Web services: A healthy clientless world

INFORMATION: Free information is available from EPICOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

As businesses grow beyond national borders, the need to support multiple languages, time zones and even legal requirements forces many organisations to re-evaluate the roll of IT to serve a wider global need and bridge the gap between partners and customers across the world.

One popular method is to use the Web for applications, as opposed to the Web used for human consumption through the universally common Web Browser. Web services rely on the same infrastructure as the Web, and exchange data over HTTP though a layer of open standards based protocols. This widely understood and accepted method of communications allows for simplified interoperability among proprietary systems. The flexible architecture facilitates the design of intelligent software able to deliver appropriate information depending on the language, country and status of the user. Although the Web services concept is not entirely new, companies in diverse vertical markets are starting to reap the benefits. One such company is MEDEX Global Group, Inc., a leader in the travel assistance and international medical insurance marketplace.

For more than a quarter of a century, MEDEX has been dedicated to serving the needs of international travellers and expatriates. Managing time-sensitive and potentially critical cases around the world, the company utilizes extensive case management, logistical and language skills while requiring access to and delivery of vast amounts of information.

Flexibility required
In early 2004, as part of a management lead effort to streamline internal processes, the company sought to implement a flexible CRM solution that could be adapted to meet their specific international business needs. The new software system needed to increase functionality and flexibility while facilitating productivity for users and partner organisations.

Joyce McNemar, chief technology officer for MEDEX, formed a multi-departmental task force to evaluate a number of possible solutions based on several key criteria. Foremost of these was the ability to share detailed contract and service information to enable quality, consistency and speed in emergency response. This would be a major requirement, as the company provides worldwide coverage utilising more than 40,000 international providers including the MEDEX Regional Medical Advisor Network, Gateway Hospitals, Approved Air Ambulances and specialized security providers.

Also, as a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year service operating across multiple time zones and languages; it was felt that an adaptable web services based solution would provide the best platform for managing the 25,000 assistance cases annually around the globe.

"The system must provide quick access to the information we need to assist our travellerswhether it be a medical emergency requiring a physician specialist and air evacuation from Malaysia, or a client asking for an update on a case," said Colleen LoPresto, chief operating officer for MEDEX and the company's HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance officer. "Furthermore, the ability to easily create HIPAA compliant reporting is an important customization for us, as we deal with sensitive personal health information daily.

With increasingly strict US laws on reporting and maintaining medical records, any selected solution would also need to be flexible enough to adapt to future HIPAA legislation. Another data requirement is the ability to interface with its reporting tools, allowing for business analysis.

No client application necessary
After eight months of detailed evaluation, MEDEX finally chose Epicors Clientele CRM.NET software. Clientele CRM is the first CRM application built entirely on the Microsoft .NET Platform. This means that it does not need a traditional client application to access the interface but instead can use a secure browsers connection. The .NET framework also provides an easier route for adding in external data from other XML aware applications such as e-commerce, client and member services portals, offline sales support, partner interfaces, geographic information and mapping systems, scheduling and other critical business functions.

The flexibility of the Microsoft .NET Framework enabled us to integrate informational databases with Clientele so up-to-date information is always available to our emergency response centre, said McNemar. For example, if a client is in a third-world county and has a heart attack, MEDEX must make sure there is an appropriate level of care. With the integration of our proprietary solutions to Clientele, we can recall specific information about a care facility and provide the caller with assistance, based on the languages spoken there and diagnostic or treatment abilities and limitations.

Since implementing Clientele CRM.NET, MEDEX has seen improvements in its day-to-day operations through the flexibility of the solution and the ability to share information across the enterprise. A lot of our service agreement and care facility information was not available in our previous system, said McNemar. With the new solution, we are able to put external documents like contracts right in the system where it is easily and quickly accessible.

Managing complexity
MEDEX has both retail and wholesale customers and must manage complex contracts that include precise service specifications. Our contracts might specify a certain client contact for coverage verifications on weekdays from 9-to-5, but after hours it may be someone else, said McNemar. With the new system, we can designate roles and relationships for each of our contacts so our associates never have to question who to send these requests to.

In addition to streamlining every day processes, the new system serves as resource for business planning and supports company growth. We are now able to capture critical metrics, such as global provider network and client services utilisation which help us in our strategic planning, said McNemar. We can also respond quickly to new business opportunities. The rapid development capabilities enabled through the .NET architecture enable us to get new partners set up in our system quickly so we can start doing business.

The switch to a global web services based system has also lead to a substantial reduction in paper flow and allowed the organization to cut down on internal management costs. A year after its successful completion, the project has been deemed a success by MEDEX who are now looking at other uses for the technology to help improve efficiency and provide additional competitive advantage.

Matthew Muldoon is Product Strategy Manager EMEA at Epicor. The company provides integrated enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and supply chain management software solutions to midmarket companies around the world. Epicor leverages innovative technologies like Web services in developing end-to-end, industry-specific solutions for manufacturing, distribution, enterprise service automation, and hospitality that enable companies to immediately drive efficiency throughout business operations and build competitive advantage.

INFORMATION: Free information is available from EPICOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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