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An Escalator can never break: It can only become Stairs

An Escalator can never break: It can only become Stairs

When I heard this joke years ago, it really struck a note with me. In addition to being a good laugh, it also caused me to really think about how I go about designing software solutions for customers. Building systems in Pega, we are always looking for the best ways to automate and streamline processes, this often entails pulling data from multiple systems, running complex business logic, and presenting users with exactly the same information they need to complete their tasks. Though the end goal is always a powerful and efficient system, I have found that almost every project I have encountered has run up against issues with automation. Be it waiting for partners to deliver interfaces or even identifying sources for key information, there always seems to be some key piece of the puzzle that goes missing until the 11th hour.

Whenever I run into this type of situation, I think back to the escalator joke and take it a step further and compare an escalator to an elevator. When an elevator breaks down, at best everyone is stuck where they are. If an escalator breaks down, you simply start walking and you can keep going where you need to be, it might not be as fast or as easy as planned, but it will work. If a system is built well, with this type of thought process in mind, even though a key component might not be available or working, the system can still be fully functional, even if not operating at 100% efficiency.

In projects, I have always tried to add the ability to manually enter data that would eventually be provided by services, or in some cases give a user the ability to choose the path of a work object when in the future a complex business logic might make the final decision. By including these backup plans for when a service isn’t available or there are outstanding questions on logic, we can ensure that though a solution may not be running at 100% efficiency it will run and provide value on day 1.

Though our goal is always to provide the most advanced and efficient system possible to our customers, it is important that we never lose sight of the need to build a robust system that can operate even when conditions are not perfect. There will always be the possibility of show stopping exceptions, but whenever possible we must make sure that even if the escalator is not running, you can still get where you are going.

Next Gen Customer Communication Solution

Next Gen Customer Communication Solution

It is a well-known fact that it costs six to seven times more to get a new customer than to retain an existing one. Customer service plays a pivotal role in customer retention, and it depends completely on customer communication because, ultimately communication is what differentiates between a poor, mediocre and great customer service.

But how far has customer communication travelled? We still find desktops and telephones cluttered at a customer representative’s desk. So when a customer’s call comes in, the agent fidgets between the desktop and the telephone before attending the call. It is then followed by the popping up of all the available menu options on the agent’s screen irrespective of the reason behind the customer’s call. The agent does not even get to know if the customer has tried multiple times through IVR and Web Self Service before getting connected to the agent. All these gaps lead to just a poor or mediocre customer service, but never a great one.

So, what if things were different? A great customer service requires a great customer communication, which can only be attained by digital transformation. Wouldn’t it be great if the gaps in customer communication are bridged using a transformational technology like Pega? That is exactly what we have done. We have designed a solution that smoothens the whole customer communication process, has minimal hardware requirements and handles Omni-channel interactions between multiple devices over voice, video and text.

The Pega Customer Service application has proven to be hassle free and intuitive for agents as well as operation managers who manage the scripting. Our solution enables the application to extend the same features to configure and manage IVR. Here IVR is not integrated with CRM but IVR is built directly on CRM and configured within CRM. Both the agent interaction and IVR interaction can now be managed from a single application. The dynamic IVR incorporated in our solution understands the data in the CRM, and thus an agent gets the context of the customer’s problem along with the call request, and the agent’s screen too will only present the options relevant to the customer. This facilitates quick and correct responses from the agent to the customer.

Our customer service solution puts together both mobile and web applications to enable better communication between end-users and agents. We have enabled Browser-Mobile/Browser-Browser/Mobile-Mobile/Mobile-Browser calling in our solution using WebRTC, and this eliminates the need to have a traditional telephone system. Henceforth, the interactions need not be restricted to voice and text alone, as we have also enabled video calling in our solution. Let’s assume a customer who has difficulties in installing a hardware and requires assistance from an agent. In this case, a video communication will be helpful and time saving which is possible using our solution.

We have integrated Pega data and processes in a mobile application so that an agent always stays updated with the tasks assigned. It also enables customers to get in touch with an agent from anywhere with just a mobile device in hand. This solution benefits not only the customer service agents and end-users but also the field service representatives who are on the go. All that they require is a smartphone to connect with an expert on a video call, to display the problem at the customer’s end and receive expert advice over the call.

The Next Gen Customer Communication solution provides a 360-degree  view of the tasks assigned to a customer service agent/field service representative, along with the details of the customers and their respective issues. This eliminates the need to look into multiple systems to obtain detailed information on the customers.

While video calling from mobile applications, dynamic IVR and centralised load balancer for interactions across channels are the highlightable features of our solution, it should be noted that it also eliminates the need to invest heavily in the communications infrastructure. This way, it greatly reduces the overhead cost while preserving the features of a traditional phone system.

Where does the Serendebyte Pega ALM Integration Toolkit (PAT) Fit?

Where does the Serendebyte Pega ALM Integration Toolkit (PAT) Fit?

ALM, or Application Lifecycle Management solutions are a vital part of development projects. Properly used, the ALM solution provides clarity into a complex process for testers, developers, analysts and project managers, and can give project sponsors the high level dashboard type view they require to maintain visibility into a project’s health. There are many ALM solutions available, many with features specifically designed to work with specific methodologies. When considering an ALM solution for a Pega project there is one major drawback to third party ALM solutions, they are not made to leverage the native ALM functionalities built into Pega.

Pega PRPC, offers some truly revolutionary features, the ability to capture requirements, user stories/use cases and flows in the system during DCO sessions and then providing these gathered specifications to system architects in real time in the system they are working in is an extraordinarily powerful tool. With the addition of Pega’s Project Management Framework, Pega can provide a full scale ALM, the only drawback to this is that in most cases a customer already uses an ALM solution and has several projects outside of the scope of Pega.This is where the Serendebyte Pega ALM Integration Toolkit (PAT) comes in. Serendebyte began development of this tool based on needs expressed by both System and Business Architects. The ability to tie requirements and user stories stored in third party ALM tools directly to Pega gives the project team the visibility they require while still using the powerful tools provided by Pega PRPC.

PAT allows us to close the gap between project managers using existing ALM tools, business architects who often need to work in both existing ALM tools and Pega, and System Architects who are responsible for building a system and reporting status across ALM and Pega tools. With PAT it is possible to utilize multiple tools all in the way they are meant to be used, without forcing resources to duplicate work and effort. By giving System Architects and Business Architects a one stop shop for requirements and specifications within

Pega, we give a project team a truly unique  360-degree  view of tasks assigned and of the complete project. This is particularly powerful in distributed team models where Business Architects are not co-located with development teams and communication is not always immediate. When traditional ALM artifacts are separate from the Pega development environment it is very easy to miss key requirements and descriptions and end up reworking tasks that could have and should have been completed correctly the first time.

Serendebyte has seen a tremendous amount of interest in just the first release of the PAT, and we are very excited about some of the functionality we plan to add in future releases.

To learn more about PAT feel free to contact us.

BPM on the Cloud – Are we there yet !!! – Part 3

BPM on the Cloud – Are we there yet !!! – Part 3

Once candidate applications are chosen to migrate to a cloud platform, it is time to decide the best option available and the desired final state of the solution. The three levels of cloud offering that could be utilized to migrate to a cloud environment are as follows,

a) Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):

This is the quickest way to utilize cloud infrastructure and make minimum or no change to applications but deploy them in a cloud infrastructure to benefit from on-demand hardware capacity. Applications that have a high degree of customization cannot choose a cloud platform and re-build the application or replace with any available ready-to-use software on the cloud. Such applications also typically require absolute control over the processes and data they manage.

b) Platform as a Service (PaaS):

Application that have moderate customization and complexity and can be configured using a cloud platform, best fit this approach. Such applications require less stringent control over data and need some level of customization of processes.

c) Software as a Service (SaaS):

Applications that are generic enough and have a SaaS offering can utilize the benefits of offloading hardware as well as software infrastructure to the cloud.

Off the bat, the quickest and easiest option is to use a cloud IaaS and migrate from using in-house infrastructure to a cloud infrastructure. This increases the ability to scale infrastructure resources up and down dynamically on demand. This option however, provides benefits of a cloud platform limited to hardware/infrastructure.

To derive the maximum benefit from cloud environments, one has to find a SaaS offering that can replace the candidate application. Using a SaaS offering requires some effort towards configuring the software offering, but might limit the extent to which application specific custom requirements can be satisfied.

For highly customised applications, the absence of a suitable SaaS offering leads to using a cloud platform to build the application on the cloud. This requires significant effort towards building and configuring the application, but once done, it provides similar benefits as that of a SaaS platform.

The driving force behind selecting any one of these options should be to increase business process standardization and the ability to provide business process integration (more on these two key BPM criteria in future blogs). The table below boils down the different aspects and the pros and cons with each of the options that comes to mind.

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So the long and short of it is that, among the following, one gets to choose any two.

1. Application and data Flexibility

2. Benefits from cloud

3. Low migration effort/investment

 
Power up PRPC with the help of Integration !

Power up PRPC with the help of Integration !

We all know that Pega is one of the most powerful and leading BPM products in the market. Now, how do we make it more powerful? By integration. I would like to highlight some products that Serendebyte has successfully integrated Pega with.

Amazon Web Services (AWS):

At Serendebyte, we have used AWS to host our Pega instances. As of now we have several Pega instances running on the AWS cloud. The best part about AWS is that it is very easy to use. Once you setup an instance, you will be able to take an image (copy or back-up) of it. With the help of this image, you will be able to start a new similar instance in seconds.

We have used AWS for hosting our Pega training instances. It is very easy to scale up these instances.  If the number of users increases or if more memory/storage is required, it can be done in just a few clicks.

Apart from providing environments for hosting Pega instances, there are other valuable features that AWS provides which can be integrated with Pega. One such feature is the Amazon SES (Simple Email Service) which Pega can use. Amazon’s SES has a key functionality of tracking the emails that you send. Amazon actively monitors various metrics, such as hard bounces and complaints to ensure that the questionable content is not being distributed. This functionality will be of great use for marketing applications. It can be used to track what happened to your marketing emails that were sent from a Pega application.

Another feature that can be of great use is the Amazon SNS (Simple Notification Service). It has the ability to manage the notifications that you send. For example, you can group iOS, Android and SMS recipients together, and when you publish a topic, SNS delivers appropriately formatted copies of your message to each subscriber.

Content Management Systems like Shutter Stock:

As we all know, it is not possible to include the images which are stored in Pega while sending emails or notifications. Most of the clients have a separate image repository which can be used via http URLs. One of the common image repository solutions that is available is Shutter Stock. Shutter Stock can be integrated with PRPC’s rich text editor, so that the images from Shutter Stock can be used while designing email templates. Shutter Stock is just an example. There are a lot of other systems similar to Shutter Stock which can be used and integrated with.

Application Life Cycle Management Solutions like Rally, Jira, TFS, HPQC and Version One:

Most of Pega’s enterprise customers use an ALM solution like Rally, Jira and TFS to manage their requirements, user stories, defects and tasks. Currently, we do not have a link between the ALM products and Pega. If we can create a link between them and the code that we develop in Pega, it will be of great help in terms of traceability, impact analysis and also in reducing the analysis time. Serendebyte has a solution called PAT (Pega ALM Integration Toolkit) which can be of a great value to customers in terms of productivity and traceability. To know more, email to info@serendebyte.com

Archiving and Purging – Understand data and process managed by solution.

Archiving and Purging – Understand data and process managed by solution.

In my previous post, I had discussed about the high level steps for archiving, so at the next level, let us explore data in a typical BPM Application.

The data model designed in the solutions implemented in BPM platforms, allows the design team to extend and customise data models as per the requirements of the process being implemented. The data design for BPM solutions is more towards complementing the process being orchestrated than managing data as System of Record (SOR).

If we take a look at the data model used in BPM or Case management applications, we can classify the data into the following categories:

♦ Data generated 

It includes the following:

– Process related data generated while a case flows through a process or for each instance of process-run. This data      pertains to inflight cases and historical cases, or resolved cases.

– Performance related data like SLA for inflight tasks and KPIs for completed tasks, and this is mostly the statistical  data collected for each process execution. This data is mostly used in business activity monitoring and to evaluate  the performance of the processes and actors involved in the process.

– Audit data that is captured during each task and step in the process, on completion of tracking and analysis.

– 60-80% of the data in a typical BPM application will be pertaining to the data generated, which is more related to  the process implemented, rather than the actual business data related to customer profile, or Loan or policy or    Health care claim.

Most of the BPM and Case Management platforms provide clear differentiation between the attributes generated by the platform and the other attributes.

♦ Data referenced 

– Application specific data models designed within the application would mostly be a container of the reference data  required for the process, which are loaded from different System of Records (SORs).

– These attributes get updated every time a case /process moves from one step to another, and always contains the  final state of the execution.

– BPM solutions reference business data from different System of Record (SOR) systems.

– Solutions can reference these business data in real-time through web services, or they can make a copy of the  business data once it gets pushed from the downstream system.

– Referenced data gets constantly updated from System of Record (SOR) and it would always be in a transient stage  within BPM.

♦ Data captured 

– In some cases, the solutions might be built in the BPM platform to capture the data for business objects like “Loan  and Policy”. In these scenarios, the process of capturing data is implemented in BPM.

– Once the required data is captured, the respective System of Records are updated to maintain the records of these  business data.

– The solutions handling the data capture cannot be considered as a System of Record (SOR).

When we approach a solution for data retention we would mostly deal with historical data of the process /case that is completed.

Only when we analyse the data and categorize it as above, will the team be better equipped to untangle the knots around data retention, regulation and compliance.

The best practice in enterprise solutions is to capture key milestones of the process progress and process completion in a System of Record (SOR) or MDM or Core system.

The Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing

The Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is an art that can be mastered only when approached in a disciplined fashion. Similar to every other form of art, it has fundamentals that should be given special attention. These fundamentals are the ground rules that must be adhered to in order to excel in this art.

I would like to refer to these fundamentals as the Ten Commandments, and they are as follows:

1.Thou shalt have patience

Mastering the art of patience, I’d say, is very essential to master the art of social media marketing. Success in social media campaigns is not something that you get to see overnight. You must shout out to make your presence known, but do not expect to be noticed immediately. Keep shouting till others notice your presence. Stay positive, and do not get discouraged if your first few posts haven’t been successful in creating the buzz that you had been expecting.

2.Thou shalt be focused

Set proper goals for your social media marketing campaigns, and focus on them. Without a clear path set before you, it is impossible to go on a journey in this virtual world. If you believe that social media is the cheapest mode of marketing, then you are completely wrong. According to Charlene Li, “Social media isn’t inexpensive, it’s different expensive.” In fact, this is a more critical and complicated mode of marketing, because you come so close to your audience that they can either pat you on your shoulder or slap you on your face. Now all this depends on how you carry yourself in the social space. You cannot carry yourself in a dignified manner if you market in a random manner ignoring your goals.

3.Thou shalt be an observer

Social media is not a one way channel where you keep doing all the talking and expect everyone to listen. Once you are done with the talking, sit back and listen to what your audience have to say. Spend time on observing the reaction of your audience. This is very important because your next move depends on how your audience respond. Audience can be segmented based on their response to various posts. Based on the details of segmentation, your posts can target them.

4.Thou shalt keep thy audience engaged

Keep reminding your audience continuously that you exist. If you fail to do this, you’ll be forgotten. Have live discussions online by posting questions that would draw opinions and suggestions from various people around the globe. Make your social media handle as interesting as possible to your audience. The more interesting your social media activities are, the more your audience will promote you. So, in a way, keeping your audience engaged will also help in spreading the word about you.

5.Thou shalt respond on time

Social media waits for no one. When someone reaches out to you, ensure that you respond on time, because if you don’t, your competitor will. Competitors watch your social media activities closely at all times. You must be careful not to let them snatch and fly away with your followers. When someone shows interest in what you are doing, respect their interest and revert back to them at the earliest. If you do this, your follower will continue to cling to you, but if you don’t, he might jump to someone else who respects his interest and does the needful.

 6.Thou shalt have quality, not quantity

Remember, you are not the only one existing here. So be selective of what you show your audience. Pestering your audience with too many posts is a strict NO. Only share posts that your audience can relate to, or else they might ignore your posts. Your audience will not be interested if you simply blah, blah, and blah about whatever you do. They’d rather be more interested in the big story.  So pick the best out of your stock and show that to the world. Ultimately, you are what you share, and your brand image is built on how you project yourself, so project yourself in the best possible way and stay as simple as possible.

7.Thou shalt not imitate thy competitor

Do not set foot in the social media marketing space just because your competitor is already there. The concept of “something is better than nothing” does not apply to social media marketing. It is better to have nothing than just something for the sake of it. Your competitor’s goals will be completely different from that of yours, so if you try to imitate their strategy, it might end up as a total failure. Instead, create your own style to reach out to your audience.

8.Thou shalt build relationships, not followers

Do not waste your time and money on increasing the follower count of your social media handles in an attempt to look more popular. It is better to have 100 strong relationships than to have 1000 inactive followers. Always try to strike a chord with your followers and present yourself as someone who cares for their needs and not as someone who’s desperate to sell their goods. This is the only way by which a strong bond can be created between you and your followers.

9.Thou shalt be ethical

Freedom and social media are synonymous. Social media is a platform where everyone is free to do the talking. You are given complete freedom to market yourself in any way possible, but never take advantage of this and attempt to deceive your audience with false reports and misrepresentations, because they will eventually backfire. Always avoid criticising your competitors and highlighting their shortfalls, but instead, show others how different you are from the rest. You must ensure that you make the best use of your freedom and get the maximum possible result, ethically.

10.Thou shalt look back and evaluate

As you go on your social media journey, you ought to look back from time to time and evaluate your past activities. A regular assessment will give you a clear picture of how you have been performing so far. It is also a stage where you get to identify areas that require improvement. This is very critical to your survival in the world of social media. Whenever something does not proceed as expected, go back to the drawing board and reorganize your strategic plan.

The bottom line is to stay simple and honest.

Archiving and Purging – BPM Data – Part I

Archiving and Purging – BPM Data – Part I

In the current enterprise application landscape, most of the organizations prefer the leading BPM and case management vendors for their ability to automate and streamline business processes. Many of these vendor solutions collect the key process and interaction metrics and data to provide a clear insight into operations and to provide better work force management for the operations team. On the flip side, this data collected adds to data maintenance and management challenges. Many applications and solution providers will consider data management and retention only after the solutions age as well as accumulate enormous data related to process, metrics and interactions. Before the IT and the business team close on the approach to data retention and purging, the collected data would have already started to impact the applications.

I have seen this pattern across most of the organizations that we have consulted, ranging from leading financial services, and health care to insurance providers. All these organizations have faced a hard time in defining a strategy and solution to their “Data Archiving and Purging” initiatives.

If I am to list the top reasons, as per my observations, on why these organizations struggle with these initiatives, it would be as follows:

♦   Lack of better insight into the data collected and managed within the BPM solutions.

♦ Concurrence between different Stake holders (Legal, Business Operation, Data Management and IT) on the   requirement of data retention and accessibility.

This leads to cost over-runs of archiving and purging initiatives as well as slipping schedules.

Slippage in archiving projects, as always, has a ripple effect in BPM applications, and if I were to list a few of them, they would be as follows:

♦  Major Impediment to regular data backup and maintenance.

♦  Performance of solutions degrade.

♦  Increase in cost of infrastructure to maintain accumulated data.

♦  Non-compliance of regulations.

♦  Delays in upgrades and migration initiatives related to software and hardware infrastructure.

In this series of blog, I would try to elaborate the approach and solutions related to Arching and Purging data within BPM.

To start with, let us first get to some of the basics of Data Archingso What is Data Archiving?

“Data archiving is the process of moving data that is no longer actively used to a separate data storage device for long-term retention. Data archives consist of older data that is still important and necessary for future reference, as well as data that must be retained for regulatory compliance.”

— Courtesy World Wide Web.

First, the word of caution would be to never jump into the solution before understanding the key characteristics of the BPM solution that you are dealing with. These are the few high level steps that I would recommend.

Step 1: Understand the data and business process managed by the solution.

Step 2: Develop an insight into the Regulations and Compliance aspects of Data Retention

Step 3: Untangle the knots around the requirement of Data retention and Accessibility

Step 4: Understand the infrastructure and the existing Archiving solution

Step 5: Define the need for Archiving

Step 6: Negotiate the requirement from stake holders

Step 7: Draft a general approach and solution to Archiving

Step 8: Specialize the solution to each BPM applications.

We would explore each of these steps in detail in this series, but before that, I would request everyone to remember that the common design mantra for BPM is “Do not use BPM application as System Of Records”.

BPM on the Cloud – Are we there yet !! – Part 2

BPM on the Cloud – Are we there yet !! – Part 2

Today, most of the basic business processes around managing businesses like HR, Payroll, IT services, legal etc., can be managed using the available SaaS solutions. This fits the classic pattern of a disruptive solution that captures market share for non-core business processes at the lower end of the industry, targeting startups and small businesses growing to capture higher margin and market shares with critical mass.

If the pattern holds, such SaaS solutions will permeate up to higher margin solutions that cater to medium and large-scale enterprises. BPM products that cater to the medium and large enterprises realize this shift and are moving in the direction to support implementation that fully utilize the benefits of the cloud.

Medium and large scale enterprises broadly implement their business processes based on a broad range of solutions, from COTS products with some customization to complete custom developed solutions, and from dedicated infrastructure to outsourced cloud based solutions. The determination of what solution best fits the need can be made using various metrics.

To determine if a BPM solution on the cloud is a right fit some of the basic filters that can be used are as follows:

1. Core v/s non-core BPM solutions: Most non-core business processes are readily sourced to SaaS based cloud  solutions. These solutions allow a range of configuration and customization. All core business processes are best  managed using custom solutions to allow the best fit.

2. Repetitive v/s one time: Implementing a custom solution for a business process in itself is a multi-step process and  can include repetitive tasks which are suited to managing using cloud solutions. These tasks can range from QA  testing, performance evaluation to managing availability of various versions of the software on different platforms.  Such repetitive tasks are easily managed in a virtual environment, which lends itself well to a cloud solution.

3. Applications that require high performance, compute resources in bursts rather than smooth evenly distributed  application load which over a period of time will be better served in a cloud environment where compute capacity  can be dynamically altered.

In order for enterprises to reap the benefits of a cloud based BPM solution, their best candidate solutions could be applications that meet all of the above three criteria, i.e. non-core applications that require repetitive tasks and/or where application load is uneven and requires bursts of compute resources. This helps build a coherent strategy around which applications to target first will be moved to the cloud. Once all such applications are migrated, the next step could target applications that meet any two criteria.