Another way of looking at how to make staff in an organisation work more effectively with the business processes they deal with everyday is to provide guidance to them. Can this approach be automated? Well the answer is yes as I discovered when I had a briefing from Panviva.
Panviva has been in business since 1996. In 2001, Panviva developed SupportPoint to solve the problems it had identified with using intranets, file systems and document management systems to deliver policy and procedure guidance that call centre agents and back office personnel need at their fingertips to help them on the job, in real-time. Now, some 8 years later, there are around 200,000 users across 37 countries in 18 languages that use SupportPoint to guide them through complex policies and procedures. The company has 2 headquarters: Melbourne, Australia and Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The company is privately held, including Momentum Venture Capital.
The customer base varies from the well-know global enterprises such as BT, Caterpillar, HP, Thomson Reuters and Foster's, to country specific organisations like Bupa, Celgene and more recently Bupa International in the UK and National Australia Bank and Medibank Private in Australia as well as mid-size organisations.
Panviva sells, implements, and supports SupportPoint through several types of partnerships. These include:
- Service Partners: consulting and content development firms that have capabilities in content creation and implementation of SupportPoint systems
- Reseller Partners: Value Added Resellers that market, sell, support and implement the SupportPoint solution
- Technology Partners: vendors of complementary applications that incorporate SupportPoint into their own solutions
- Referral Partners: organizations that refer qualified sales opportunities to Panviva
So what about the product itself? Figure 1 shows the architecture of the product.
Figure 1: Panviva SupportPoint Architecture
The delivery vehicle to the normal business user is through SupportPoint Viewer, which is deployed through a standard web browser or a small-sized client application optimized for minimal impact on users' PCs and network bandwidth. SupportPoint sits on the right of your screen and sits on top of any applications. The product contains its own proprietary content sensitive search capabilities which allow it to understand what applications and tasks are being dealt with to retrieve the appropriate help screen. When a user requests guidance they have a choice of ways that this can be given: these include a process flow, a procedure flow or a series multiple choice questions. Based on Panviva's experience SupportPoint contains a large number of end-user focused content templates.
Content developers, subject-matter experts, and training staff use SupportPoint Author to create content within a template-driven and controlled style guide. The product provides configurable workflows for content reviews and authorizations, as well as a complete history of all document changes. Content developed can be deployed to a website or corporate internet using the Content Express API. There is support not only for version management but also for variant management, which therefore means that local variants can be maintained very easily. All the facilities that you would expect from a document management system are within SupportPoint; these include centralised content storage management, workflows for authoring, revision comparison capabilities, audit trails, image and content asset management. The Multi-Language module displays content in an impressive set of languages, which includes support for double-byte ones.
SupportPoint is a client-server system that can be hosted externally by Panviva or deployed and managed by the user on their own network. The SupportPoint Application Server is supported on Windows 2003 Server and Red Hat Enterprise/CentOS Linux platforms. It does not require the use of a third party web server or reporting server, or any kind of third party application server. The product uses either a Microsoft SQL Server 2005 or PostgreSQL DBMS. PostgreSQL can be shipped with the Application Server installation package and either PostgreSQL or MSSQL can be run locally, on the same machine as SupportPoint, or on a secondary server.
Client applications run on Windows (2000/XP/Vista) and will also work under either Citrix or Microsoft Terminal Services thin clients. Clients communicate with the server via TCP/UDP and/or HTTP/HTTPS. Data compression and caching is employed to minimize network load.
The Application Server is able to support several thousand users from a single instance. Additional Application Servers can be implemented across large distributed networks that are subject to latency issues. These subsidiary servers can be synchronized with content from the master server, keeping up to date with global policy, procedure, and product information.
The primary interaction between SupportPoint and existing systems relates to context sensitivity with supported end user applications. Rather than requiring technical integration, SupportPoint achieves context sensitivity through recognizing application screens and proposing support guidance relevant to those screens. This reduces the technical complexities of implementing SupportPoint and minimizes incompatibility as applications are upgraded or added.
To support connectivity and access, SupportPoint provides a connection tester. This tool allows your IT staff to diagnose and report client/server connectivity issues resulting from unreliable connections, problematic firewall rules, or integration with login databases.
If a compliance issue arises, SupportPoint's standard functionality can show what documents were available over a given period and confirm who accessed documents.
SupportPoint is an interesting product. It looks at the problems organisations have with their different processes and instead of taking the BPMS approach of automating as much as possible, provides users with the online help necessary to make decisions in a timely manner. It has obviously triggered a lot of synergy with large enterprises with call centres, however if you look at what could be achieved it is appropriate for a whole series of other scenarios in business, including machine set up on a factory floor, supply chain support staff and pharmaceutical drug trials and new line building. I would recommend that anyone with a process that has a large amount of human involvement should take a look at SupportPoint on its own or in conjunction with BPMS.