Where Application Development Meets BPM

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Steve Dunaway is the Director of Systems Development for DSI Technology Escrow Services. His background combines project management, consulting, engineering, and software product management. Steve also gives automation seminars concerning process control, real-time control networks, SPC, cell control, RFDC, warehouse management, vendor managed inventory, supply chain management, and time and attendance/labor distribution.

DSI Technology Escrow Services is a legal third-party entity that manages risk through intellectual property escrow agreements. DSI escrows websites, website content, document storage, contract enforcement, and many other instances where a third party is needed for legal enforcement. The types of assets DSI protects are primarily software and source code of critical technology. The company also stores encryption keys, design documents, blueprints, computer chips, boards and servers along with venture capital-related documents.

The most common escrow release events include cessation of business, bankruptcy, closed divisions or divestitures, and mergers and acquisitions. Because there have been many mergers and acquisitions in the past two years, the work has increased. The business is continually acquiring, storing, and releasing all kinds of intellectual property. At the beginning of 2002, DSI, a part of Iron Mountain, acquired the number two and three competitors in their market. The action combined three small businesses into one medium-sized business. While the business model was the same for all three companies, the business processes were wildly different using everything from a very old Alpha Micro system to QuickBooks and Peachtree. One new company was extremely rigid while the other was extremely loose. Getting all three companies on the same page was quite a challenge.

Over 30 business processes were identified. A partial list includes:

  • Processing deposits
  • Terminations by request
  • Terminations for non-payment
  • "Mail" logging/tracking
  • Account setup
  • Sales order processes
  • Beneficiary enrollment
  • Transfer of assets
  • Account histories
  • Name change requests
  • Status requests

DSI decided to use tools and languages common within DSI and Iron Mountain. The new business system is a three-tier business system with web-based application with a middle-tier back-end SQL server. The new architecture had to be "clean", meaning all configuration, transaction, and report data must reside inside the back-end database. They also wanted a minimum set of features to meet the hard requirements, a graphical workflow construction that needed no coding, and tools for building web forms without programming. They also required tight integration to the operational systems, wanting a robust system because it was a major asset for the company. DSI found that many vendors have a lot of "features", but what DSI wanted was a core set of tools to fit their particular business process needs.

DSI also carefully checked out the vendor financials and company stability to make sure the one they chose would be there for the long haul. While this process was ongoing, other business units from Iron Mountain expressed interest, hoping the solution would also help them. The result is that DSI's process management approach is being used as a pilot for the parent company. Steve emphasized that enterprise flexibility is an essential part of this process. Starting with about 30 vendors, the list was cut to seven, then to three. Metastorm was the eventual winner.

DSI has completed seven of the 30 processes. They have retired the Peachtree, QuickBooks and Alpha Micro systems and have gotten to the place where they can continue the business without the risk of losing anything important. Now that their business continuation strategy is in place, they are working on increasing productivity. Steve showed several slides on how the two databases were set up and accessed, and several on how the charted business process actually worked. Following this were several slides on the actual workflow user interfaces. They are simple and direct.

The benefits realized are many. To increase profits, DSI now has the metrics to judge and optimize productivity, something that was impossible before. Watch lists provide information on the processes that were previously done by phone. The workflows can evolve, meaning they can be modified continuously without major software releases and the cycle time is very short. The training time for new personnel is much shorter now, thanks to the ease of the new graphical interfaces.

Customer satisfaction has been increased substantially. Contracts can be located and tracked through every step of the process. There is consistent enforcement of workflows because the DSI business rules are built in to the processes. New workflows can be created easily and quickly.

This puts DSI in a much better legal position also, as a complete audit trail mitigates risk while preserving the artifacts for each escrow account.

DSI has integrated billing, accounts receivable, contract administration, and workflow. Still to be done (the other 23 processes), is sales force automation, deposit material tracking, FTP, imaging, and myescrow.com, a web-based, self-escrow function that will allow anyone to escrow their intellectual property with DSI. The company also has plans for international expansion, moving first into Europe.

Steve said the best practices for process management included making ISO 9002 compliance throughout the entire business unit and having continual evolution of workflows to optimize the processes. He added that the people from Metastorm were particularly helpful; they showed DSI personnel exactly how the process should work and how to use the tools. Steve added, "You don't want them to be a crutch, but you do want them to be a tool to get you off on the right foot. Without them, it wouldn't have gone nearly as easily."

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