Greener Pastures Through a Wiki World

 
 
By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 2009-09-04
 
 
 

If an organization develops and maintains its content and documents effectively, the information contained therein can save time and money, and may even generate revenue. If not handled properly, however, content and documents can sap revenue and productivity—and may lead to legal problems when required documents can’t be found.

It’s no wonder, then, that many companies seek innovative ways to manage their business documents and content. The enterprise content-management market is now worth more than $3.4 billion in revenue worldwide, up from slightly more than $2.6 billion in 2006, according to industry researcher Gartner.

Columbus, Ohio-based Grange Insurance is one of the companies buying into these solutions. With more than $1 billion in annual revenue, the company was forced to deal with a never-ending stream of paper documents as it processed auto, home, life and farm policies for thousands of customers. Grange needed a way to make it easy for its network of independent agents to quickly provide quotes and policies to customers, and to process their claims and answer their questions in a timely manner.

Today, the company is benefiting from its investment in an IBM Enterprise Content Management solution, which scans nearly 60,000 documents daily. Grange’s service representatives can quickly access insurance documents online and provide that information to customers via e-mail or phone. As a result, customers are served faster, receiving claim updates, new policy quotes and coverage details in minutes instead of hours or days. This level of customer service has helped the company grow its business without having to hire additional service reps.

“This was the best decision we ever made,” says Jerry Valentine Sr., lead computer analyst. “This solution is now the cornerstone for how our corporate information is stored and processed.”

As Grange discovered, document and content management often involves the transformation of paper files into a digital format. But it can also encompass other areas, such as security, disaster recovery, collaboration, e-discovery and printer management. Baseline recently spoke with executives at enterprises that have launched initiatives to improve oversight of their corporate documents.

Taking Care of Patients

Caris Healthcare, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based hospice provider with branches throughout the state, cares for more than a thousand terminally ill patients a year. Understandably, families of those patients may be in an unsettling emotional state, especially during the intake process when Caris staffers meet with them to get a sense of the patient’s medical history, prescriptions needs, contact information and financial details, etc.

These details help doctors, bereavement counselors, chaplains and other staffers provide proper care, and they enable administrators to come up with an amenable contract for services. Traditionally, this information was assembled with paper documents—a tedious experience for the patient’s family and the hospice’s staff.

Now, Caris is streamlining the process by converting virtually all its paperwork into digital format. “We were looking to create greater ease of access to the documents,” says Troy Chambers, IT director. “We also wanted to save costs by eliminating paperwork, and we wanted a system that included a strong disaster-recovery plan.”

Caris turned to Eastman Kodak to devise a Web-based solution that would reduce the cost and complexity of document workflow during intake. Kodak partnered with FileWorks, which takes images from Kodak scanners and creates e-docs out of them: PDFs, Word documents and JPEGs. Four Caris locations have already been converted, and all 17 will be using e-docs by the end of the year.

Originally, management thought there might be a problem with converting documents that required a physician’s signature. But Caris discovered that the state of Tennessee allowed a photocopy of the physician’s signature on documents, so the photocopied signatures were scanned into all e-docs. The solution also met encryption standards dictated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

As far as access goes, staffers are allowed to call up documents based on their job titles, responsibilities and work location. Central office employees have greater latitude, while those in service locations generally have access only to documents that relate to clients being treated at their site.

The system is also secure enough to allow employees to access these documents remotely, which is important when a company has 17 locations. “This will save our auditing team time and money,” Chambers says. “Instead of crisscrossing all over the state to get a file from a particular location, our auditing team can simply call it up through this system from the central office where they work. For their purposes, an e-doc and a paper document are the same.”

The need for greater disaster recovery has also been met. “It’s all backed up at a site that hasn’t even been disclosed to me, which is the way I prefer it,” Chambers says, reasoning that the lower the site’s profile is, the more secure the information will be.

Greener Pastures Through a Wiki World

As a senior executive in the renewable-energy industry, Brandon Stafford often tapped Wikipedia.org for both business and personal use. Then, more than two years ago, Stafford had a thought that changed the way his office did business: Why can’t our company collaborate like the wiki world does?

In his case, the company is San Francisco-based GreenMountain Engineering, where Stafford is a principal engineer working out of an office in Boston. GreenMountain creates devices that serve the “clean tech” industry. For example, it recently built a robot that can take long strips of solar panels and cut them into 4-inch-square solar cells. The amount of technical complexity that goes into such designs can be immense, and GreenMountain staff often collaborated on extensive reports that would be compiled using Microsoft Word.

“We’d start out with a document that would be named SolarReport,” Stafford recalls. “Then someone would do edits and rename it SolarReport_Edits. Then another person would jump in, and it would then be named SolarReport_TomEdits. And on and on it would go. When you looked at the report, you didn’t have any idea who did what and when they did it. It was really difficult to track changes and see the overall evolution of the report.”

To solve this problem, GreenMountain decided to invest in a Web-based collaboration tool from Socialtext that allows the company to collaborate daily on these reports using a wiki-like application. The document can be accessed by anyone working on it, at any given time, from just about anywhere. All changes made are tracked, pinpointing who made them and when they were made. The product also manages the application, providing database upgrades and security.

“When we use this tool for internal reports, the application also allows us to note who elaborated on a certain point and demonstrated some knowledge that we didn’t realize existed before,” Stafford adds. “So, it has helped us find out who on our staff has expertise in a particular area.

“Socialtext also provides a strong sense of security and overall administration. And we needed something that was user-friendly. We wanted the reports to be edited in WYSIWYG fashion, rather than needing to type in a bunch of symbols to boldface a word or phrase.”

GreenMountain is so pleased with the product that it has expanded its use. “We thought this would just be an easier way to compile reports and create a library that would provide a historical record of what the company has done,” Stafford says. “But it’s much more than that now. For one thing, we use it to assemble a list of every company that competes in our industry.”

A Case of Collaborative E-mail

From simple fender-benders to boat fires to building damage claims, Vancouver-based Whitelaw Twining is a law firm that specializes in insurance cases. As the IT manager, Richard Giroux would often be the one who’d have to tell lawyers they had too many e-mails in their in-box, given that some lawyers would literally store tens of thousands of e-mails about pending cases.

That’s why Giroux convinced the firm to deploy Novell’s Groupwise, which allows teams of lawyers who are working on the same case to more easily share information via e-mail communications. Essentially, an e-mail dealing with a particular legal dispute is coded by the dispute’s case number. Then, all e-mails associated with the case are stored in a central file that can be accessed only by Whitelaw Twining staffers who are working on that case.

Because these e-mails are in separate folders that are designated by case number, they also use less server space than they would if they were stored in the staffers’ general in-boxes. And, once the case is closed, all the e-mails are offloaded onto a compact disk.

“This allows teams to work together as a group and know what every member of the team is doing without having to talk to each other,” Giroux says. “Typically, they’d have to create a Word document to track the progress of a case, but that kind of document would need a lot of management.

“In our business, you don’t get paid for managing cases. You get paid for working the cases. And this system allows our staff to spend more time working the cases.”

Tall Bills to Fill

Malvern, Pa.-based Siemens Healthcare has staked claim to a thriving industry niche by performing a key task for more than 200 hospitals nationwide: getting bills to patients.

Over the years, the wealth of varied e-formats that hospitals used to get patient-care and billing details to Siemens created challenges. Some arrived in flat files, others as XML documents and still more in some other format. Worse yet, each document had to be processed separately, since the hard copy of a bill had to be printed using each individual hospital’s logo, address, phone number and other information.

This was time-consuming and costly: Separate print runs meant separate mailings, and Siemens was often missing out on getting large bulk-rate postage discounts.

“We needed a system that would allow us to run all these patient-billing document files from the different hospitals at once,” says Corey Ruff, the software engineer who oversees the billing system for Siemens Healthcare in the United States.

A solution from ISIS Papyrus America has enabled the company to do just that. Siemens can take all the patient billing information from disparate file formats and process it at the same time. It deploys a WYSIWYG tool to design billing templates; create customized statements for clients with logos (with appropriate colors); and provide credit-card payment information. Previously, Siemens would mail up to 2,000 bills at a time. Now, it can send out as many as 56,000, and the bulk-mailing discount can amount to 10 cents a bill. Given that the company mails 2 million bills a month, the savings passed along to its customers are significant. Using Papyrus has also enhanced Siemens’ ability to take the billing information to third-party vendors that oversee e-payments from patients, eliminating the need for postal service. “With the concept of paper fading from society,” Ruff says, “we’re now in a great position to move totally toward e-billing and e-payments.” Clearly, there are many technology solutions that meet the document management challenge. The key is to find the one that’s right for your organization.