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Insights on BPM/SOA Excellence

OMG's BPM/SOA Success contest winner employed agile techniques to deliver a 30% reduction in claim resolution times and fill the claim requirements of 16 different countries.

Object Management Group, Inc.’s. (OMG’s) BPM/SOA Community of Practice (CoP), in partnership with BPTrends, ebizQ, SearchSOA.com, and SearchCIO.com, recently announced Van Ameyde International as the winner of a Case Study Competition (the full name is the  “Business Agility and Process Optimization Enabled by Business Process Management (BPM) and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)” case study competition). The contest strives to recognize and highlight excellence in IT innovation through the use of underlying principles of SOA and BPM.

Using agile methods and a model driven development, the winning system delivered a 30% reduction in the time required to resolve a claim, supported customized claims, and worked across the requirements of sixteen different countries. Van Ameyde, which specializes in international claims and risk management, set out to improve its claims handling process. The project, dubbed ECHO -- European Claims Handling Optimization, focused on business agility, cost reduction, information access, flexibility and speed.

One of the biggest challenges of the ECHO project was the complexity of Van Ameyde’s client agreements -- the contracts that define the rules in the process. With hundreds of “settings” the possible combinations in the process add up into the thousands. This, in turn, makes the process very hard to test or to test with full coverage. “In addition to the client agreement we were facing local legal requirements that influence the process. A huge challenge was to keep manageable the required flexibility and business rules that trigger the way that the process is executed,” says Marco Valkenburg.

Marco Valkenburg, Director of Van Ameyde’s IT company (Zero)70, explained that the team had to work with a fixed annual budget and made use of the scrum methodology. What that methodology boils down to is if something does not fit, “you reduce the number of features delivered, instead of increasing budget, team or time,” explains Gonçalo Borrêga, with Outsystems, the company that supplied its Agile Platform to support development at Van Ameyde.

Since the team had short cycles they were always focusing on the features most valuable to the business, notes Borrêga, “This project resulted in delivery of the “core” claims handling system, no thrills or spills. When the core part of the system was up and running we started adding features, either to improve the process, become more flexible towards clients, reduce complexity or add additional features,” explains Valkenburg.

Van Ameyde worked on six-week release cycles using a series of scheduling “sprints” and was able to deliver a new complex requirement in 20 days or less.  “Without those sprints, the risk of getting something that is not in sync with what the business wanted was way too high,” says Valkenburg. Before going into production there were extensive reviews over the delivered features. “Without sprints we would just end up releasing something that could be closer to the original requirements… but that was not actually what should be delivered at all,” adds Valkenburg.

According to Borrêga, the ECHO team itself was built around business analysts with claims handling software development experience, as well as strong technical people. Both had to be confident in their area of expertise so they could work closely with the area with which they were not so familiar.  (For example, he notes, business analysts had to understand the technical details of the system and adapt requirements and processes to a big technical framework/process implementation. On the other hand the technical people needed to become very focused on the business requirement, instead of only technical details.)

Borrêga says he believes the lessons learned by the team relative to BPM were that BPM “always blends with an application.”  And, he adds, it’s important to remember that long lived process instances need to be maintained in production.

Although the project was very complex Van Ameyde has been able to successfully rotate the delivery team and have new people working on the project several times. “In my opinion this means the system is healthy architecturally, that the platform that supports it helps in having new developers step in, and the componentization coming from an SOA architecture and the separation of concerns provided by a BPM approach, make this a system able to endure several years without aging,” says Valkenburg.

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