Staying A Step Ahead Of Your Customers
By billing itself as a "solution provider," ESP Solutions, Inc. combines technologies to respond to customer questions before they are asked. Because of this strategy, the integrator posted $2 million in gross sales in 1998 - the company's first full year in business.
Its customers were using the Forms Service forms to gather data. Most of the time, its customers would extract that data manually using pools of employees. However, some customers were feeding the forms into automated forms processing systems. The systems saved time and money, and provided a quick return on investment (ROI). This, thought the owners of Forms Service, is where the opportunity lies.
Forms Service would continue to design and supply forms. But, a second company should exist to integrate automated forms processing systems. Additionally, customers would also need document and image management systems to manage the forms once they were scanned. In February 1998, the principals of Forms Service made their move. After adding several technical employees, the principals founded ESP Solutions, Inc. in Nashville, TN.
ESP Solutions originally offered a document imaging system as its lone product. The company reasoned that the Forms Service client base had plenty of paper to manage. The pitch would be simple. You can scan your archived paper forms and manage the images digitally. However, customer reception was slow. "Our clients didn't see a generic document management system fitting into their current requirements," recalls Jeff Haber, COO of ESP Solutions. "The Forms Service client base was really focused on forms and how they could extract data from the forms in a more efficient manner."
Instead of matching a product to a customer, ESP Solutions changed its focus. The integrator would now listen to its prospects and provide a solution. As a result, ESP Solutions began integrating automated forms processing systems. With these systems in place, customers returned to ESP Solutions. They now wanted a method for managing the scanned forms. As a solution provider, the integrator could now offer a document imaging system.
ESP Solutions tries to stay one step ahead of its customers by always having a solution for a customer's most recent dilemma. The seven-employee company can seamlessly tie together forms processing and document imaging software. Integrating a computer output to laser disk (COLD) system is another offering from ESP Solutions. Currently, the company is working to integrate automated forms processing with COLD. ESP Solutions reported gross sales of $2 million in 1998 and is projecting 25% growth in 1999.
Moving Beyond Document Management
Companies that process forms can't simply automate this process with a document imaging system. ESP Solutions quickly caught onto this fact. "With a document management system, we were archiving the forms after the fact. We weren't addressing what customers were doing with the forms in terms of extracting data," says Haber.
Haber concluded that new opportunities would arise if his company could integrate data extraction with document management. ESP Solutions was already a document imaging reseller of MacroSoft's Synergy product. It then turned to Microsystems Technology (MTI) and its line of data extraction software. "We were able to add value to both packages (MacroSoft's Synergy and MTI's OCR for Forms)," states Haber. "We built a small toolset that actually brought both products together. And, we started designing solutions using the best features from both packages."
Creating An In-House Solution
Before ESP Solutions tried to integrate forms processing software with document imaging software, the company consulted other MacroSoft partners. Haber says that many of these resellers were attempting to do similar integration, but he heard of no one that had accomplished the task. "At one point, a much larger integrator was trying to bring data extraction and document management together. In fact, this integrator was going to do some of the interface work for us," recalls Haber. "I realized we had a fairly unique solution when we completed the integration before that large integrator did. Eventually, the integrator contacted us about possibly working together."
ESP Solutions originally thought that the MacroSoft and MTI products could be integrated using native toolsets within each software. However, this wasn't the case. "To our surprise, it wasn't that clear. We had to develop a third piece -- a piece of 'C' code," explains Haber.
That piece of code allows the integrated system to extract data from a form using MTI's software. That data is then loaded into MacroSoft's software as indexing information for each scanned document. For example, a form is imaged and data is extracted. That extracted data, for instance, can be used to populate a database or process bills. Certain pieces of extracted data are also used to index the imaged document. This data may include name, address, document number, customer number, and date. Customer service representatives can then use any of the index information to access the scanned form from their desktops.
Finding A Vertical Focus
With a solution in hand, ESP Solutions now had to find customers that required it. The company piloted a couple projects for healthcare customers which were also Forms Service clients. As ESP Solutions worked toward completion of the pilot projects, the company was gaining expertise in the healthcare vertical. Word of the solution spread quickly within the vertical market in the Nashville area.
"Our installs seems to have found a niche in a market that requires this type of solutions. We are really trying to get a strong foothold and build our portfolio by targeting customers in the medical industry," comments Haber. However, he does not want to pigeonhole ESP Solutions as only a healthcare solution provider. He adds, "The demand from the medical market is forcing us to respond. But, we are still a company in its infancy. There are other markets which we would like to explore. We're not turning away business so we can focus on the healthcare market. But, most of the unsolicited demands are coming from the healthcare market right now."
Sifting Through The Archives
Currently, ESP Solutions is being asked to help medical facilities process EOB forms more efficiently. These forms accompany insurance company payments to a medical facility. For example, a hospital has to fill out forms detailing the services it provided a patient and the charge for these services. Those forms are processed and an insurance company sends the hospital a check to cover the costs of services rendered. Accompanying this check is an EOB form, which details what the insurance company is making payment on. Each form can have information referring to a range between one and 24 separate patient transactions.
"St. Thomas Hospital (Nashville) was receiving as many 1,200 EOB forms per day. And each one of those forms might have 24 different patient transactions on it," relays Haber. St. Thomas used to manually extract data from each form and store the documents in file cabinets. Over time, the documents would be migrated to boxes and stored off-site.
"If there were a customer inquiry, it might take between 5 and 12 working days to respond to the request. There are thousands of documents per day which have tens of thousands of patient transactions. Locating a single patient transaction that was received 30 days ago was a big problem for the employees. They were constantly two weeks behind in processing requests," states Haber.
In addition to running behind, the manual process was costing St. Thomas a lot of money. Once employees located the right documents, copies had to be made. The copies were then faxed or mailed to the appropriate customer. "St. Thomas had four full-time and four part-time employees who were dedicated to the task of retrieval. They never saw themselves getting ahead. As archived files grow, there are more documents to look through," comments Haber.
Access Documents From The Desktop
ESP Solutions offered an integrated forms processing and document imaging solution to St. Thomas. The installation took about 60 days. But, Haber says his company could now do a similar install in about half the time.
The new system allows the forms to be scanned and index information (date of service, patient last name and first, social security number, and account number) extracted. "We have several levels of index information. If one field of index information is not extracted correctly, we can access the document using other index fields," explains Haber. With the documents scanned and indexed, they are stored on either RAID (redundant array of independent disks) systems or CD towers. The document can now be accessed from an employee desktop.
Offer Customers A Quick ROI
ROI usually goes hand-in-hand with efficiency. And, the installation at St. Thomas was no exception. The hospital reduced by half its labor dedicated to storage and retrieval of document. In addition to labor reduction, the medical facility also realized some other hard-dollar savings. Employees could now respond to customer requests for information on the first phone call. This capability eliminated the need for finding a document and then placing an outbound call at the hospital's expense. Also, the need for making copies was greatly reduced, as well as the need to mail documents to customers. Now, documents can be accessed at an employee's desktop and automatically faxed to a customer.
"The hospital also realized some less tangible benefits from the system. Among these were improved customer service and reduction of office space dedicated to storing files. Office space is valuable. And, to use this space to store boxes of documents is a waste of resources," says Haber.
Linking COLD And Forms Processing
To stay ahead of its customer requests, ESP Solutions is working on integrating MacroSoft's COLD capability with forms processing. Many companies are currently using automated forms processing to extract data for mainframe applications. In turn, this data is used in mainframe reports which can be generated by COLD systems. If ESP Solutions can integrate COLD with forms processing, users can access a COLD report from their desktops. They can then focus on a portion of the COLD report. And, then drill down to the form which was scanned and produce the data in the COLD report.
"We haven't done this successfully for any of our clients, but that is where we are headed," says Haber. "We are running the idea by several of our customers to gauge their interest. We're just thinking ahead. In order for us to be a good solution provider to our customer base, we have to think of what the next requests are going to be."