On October 19th, I interviewed Craig Van Zeyl, e5 CEO, to discuss e5’s integration with SharePoint and specifically what e5 Business Workflow delivers above and beyond SharePoint 2010 or 2013.
Therese: Good morning Craig, I’d like to focus this interview on the specific features and benefits that e5 delivers above and beyond what a business user gets with SharePoint 2010 workflow (or version 2013) alone. Let’s assume the audience for this interview is line-of-business executives / managers in areas such as medical claims processing, medical billing, loan origination – areas of the business that are controlled by the people process. Lets’ also assume that the reader has a basic understanding of SharePoint as well.
Therese: First, let’s talk about the content repository. What does e5 provide that SharePoint doesn’t?
Craig: SharePoint provides content repositories that can comfortably handle up to 5 million records per repository. What SharePoint can’t do, and e5 does, is manage multiple repositories in a way that the users view it as a single repository. This can be important in cases where, for example, the claim is stored in one repository but the prior claim history may be archived to a second repository. For larger systems, the repositories can be split allowing SharePoint to handle significant volumes of documents using the free repositories. Even more important, e5 allows you to mix SharePoint and 3rd party repositories within the same user experience. This allows you to preserve investments in existing legacy document management or image management technologies.
Therese: On that note, does e5 always require a SharePoint content repository?
Craig: No, e5 doesn’t have to have a SharePoint repository at all but can work with other 3rd party repositories such as IBM, FileNet, EMC, Alfresco, Appian to name a few. This way, the business gets the benefit of their current ECM /BPM system plus the benefits of building an e5 solution to handle complex, unstructured, dynamic work allocation, management and reporting.
Therese: Let’s talk about document images and document workflow? Compare how SharePoint handles the capture process versus e5.
Craig: As you know, Microsoft doesn’t offer a scanning solution with SharePoint so users need to integrate 3rd party scanning solutions. With e5, you get a framework that allows users to connect to any in-house or 3rd party scanning solution such as Kofax, EMC/Captiva, etc. The e5 viewer handles any document format, but has specific capabilities for handling TIFF and PDF and provides the standard image handling functionality such as zooming, fit to page, redaction, and so on.
Once these documents are captured in e5, they are attached to a work item and the work allocation logic handles prioritization, reporting, etc.
Therese: One of the things we hear from customers and prospects is the importance of a single portal – one unified business user view across multiple back-end solutions. Can you talk to how SharePoint and e5 handle that?
Craig: Let me briefly talk about what makes SharePoint a valuable portal. First, the SharePoint portal provides user security and access to a structure or framework so we can determine which parts of the final solution the business user is allowed to access, view and edit. Second, the SharePoint portal provides a development framework where you can use Lego-like building blocks – what SharePoint calls Web Parts – to assemble and configure the solution. SharePoint, out-of-the-box provides a perfect platform on which to build simple solutions. e5 provides more sophisticated functionality for finding, listing, displaying, managing priority processing and delivering dashboards, plus all of the workflow building blocks to leverage SharePoint as a foundation for complex applications such as medical claims processing, loan origination, medical billing, underwriting, pensions, and so on. This allows the business to rapidly create SharePoint pages, populate them with e5 Web Parts, and get a complete solution.
So to summarize, SharePoint Web Parts are designed to provide functionality for relatively simple applications that are easily created and broadly used. e5 provides additional sophisticated Web Parts to design and manage high volume, back-office work delivery while monitoring service level agreement timelines, performing priority processing, assigning and managing work allocation, managing multi-tiered cases and so on.
Therese: It sounds like you are big fan of SharePoint?
Craig: We, at e5, did a lot of research when building our product and it became very clear, very fast that building and exploiting the strength of SharePoint was the best architectural decision we could make. Why build a base-line content management and workflow platform when Microsoft provides one for free? I can’t speak more highly about SharePoint because it provides the unified portal page structure so that e5 users can add more customized Web Parts. It’s a fabulous place to build applications and the end user experience is simple and elegant. With e5, we chose to develop the right Web Parts to fulfill the needs of a niche area which is the people process, back office, high volume, transaction processing. Our many customer successes prove both the worth of SharePoint and the added value of e5.
Therese: Can you elaborate on how e5 adds value to SharePoint Lists?
Craig: A SharePoint list is an easy way to define and manage a simple case. With e5, you get 3 pieces of additional functionality.
First, you get the specific functionality required to support high volume production workflow and back office processing such as managing assigned work, merging or cloning tasks, pending cases until a future date or activity, and so on.
Second, the e5 case structure allows the user to create a parent / child cascading work structure with inheritance. This provides the ability to run complex workflows in parallel without the workflow structure itself becoming too complex. A good example is in P&C insurance where a claim can spawn several sub-workflows for each of the quotations to be requested. The winning quotation can spawn a sub-workflow for the repair of the property. The people engaged in the sub-workflow can only see the limited information contained within their area while the case manager is viewing the entire case from the context of the parent workflow. The primary benefit with e5 is that each child work item can run its own independent workflow and can also operate in parallel, maximizing user productivity and minimizing service level agreement timelines.
Last, is that e5 manages all work items across all processor groups and makes every status immediately visible via the dashboards.
Therese: Let’s talk about what I think is one of the most important features of e5 – the dashboards. Can you elaborate on how e5 provides that functionality?
Craig: e5 provides out of-box graphical monitors and out-of-box reports allowing you to monitor three key areas.
The first area is the Service Level or Service Level Agreement (SLA) achievement. e5’s SLA Monitor shows the real-time pulse of the business so you know how well you are performing to agreed service levels. Service levels determine your customer’s experience. Setting the right level and consistently achieving the timeline provides metronome-like regularity that your customers can rely on.
Second, e5 tracks work volumes allow you to identify workload peaks and troughs so you can better manage resource requirements. Third, e5 tracks resource productivity – a visualization of key performance metrics which allows you, as a manager, to perform business process analysis and take the required actions to continuously improve productivity. e5 is designed to collect and recall every single action that is taken on a work item in minute detail so that we can calculate sophisticated activity-based costing about the process and productivity metrics. SharePoint doesn’t record this level of detail. This is another example of e5 functionality that is absolutely required in complex application areas such as medical claims processing, medical billing, etc.
Therese: Thanks Craig for your insights on this. I found it helpful in differentiating SharePoint from e5 and I am sure that business people reading this article will find it helpful as well.