Especially When it Comes to VetApprove
Software companies often struggle to articulate the value proposition of their products. In translating the technical promise of enterprise applications, marketing and sales like to talk about business value. Because the deal gets signed at a very high level in the buying organization those selling the value strive to talk at a very high level. The problem is, in elevating the level of discussion, the value proposition becomes so abstract that it often becomes meaningless. Apparancy, a new business process management (BPM) Platform Company has no such problem.
Many businesses today have multiple enterprise applications that are not well connected, leaving gaps in the data needed for decision-making and processes that are broken. Apparancy fixes this. Nowhere are processes in worse shape than in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), now currently engulfed in scandal amid allegations that thousands of veterans were denied adequate healthcare because of false record-keeping and long waiting lists at VA facilities across the country. Combining its core strengths with the acquired usage rights to software called “TurboVet,” Apparancy is looking to help the US government fix broken promises and processes for over 22 million veterans with the launch of its new VetApprove ® product.
Apparancy’s Value Proposition
So what exactly is the value proposition of Apparancy and why would any company need its products? Most companies of any size today have many, different, often single-purpose systems. When this results in redundant data and processes, companies will experience a productivity drain. Because this productivity drain often happens gradually, over time, it might go unnoticed or even if recognized, is deemed to be an accepted side effect of growth. But as these solutions age, outdated technologies grow further apart and become more and more difficult to change and update. The result is a combination of fragmented processes and views and it becomes impossible to effectively leverage existing information technology (IT) and to optimize resource efficiencies and build in profitability.
While in the long run, it might be best to rip and replace existing systems and replace them with more comprehensive and well-integrated solutions, this can be expensive both in terms of time and money. And these existing solutions might be getting the job done, albeit not so efficiently. Layering Apparancy on top of these solutions allows you to leverage what you have until a more optimal time to replace. By combining data and processes into a single- purpose, role-based view, you can eliminate redundant efforts and get more value out of what you already have in place. How so?
- By automating tasks by process or by user
- Centralizing visibility of all tasks, even those that span multiple systems
- By building in alerts to monitor the status of each workflow via dashboards
- By implementing rules to escalate those alerts based on team hierarchies
- By building compliance verification in for audit-ready accountability
- By reporting process bottlenecks, employee performance and other improvement metrics
All of this is possible without changing your underlying systems and yet resulting in better flexibility. Let’s face it, you know that as soon as you get processes in place, they are likely to need to evolve and change. These changes, when implemented through Apparancy, can be as simple as “drag, drop and publish.” Process change need not mean code changes. This promotes usability, which is probably the most important key to getting participants to use the system, which enforces the rules.
Apparancy also infuses a level of “social” into the process. While for some “social” has an unfortunate connotation, here we equate it to better communication, collaboration and visibility. Those that shy away from “social” in the context of enterprise applications distinguish between business contacts and social (or personal) contacts, a business discussion versus a social chat. These folks equate “social” to something employees should do on their own time. But doing so misses the importance of a social structure that can be used to integrate users into a process based on roles. “Social” in the business context means aggregating all threads of a communication regardless of format (email, chat, phone, text, etc.) “Social” in the business context means integrating alerts for assigned tasks and delivering them on a choice of mobile devices. “Social” in the business context means structured collaboration, including both internal and external participants.
All these benefits translate to cheaper, better, faster. The cloud-based SaaS deployment eliminates the need to add more servers, software licenses and installation headaches. There is no underlying technology to upgrade, no expensive tool to manage and no additional IT staff to hire. Apparancy combines data liquidity with process fluidity for business improvement and efficiency. This means you work smarter, not harder, which translates to lower costs and higher profits.
Applying the Value Prop to the VA
You might think the high profile news breaking over the VA scandal was what drove Apparancy to try to solve the problem, but the initial push was more of a personal story, as told by Karen Watts, Apparancy’s CEO. About three months ago Karen was trying to arrange a family vacation but was running into obstacles caused by the uncertainty experienced by her mother in attempting to schedule a surgical procedure through the VA.
As a pragmatic businesswoman, Karen thought, “How hard can this be?” After all, the administrators must know how many operating rooms are available and how many other procedures are scheduled. Surely they could give her an estimate of the date of the surgery. Apparently not. The deeper Karen dug, the further away she seemed from an answer.
She said, “I have a family member veteran who urgently needed surgery and was surrounded by wonderful Veterans Administration people who wanted to help. But both the VA folks and our family couldn’t clearly understand the next steps and the process of trying to get my stepfather help became mired in incorrect actions and wrong forms that led to dead ends and do-overs. It became clear to me that this problem of complex processes we are hearing about to help veterans is no different than the problem I am trying to solve for companies and healthcare organizations. This is something my platform is designed for and this is a way I can make a huge immediate impact on the lives of many millions of deserving veterans.”
Karen’s experience was quite similar to one I too experienced. Back in 2008 it was clear my 93-year-old mother could no longer safely live alone in her own home. We began looking into assisted living facilities near my home in southern New Hampshire and found these facilities to be outrageously expensive in the area. But we also discovered a little known VA benefit: As the widow of a World War II veteran, she qualified for assistance.
While there was never any question of her qualification, the process for approval took a grueling seven months. One step in the process was a medical exam that had to be conducted at a VA facility, by a VA doctor. Although the doctor had been working at the VA for many years, it came out during the appointment that this was the first such exam she had conducted for this purpose. Her mother-in-law was herself a veteran who was confined to a nursing home. Neither the doctor nor her mother-in-law was even aware she was eligible for this benefit, leaving me wondering how many qualified veterans and surviving spouses were not being granted benefits for which they clearly qualified. And of course, there was always the question: Why did this take seven months?
Fortunately for the 22 million veterans today, Karen immediately set about investigating how Apparancy’s platform could help. In the course of her investigation she came upon Ned Hunter, a graduate of the US Naval Academy, former Naval Aviator and former CEO of Stratizon Corporation.
Even before the scandal broke, Stratizon had developed and piloted a software solution that catalogued thousands of VA forms and created a series of questions to be asked of a veteran. The answers were used to further refine what was needed, asking additional questions where appropriate and then auto-populating every applicable form.
Ned, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt had worked with a partner to get inside the walls of the VA to map the processes between the veterans, state benefits representatives and federal adjudicators. Ned and his team meticulously sourced and verified every benefit form relating to a veteran, available from all the federal agencies they could find, and then built out the questions from the forms. They found the redundancy between all these forms mind-numbing.
The team also discovered that it took an average of seven years to train a veteran claims representative. As absurd as this length of time seems, it is further aggravated by the fact that these reps were retiring at a faster rate than they could be trained. No wonder a process that should have essentially been a “rubber stamp” took seven months. No wonder Karen couldn’t get an estimate of when her stepfather’s surgery could be scheduled. No wonder the media is having a field day over the death of veterans who are not being attended to adequately.
The result of this effort was a piece of software, called “TurboVet.” Ned and his partner pitched it to the VA, which expressed interest, but took no action. Without the backbone of a workflow engine and business process management, TurboVet wasn’t a complete solution and the VA did not feel the urgency to change.
With the recent scandal, the VA is now feeling more urgency. Apparancy has been updating and integrating these forms into the Apparancy platform. The end product, called VetApprove ® will help guide veterans through the process of navigating, sorting and downloading the correct forms for their required need within minutes, versus the months or even years currently being reported in the news.
As part of the process of bringing this to the public, Apparancy has begun a sign-up and crowd-sourcing option for U.S. veterans to participate in signing up for (and eventually optionally funding) VetApprove. The link for veterans can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/VetApprove and a demonstration can be viewed at http://vetapprove.com/video/vetapprove-demonstration/.
Apparancy has also decided to move its corporate headquarters to the Washington D.C. area by year-end 2014 to keep a closer pulse and proximity to critical compliance-centric regulations. It also hopes that the Veterans Administration will automate VetApprove into its ongoing process operations.
Mint Jutras and 22 million veterans join Apparancy in this hope.