Magazine Article | December 1, 2002

The Check Is In The Mail - But Who Sent It?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Working in conjunction with a systems integrator, Verizon Wireless increased productivity by 65% with a solution for processing exception payments.

Integrated Solutions, December 2002

Paying the cell phone bill is a pretty simple concept. You put the payment slip and a check in the return envelope and mail it. As easy as that sounds, as many as 1,500 people a day manage to mess it up when they send a remittance to Verizon Wireless (Bedminster, NJ). As the largest wireless communications provider in the United States, Verizon Wireless receives about 450,000 payments every day. Of that number, anywhere from 200 to 1,500 payments each day can't be directly linked to an account. For instance, Verizon Wireless might receive a check in an envelope - no payment slip, no account number. With 28 million customer records to search and numerous billing systems, reconciling the appropriate account manually would take anywhere from an hour to four days.

Verizon Wireless' customer payments are processed at lockbox operations across the country. When employees encounter payments that can't be processed (i.e. exceptions), they are forwarded to Verizon Wireless' treasury operations headquartered in Alpharetta, GA. Prior to 1999, Verizon Wireless was manually reconciling these "orphaned" checks. Lockbox employees would send multiple photocopies of the check to researchers at each of the treasury operations locations. There, employees would attempt to identify the sender by querying a number of various billing applications to match some element found on the check or the envelope. For quality assurance, an audit trail was maintained on Excel spreadsheets. With this process, the skilled staff could resolve between 100 and 200 exceptions a day, a rate that didn't keep pace with the number of incoming exceptions. Meanwhile, accounts weren't being updated in a timely manner, and the company and the consumers suffered. Verizon Wireless began researching ways to automate exception handling to reduce cycle times (the amount of time necessary to complete the process) and increase worker productivity.

Web Workflow Eliminates Hang-Ups Of Manual Processes
Verizon Wireless selected OnBase content management products from Hyland Software, Inc. (Westlake, OH). "What was attractive about the OnBase solution was that it provided immediate results as well as the ability to grow as new systems were integrated or additional workflows added," says Chris Dozier, supervisor of Systems Development and Support for Verizon Wireless' treasury operations. The system was implemented by systems integrator KeyMark, Inc. (Greenville, SC), which was selected through a competitive vendor analysis. According to Dozier, KeyMark was chosen based on the level of support it offered as well as its knowledge and experience with OnBase and how it could be customized to meet the needs of the specific industry.

Images of exception payments are transferred to OnBase using MailScan from OpenScan, Inc. (Denver). Designed for exception mail handling, MailScan opens, scans, preps, and distributes mixed mail using check and document scanners simultaneously at the various lockbox locations. Checks are scanned using an AIM check scanner, and accompanying documentation is scanned with an Eastman Kodak 2500 series scanner. The captured documents are then routed to OnBase Document Import Processor (DIP), which archives the files to OnBase. It searches numerous billing systems to match account data such as an address or telephone number or even the MICR (magnetic ink character recognition) line from the check itself. If the system finds a match that meets the level of certainty set by the company, the exception will be automatically resolved. If it finds an account that is a likely match or several possible matches, Web workflow capabilities route it to a treasury operations agent for review. Treasury operations users access the system via the corporate intranet.

Solution Delivers Immediate Benefits, Ongoing Value
Dozier reports that overall productivity in treasury operations shot up 46% following the initial OnBase implementation, which standardized operations across all of the user groups. With the addition of new workflows and with integration between OnBase and more billing and reporting applications, productivity has increased 65%. The backlog that had accumulated was eliminated in less than four months. OnBase enables research, retrieval, and resolution of about 100-200 items per hour, maintaining the high volume of transactions to prevent a backlog. "On any given day, there could be between 25,000 and 30,000 items in my workflow," says Dozier.

Because data is now centralized and available to more users, response time has been reduced, resulting in improved customer service. The customer service personnel can provide real-time resolution for customers, often being able to apply payments and resolve issues while the customers are on the phone with them. "The intranet Web interface made it easy to roll out and train employees," notes Dozier. It also supports thin client access at the various locations. About one to two weeks before a new user group is brought online, the area manager compiles a list of users who are given limited access privileges to the system. Training is conducted over that period by managers and advanced users. When training is complete, the users' access privileges are adjusted. Printed training manuals are distributed to employees, and an online help manual is available via the Web interface. Dozier has also created a process for feedback to increase usability over time.

Verizon Wireless also uses the OnBase system to support real-time reporting and replace the unwieldy spreadsheets. Statistical reports can be run without taking the system down, and Dozier states data in these reports is of a much higher level of quality than was possible with a manual system. "The automated system also reduced the handling of checks that haven't been applied to an account, which in turn provided us with increased quality control and greater control measures," he comments.

The architecture of the OnBase suite also made other upgrades less challenging. Dozier's team recently upgraded the servers housing the data and the Web client from Windows NT to Windows 2000. Approximately 140 GB of images and data were moved from the existing servers, which were rebuilt. The following day, the data was moved back to the upgraded servers and OnBase was back in operation within 30 minutes. The OnBase solution has also been able to withstand challenges such as network upgrades and issues including various network migrations due to mergers with companies such as GTE, Bell Atlantic, and AirTouch, which created what is now Verizon Wireless. "Despite multiple network connectivity changes that have taken place over the past two years the system has been in production, we have had very minimal performance impact due to such occurrences," says Dozier.

Partnership With A Systems Integrator Benefits IT Department
Dozier says using a skilled integrator who works side-by-side with his in-house solutions development team provides an additional layer of support and reduces maintenance issues. "If anything happens, I can pick up the phone and there will be people at KeyMark who know what we have," says Dozier. That extra layer of support extends to the users of the system as well. "If for some reason the IT staff isn't available, there's still a support structure there," contends Dozier. "An integrator gives us access to an external group that can easily walk in and fix problems because they not only know our system but have experience with multiple systems that are similar to ours. I've seen situations where the in-house IT person leaves and the salesman from the vendor company is promoted. Then there's no one left who understands how to configure the system or knows the right upgrade or patch when something goes wrong."

"Working with an integrator is a good investment if you want to keep your applications running," advises Dozier. "If you maintain a good relationship with an integrator, he can let you know when there are upgrades, enhancements, or new components. You don't always have to be researching the options yourself. With one phone call, you can reach someone who knows what you've got and can make suggestions and changes."

Dozier's systems development and support group has also realized professional benefits from the success of the exception processing solution. Previously, his group had limited its scope to the treasury operations. "Because we brought a system in-house that is now part of a directive platform for our organization [i.e. one that is central to the company's operations], we are recognized as a standardized IT group. As such, we are now the first line of support for the lockbox scanning stations as well."

It's likely that systems development and support will be even more visible at Verizon Wireless in the coming months as the system is further enhanced. Integration with additional new and existing applications is planned, and the system is going to be made available to more users, including customer care. Dozier is working on solutions to generate automated customer letters as part of the Web workflow. He will use XML (extensible markup language) output to optimize reporting capabilities and to establish an area where users can easily create personalized reports.

For More Info. On KeyMark Go To