Appian Forum: Mercer

Chris Gardner, VP of Development at Mercer (who provide HR consulting, HR outsourcing and investment management services), presented the last session of the day; Mercer Outsourcing, with which he is affiliated, provides HR benefits administration.

They rolled out their first 3 processes in April of this year, with the BPM projects involving IT, their operational effectiveness practice and the operational units. Their key drivers are to drive out costs through increased productivity, increase automation of process steps and integration between systems, and standardize processes. Previously, it was difficult for them to reuse or even standardized processes across clients, and many processes required that disparate systems be integrated through human effort. Although in many cases, they thought that they had standardized processes, forcing them onto a common platform exposed their process variability and allowed them to address it directly.

Their benefits from implementing BPM include reduced errors, reduced cycle time, increased SLA attainment (hence reduced penalties for violating SLAs), and greater user productivity (and therefore reduced staffing requirements per client, key since their business in expanding). Automating steps and standardizing processes also allows them to offshore some parts of their processes, reducing costs even further.

Unlike most of the other case studies today, which focused on the human workflow side, they make extensive use of web services for increased automation and, where possible, straight-through processing. One of their projects was an unattended data extraction and file transmission application, where data was extracted from their system via web services calls to an ETL tool, PGP encryption, and FTP of the resulting file to the appropriate third party. Now, the only time that a person is involved in this process is for exception handling, and they have it rolled out to 60 client teams transmitting more than 500 files per week, with 85% of the transmissions being completely hands-off. This creates very different process design challenges than with primarily human-facing processes, such as handling web service unavailability. Even for the hands-off processes, they generate various reports directly from Appian as input to their compliance requirements.

The second application that they’ve implemented manages inbound data files, where Appian acts as an orchestration engine coordinating tasks spreading across their own proprietary systems and other commercial systems. They surface many of the errors and exception handling through Appian, which is  exactly what you should be using an orchestration engine for.

He was very excited to hear about Appian’s earlier announcement about ShareBase, since he feels that they have a lot of intellectual property that they share without compromising their own proprietary methods and processes, and encouraged other clients to participate fully in this.

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