pressures.

* Strategic analytics to regularly measure our progress in achieving business objectives and to consistently identify new ways to enhance process execution.

* Faster time to market for new solutions that rely on our information repositories.
Our teams can monitor process-execution metrics, not just the process data. By measuring the execution time of a collection of process steps--a discrete activity, exceptions, and process milestones, for example--our process teams can assess performance relative to time and cost. The metrics let us assess how well we meet deadlines and expectations. BPM is an effective way to determine performance and ultimately to improve overall scores on these self-evaluations.

Implementing BPM projects within and across divisions is an ongoing effort that requires coordination among business units. Our current BPM projects include:

* A product-development system that will speed creation of new market solutions, from initial concept through review and approval, to deployment. This automated system will provide a centralized gateway for collecting product ideas, capturing feedback from multiple business groups, and conducting market and ROI research. The system will also create a corporate repository of ideas and will enhance interdepartmental communication by providing real-time status updates.

* Our real-estate services subsidiary, responsible for delivering residential lending solutions, is designing a BPM solution to speed process execution across its integrated loan-processing subsystems. These subsystems help lending institutions close loans more quickly by providing services such as credit checks, property appraisals, property and title searches, and flood-zone determinations.

* We're converting our automated customer-information system to better manage posting of incoming accounts-receivable information to our consumer databases. We process billions of items each year from more than 10,000 data sources, such as consumer-payment histories received from credit-card issuers. To maintain a highly accurate, deep, and rich database of consumer information, each piece of information must be loaded onto our central system and verified.

* An automated workload-management system is planned that should reduce the challenges of selecting, assigning, and managing workloads across printing systems at one of our international printing-and mailing-services affiliates.

Selection stages
Before adopting Savvion BusinessManager last year, we chose a pilot project to evaluate the platform's capabilities. Our Enterprise Information Systems Group developed a Web-based system to automate the handling of employee requests for enhancements to billing, commission applications, financial reporting, and human resources. Dubbed EISe ("Easy") Request, the system was a test bed for Savvion's technology, letting employees submit change requests through a Web-based portal. EISe Request automatically routes the query based on predefined business rules, tracks approved change requests throughout the development cycle, reports the status of requests to the initial requester and IT management, and manages quality-assurance activities.

Managed Care
To realize E-business benefits, companies must create an environment that lets business professionals automate the management of key business processes, including:

* Monitoring the status of processes that span the extended enterprise.
* Capturing and activating business rules, events, and alarms based on supply-chain and business requirements.
* Analyzing the statistical performance of various process instances to identify bottlenecks.
* Dynamically modifying process assignments and rules to achieve desired efficiencies.

The pilot eliminated the monthly barrage of phone calls and E-mails from associates requesting system changes, letting the IT staff handle requests more efficiently. The BPM system can handle complex requests that impact more than one enterprise system. In addition, the system eliminates lost requests, speeds task completion through automated task notification, and improves information-sharing and process management through real-time visibility of requests.

Based on the success of this initial system and with plans to automate many more processes, we selected BusinessManager as our corporate standard. The enterprise-model scalability makes the system suitable for both small, departmental projects and enterprisewide systems. The platform supports the Java J2EE programming standards and component reuse, letting us quickly build new solutions by leveraging previously developed components, a form of best practices. In the collaborative process-design environment, we can develop and deploy new process systems 40% faster than with our former workflow system.

TransUnion has a long-term internal initiative in place that focuses on process-quality enhancements across the company. As part of this strategic effort, we're documenting our various processes, creating process maps, and identifying areas for improvement. Because of the unwieldiness and inflexibility of our outgoing workflow package, however, we have automated only a few of these processes. As a result, we have a backlog of process-automation plans that are now being addressed.

Process-automation requests, like any other business project sent to IT, go through a normal project life cycle for discovery, design, construction, and testing before production deployment into the business unit for enhanced use. This IT life cycle includes compilation of business requirements, creation of a designed solution, construction and assembly of the solution, and quality-control testing.

Not every business task warrants a BPM solution, however. In our IT-design efforts we consider three primary qualities for the applicable selection of an automated BPM solution to best suit a specific business need:

* Are the process steps consistent and definable?
* Does the process involve handoffs to other employees, systems, or divisions?
* Is it valuable to track metrics on task status or measure execution performance?

If the answers to these questions are yes for a given process, it's a good candidate for business-process automation and management.

Having started small, our BPM efforts are quickly gaining momentum. Recognizing the considerable benefits BPM offers--from both operational and strategic standpoints--we plan to use BPM extensively across the company. In support of this effort, we're educating our managers about the efficiencies it offers.

My goal is to use BPM as a catalyst to gain process efficiencies and support corporatewide innovation. We're empowering managers to use the resources of our IT workflow-automation group to help optimize their processes both within their business unit and across the company.

The real-estate services example mentioned earlier spans multiple divisions and connects the processes of third-party information suppliers and the agencies that provide the billing and credit-history information that goes into creating a credit report, which in turn is shared with banks, credit card companies, and other businesses that contract with TransUnion for this data.

These cross-division collaborative efforts will have the added benefit of helping TransUnion identify processes that extend across business units as well as those that are repeated in various areas.

Len Lombardo is chief information officer at TransUnion.

Copyright (c) 2003 CMP Media LLC

For more on this subject, plus a "90-Day Plan" for getting familiar with Business Process Management, visit:

This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Optimize, which provides 70,000 Business Technology Executives with business thought leadership and practical knowledge to bridge the gap between business strategy and execution. To subscribe:

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