The Ties That Bind Business Processes
There's cloud, and then there's cloud integration -- building ways for those closest to the work itself to integrate, extend and coordinate business processes. Managed processes built on a range of business development and consulting tasks bind together critical sales and financial product delivery goals to better support long-term business engagements.
The cloud helps make business services more easily available, but what about making those business processes from a variety of service origins part of a cohesive workflow or complex objective? What's still needed is a way for those closest to the work itself to create business process integration, extension, and coordination regardless of the services.
This discussion examines a case study that shows how account executives for a financial services firm are integrating their sales and fulfillment efforts across Salesforce.com customer relationship management (CRM) resources, as well as a diverse set of expanding cloud and legacy services.
Hear how it's done from the IT director and the marketing director at PSA Insurance & Financial Services as they build greater control and management of diverse and dynamic sales and consulting processes using Cloud Extend for Salesforce, a new solution from Active Endpoints.
These managed processes, built on a range of business development and consulting tasks, bind together critical sales and financial product delivery goals to better support long-term business engagements. The panel to describe this achievement consists of: Andrew Bartels, IT director for PSA Insurance and Financial Services; Justin Hoffman, marketing director for PSA Insurance and Financial Services; and Eric Egertson, vice president of business development and strategic accounts at Active Endpoints. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Listen to the podcast (38:45 minutes).
Here are some excerpts:
Dana Gardner: It seems at PSA you have been thinking about how to do things better, and that you've had success with Salesforce.com. What was still missing from the way in which you engage with your clients?
Justin Hoffman: We actually had tried a Salesforce implementation two or so years ago and we found that our adoption was not nearly what we would have hoped it to be. There were several reasons for that. One, we really didn't customize Salesforce to the degree that we needed to. Two, there wasn't integration with any other systems. And, three, the participation was voluntary. There was some interest, but it was somewhat sporadic, and overall the initiative just petered out.
We did know that that having right CRM for PSA is critical for how we do business and could help us capitalize on some lost opportunities and better manage our existing client base.
We didn't give up on the effort. We said to ourselves that we needed to get this right the second time. We were open to staying with Salesforce and we were open to looking at other CRMs, but we've learned a lot on our first round and we knew that we had to do better the second time.
Gardner: What is it that you really weren't getting from this that you wish you had?
Hoffman: We were sitting in a room with the whiteboard and said, "What should this thing be? What should this CRM system do for us, our account executives, our sales and service people that are going to be using it?" One of the things that really rung through was that it needed to be easy and unintimidating.
We have some people who are very progressive technology users and they very much embrace it. And we have other portions of the population for whom there is a bit of an intimidation factor. We knew that if we did it right, we'd have to find a way to wash that away, put things in plain English, make it simple and intuitive for people, and that would help drive adoption.
We're an independent, multi-discipline financial services firm based in Hunt Valley, Md. We also have two satellite offices, one in York, Penn., and one in the DC Metro Area, and we do a lot of things for a lot of different people.
On the business side of the house, we provide property and casualty insurance for businesses. We're also brokers and consultants for employee benefit plans and retirement plans.
For individuals we offer every kind of insurance you could ever need, from homeowners and auto, to life, long-term care, and disability. We also have a private-client division that serves very up-market consumers, those that have multiple homes, exotic cars, special collections, and need very sophisticated insurance programs and advice. Finally, we also offer wealth management services.
We do a whole lot of different things for a whole lot of different audiences. For organizations that are laser-focused, that are in one industry, that serve one specific audience, I'd imagine pretty much everything is easier for them. We need to develop systems, protocols, plans, sales systems, and things of that nature that can work in all these diverse circumstances to support these different clients and support them all well.
Gardner: As IT Director, what is it that you did in terms of trying to fulfill this, and how did you end up being able to get closer to the true vision?
Andrew Bartels: As Justin has very eloquently put, we really present a value proposition at PSA, which is a truly integrated set of services. That's a phrase or a word that you hear a lot, but unfortunately, in my experience, a lot of organizations fail to deliver where the rubber meets the road, which ultimately is the actual transactional systems that they have in place.
What you find is that a lot of those systems are completely segregated, and we at PSA faced that challenge. We obviously have a lot of transactional systems on the back-end to support various business units that present the services to our clients.
Ultimately from Justin's vision and from the corporation's vision, we wanted a system that could bring all of this together. We went out and looked at a number of different products knowing all the time that we had Salesforce.com in house, but that we had a troublesome initial roll out. Ultimately, we came to a conclusion that Salesforce was the right product for us, but we really had to roll it out in a different way, shape or form.
Part of Justin's vision, though, was that he and Senior Vice President-Business Development Ed Kushlis felt that even though Salesforce is a relatively easy user interface, because of the challenges that some of our users have, they felt it had to be easier. They felt it just had to, as I like to say, lead us down the garden path.
So Justin and Ed brought the idea to me of what we call a "Warm-Up Plan," and I'm sure Justin is going to address that more, but the more I looked at this, the more I realized that, given native Salesforce functionality, what they wanted to do wasn't going to be possible. We weren't going to be able to do it without a lot of custom code.
This was a path that I wasn't really all that keen to go down, because in my past experience, when you attempt to custom code, a lot of money is invested upfront to develop a relatively static product. In my experience, the idea didn't stay static. Ultimately, people wanted to change what had been created.
So you'd invested a lot of money to create something that then had to be changed and modified again, and I was very, very against this concept. Justin, would you say we had our moments there?
Hoffman: That's right. We felt like we really knew what we wanted. A very large portion of what we do is work with the salespeople to coach them, to help them make sure that they stay on top of their opportunities, and really work their leads to fruition.
So we felt so strongly about it, but when we were presenting Andrew with our need, there didn't seem to be an option that made sense. Once he educated us in what it really meant to bring to life our vision, we started to get our heads around it and to recognize that it wasn't going to be something that we weren't going to be able to build one time, invest all of these resources in this code and development, and then never be able to touch it again, never be able to evolve it.
Just knowing us, knowing our organization, the way we're opportunistic, the way markets shift, the way dynamics change, we needed to be fluid and have flexibility. Andrew helped us understand how we were really going to be painting ourselves into corner, if we were to push forward with the custom code route.
Gardner: So Andrew, what's fulfilled that need for simplicity and ease of use?
Bartels: First, we looked at a product from Salesforce, which was something called "Visual Process Manager," which I saw demoed at Dreamforce in San Francisco last year. I was very excited when I initially saw it. After we delved into it, for various reasons, including the maturity of the product and the fact that it wasn't a true cloud-based product, we soon realized that Visual Process Manager at that time wasn't going to fulfill our needs. We really needed something that was fully integrated into Salesforce.
As an organization, we spent a tremendous amount of time and resources getting our users comfortable with the Salesforce UI. I had obviously invested a lot of time myself in looking at options.
Finally, I'm quite a follower of Twitter. There are a number of people that I follow that I respect. I came across a tweet about something called "Cloud Extend." It was literally one tweet by somebody that I follow on Twitter.
I clicked through and there I was on the Cloud Extend website. As I read about it, I suddenly said -- obviously dealing with a Web page I clicked through to from a tweet -- "You know what, if this does what they said can do, this is exactly what we need in order to achieve the goal of creating warm-up plans" that Justin referred to earlier.
I filled out the Web form, and the next day in the office, I called Justin and Ed into my office and said, "You know guys, I've got to show you something." I must admit I was almost giddy. I said I don't want to get ahead of myself yet, but if this product does what I think it does, they've nailed it. This is exactly what we at PSA have been looking for to help drive adoption.
I can't emphasize enough how important driving adoption is when it comes to the implementation of any CRM, never mind Salesforce. At PSA, we're dealing with very successful individuals. We're not dealing with anybody that's got a broken system, that's doing something that doesn't work. Every single one of our associates has been successful in his career. So our objective with rolling out Salesforce was to improve their effectiveness, to make them more productive.
As Justin mentioned earlier, adoption is tough. When I looked at what I saw is the potential of Cloud Extend, as it was defined there, I thought "Wow, this really is going to help us drive adoption across the organization."
Gardner: Eric, how did Cloud Extend for Salesforce come about?
Eric Egertson: Andrew's comments here really illustrate the benefit of moving to the cloud for business process management (BPM) software like the software that Active Endpoints develops.
Active Endpoints has been developing a commercial-grade process automation platform called "ActiveVOS" since 2003, and our customers use this process automation platform to develop really high-value applications.
The barrier, though, to broader and faster adoption of products like ActiveVOS is that with on-premise software you have to go through acquiring the licenses and getting the capital expense approved and you also have to go in and interface ActiveVOS to the systems that you want to use in your process automation.
By moving to the cloud, there are two big benefits, and we've heard Andrew talk about those so far. One is that you can get started at much lower cost and much faster because you don't have to provision hardware. You don't have to acquire licenses through CAPEX expenditures, but probably, even more importantly, Active Endpoints does the interfacing of ActiveVOS to the systems that you want to use for process automation.
So with our product, Cloud Extend for Salesforce, which we formally introduced at Dreamforce at the end of August 2011, we built that product on top of the commercial-grade platform, ActiveVOS, and we pre-integrated it with the Salesforce Web services interfaces.
So people like Andrew and Justin can get started with the product very quickly. They don't have to worry about any integration or interfacing. They can just start building out their process automation flows, testing them and, as Andrew said, you can quickly change those around. Those interfaces use all open standards.
So they are very reusable, and it gives you a flexible platform, where Andrew and Justin can tweak, change, and modify their process flows. It's all done in the cloud. They don't have to buy licenses, but more importantly, they don't have to integrate the services to the systems they want to use in their process automation flows.
Gardner: When I first saw the demo of this, what jumped out at me was the fact that you don't know that you're in Cloud Extend. You feel like you're still in Salesforce. What is this visual benefit?
Egertson: Andrew and Justin can speak to the user experience as well, but the user experience, when using Cloud Extend, is directly integrated into the Salesforce.com UI. As Andrew mentioned, you don't have to go out of Salesforce at all. As you're working on something in Salesforce, there is a section in the Salesforce screen where you can choose what type of process flow you want to run as the user. You just click on a button and then you're stepped through a series of screens, all of which appear within a pane within the Salesforce UI.
Developing the process flows is also integrated directly into the Salesforce UI. You go in and, through a set of guidance trees, set up the series of steps that you want to walk a sales rep or producer through. The sales manager, somebody like Justin working hand-in-hand with Andrew, do that directly in the Salesforce user interface.