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ColdFusion: Article

A ColdFusion Service Management System Streamlines Operations

Improves Service to Deaf and Hard of Hearing

In today's global economy, service providers are under increasing pressure to maximize margins and streamline operational efficiency to remain competitive.

In order to do this, providers are turning to new technologies, advanced collaboration with partners and creative service strategies to ensure a well-managed workforce. They are also creating virtual workforces where resources may work from home or on the road over a disparate geographic region. To this end, service providers are seeking to reduce or all together eliminate the brick and mortar office, and replace it with a loose coalition of people with diverse skill sets. As this shift continues in the service industry, so do their requirements. For example, they are now required to handle the entire service order management process by continually updating their offerings to stay competitive against others in the same industry; i.e., doing more with less.

The Catholic Community Services (CCS) serves the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in Arizona and New Mexico by providing sign language interpreting, vocational assistance, counseling and other services. CCS and its agencies in Phoenix, Tucson and New Mexico, have provided interpreter referral services over 25 years. In recent times, the three agencies determined that they had outgrown their custom software, which was inflexible in dealing with changes in the market, and which had been modified locally in each city, resulting in incompatible platforms. CCS needed, not only a way to operate their backend office across three locations, but also needed new ways to increase revenue and service offerings. In order to update their service technology, they elected to go with a web-based solution to handle service collaboration, fulfillment and administrative activities.

Best Solution
After a thorough pilot development and evaluation, it was decided to use ColdFusion to develop the CCS service management solution which automates all aspects of personnel scheduling, time recording, billing and invoicing. Overall, the solution comprises five parts:

  1. Service Order Collaboration: Scheduling and collaboration capabilities are at the heart of the system. By providing greater visibility into workforce assets, administrators can deploy skilled resources by reviewing details on the number and type of associates needed for a given day and time, while keeping overtime parameters and budget objectives in the mix. The web-based platform identifies the best-matched resource, notifying and receiving confirmation from all participants.
  2. Service Fulfillment: Once the proper resource has been identified and assigned, the system automatically tracks each job until completion.
  3. Service Settlement: The system automates pay rules and ensures compliance with government regulations and contracts. It tracks service claims, ledger activity, financial adjustments, customer invoices and statements, and payments.
  4. Administrative Platform: The system includes a centralized, web-based interface for managing services, service regions, resources, accounts, service calendars, organizational hierarchies, consumers, pay rates, terms and conditions, as well as others.
  5. Reporting & Analysis: This allows organizations to track key performance indicators (KPIs) and make informed decisions for establishing best practices to ensure increased productivity at all service levels.
To summarize, the CCS solution enables management to automate and streamline all aspects of the field service operations, allowing providers to offer additional services with greater accessibility to ensure growth and fitness for service. The solution's architecture allows virtually unlimited numbers of people to interact, conduct business and receive services through a collaborative environment.

Why ColdFusion
ColdFusion was a clear winner for a number of reasons, chief among them its ability for Rapid Application Development (RAD) and prototyping. The goal in developing a workforce management solution was not to focus on the technology, but instead on the business problem and ensuing solution. ColdFusion offered the best support for developing an extensive service system encompassing over 3,000 web pages, accessible from various devices, while providing a means to expand daily, embracing new technologies, enhanced capabilities and additional uses.

ColdFusion let us centralize database access, and handle requests for over 1,000 SQL statements and debug rapidly. In order to create a large-scale, web-based system, we constructed a ColdFusion framework and scaled it to handle the entire application. By leveraging reusable components and the readily extensible language itself, we were able to create and change literally thousands of pages rapidly, giving us a better opportunity to adapt the technology to the business, as opposed to other way around. We were able to change and migrate to many Web servers and database engines without third-party plug-ins, and with few revisions as the solution evolved. Additionally, it provided out-of-the-box advantages over many other products on the market. In other words, we focused on solving the personnel resource scheduling problem, independent of the technology.

ColdFusion held the shortest learning curve of any language in the web space, moreover, with its rapid development capabilities, the real cost in software development was not in the setup, but in the cost of adjusting the software to meet new and burgeoning business requirements.

We managed to displace the initial software costs by selecting a hosting partner. By using CFDynamics, we were able to rapidly set up a dedicated environment for ColdFusion and SQL Server with support, data backups and 24/7 monitoring-- allowing us to focus on core development in an environment accessible from anywhere. Between ColdFusion and CFDynamics hosting, we were able to focus on the business because they took care of the technology. In essence, Adobe's ColdFusion became a vehicle to deliver a world-class, large-scale, multi-organization, multi-user and feature-rich environment in a relatively short period of time.

A Win-Win Program
The Catholic Community Services (CCS) witnessed immediate and real results after implementing the ColdFusion system: improved operational efficiency, reduction in time for billing and payroll processing, and the reduction of data entry errors through elimination of redundant data entry. The organization is now better equipped to provide the highest quality service possible, while reducing its labor costs. They are able to field more service requests and accelerate service fulfillment. They can coordinate various contract personnel in remote locations, match resources with the job requirements, resolve conflicts, collect billing information, and track a service order until payment completion. In general, the added benefits include:

  • Improved personnel scheduling and matching
  • Reduction in travel costs
  • Elimination of data entry errors
  • More satisfied workers
  • Faster invoice processing and payments
  • Reduced call load with customer self-service
  • Increased visibility for better decision making
The solution allows administrators to schedule service personnel across three geographic locations encompassing statewide services in Arizona and New Mexico including rural areas, keep track of work performed, expenses, and billing, while coordinating over 400 resources and service personnel. Among those who benefit from the solution are:
  • Administrators: From one location, administrators can handle all the complexities of a service order (from creation to assignment), resource confirmation, claims of services provided, final billing and invoicing. Billing statements reflect current account status and reduce collection activity for unpaid invoices in previous billing cycles. Avianco accelerates these operations as administrators can execute all order-related activities from a single screen. Administrators gain better visibility into daily operations by retrieving real-time data on employees' time, schedule, vacation, and overtime, and contractors' availability and preferences. Accordingly, they now have the ability to dynamically swap resource schedules to meet changing needs.
  • Interpreter Resources: The system offers a new level of personnel participation and self-management in the scheduling process. Interpreters get a convenient and simple way to see their future schedule online, without having to call in or receive daily paged or emailed schedules. By directly accessing information and reporting their time, interpreters feel as though they are an integral part of the solution -- contributing to the overall success of the organization. Accessing the system in the field via a wireless device (PDA, tablet PC, notebook, even cell phone), interpreters can retrieve work orders, obtain directions to their next site, and instantly submit hours and close orders from the field. With the online solution, CCS has significantly increased interpreters' satisfaction and retention.
  • Customers (the groups or businesses that provide payments for the clients): By introducing an online self-service ability, customers can create their own service requests at any time. Many customers welcome the speed and convenience of creating requests and checking status without administrator intervention. Of course, CCS acknowledges that not all of its customers are comfortable solely using the online self-service feature. However, the system has significantly reduced staff workload so they are free to handle new accounts over the phone.
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clients (the ultimate recipient of services): Giving the clients online access is a significant byproduct of the system. Clients could check on schedules and retrieve documents prior to an interpreter's visit.
The system also allows CCS to handle all assignments beyond interpreters, where other departments, such as Client Services are able to handle staff scheduling and coordination. Finally, the software is instrumental in setting up new services previously unavailable, such as Support Service Providers and Community Outreach programs.

What's Next
By leveraging ColdFusion, we are continuing to explore additional services and options for automation. One such service offered by the system is video interpreting through the internet, IP-message relaying, and text messaging via ColdFusion's gateway capabilities. Soon we will include an online payment option, allowing customers to review invoices online and post payments to their accounts. We are also exploring other ways ColdFusion's technology can benefit CCS and the deaf community at large.

More Stories By Nader Ayoub

Nader Ayoub is president and founder of Avianco.

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