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December 4, 2009 • Vol.31 Issue 29
Page(s) 40 in print issue

Automated Data Extraction & Reporting
Medical Discount Provider Speeds Data Delivery With Network Automation’s AutoMate
For Prime Liberty, a Toronto-based outsourcer of medical savings programs, data delivery is a core part of its business. So when the company found that its manual process for formatting and preparing data reports for customers was taking up more and more time each day, it began looking for a software product that could automate the task.

Prime Liberty contracts with wholesalers that represent doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and other medical providers who are willing to offer discounts to subscribers—typically uninsured consumers who don’t qualify for government healthcare programs and who pay a monthly fee to receive these discounts. The wholesale benefits providers who sell through Prime Liberty receive daily reports on its membership and the services purchased. Preparing those daily reports is not a particularly complex task, but until a year ago, it was a task that required staff to spend two hours every morning hand-formatting the data. That’s because Prime Liberty’s clients needed their reports in different formats, depending on the database they used and other factors, while all of the information on the members is stored in a Salesforce CRM database.

“We deal with six to eight vendors, and each one has a different set of reporting requirements,” says Randy Sicat, Prime Liberty’s COO. “One might require 256-bit encrypted zip files; others won’t but may have different naming conventions. They all have their reporting databases, some of them custom ones, and we have to adhere to their formatting requirements.”

Another issue for Prime Liberty was the company’s plan to expand its business into other types of discount services programs, such as for gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and retail shops. Any expansion of the business would mean an expansion of the time required to hand-format client reports. That could increase the workload from two hours per day to eight or more, potentially requiring Prime Liberty to devote one or more employees to doing nothing but data formatting.

Sicat decided that the situation called for an investment in automation and began looking at applications that could both translate data into various database formats and do the extraction and formatting on a preset schedule, with no attention from a human worker. The hope was not only to speed the delivery of the daily reports but also to free up IT staff for more important projects.

Shopping For Process Automation

One of the requirements of any data translation and transformation tool is an ability to extract and convert data from Salesforce. It also had to be able to translate the Salesforce data into whatever requirements the customers needed, meaning it had to have support for a wide range of databases and custom database formats. Salesforce itself does not provide any data translation tools, although some of its partner developers sell translation tools.

Prime Liberty, however, had a fairly long list of requirements that it needed, so the company first considered having an outside developer create a custom conversion program. However, the price that the contractor quoted for the work—about $10,000 to $15,000—was considerably more than Prime Liberty was willing to pay. Other options the company considered either didn’t combine the scripting and scheduling functions that it wanted or were simply too complex for Sicat. “It didn’t make sense for me to invest in a tool to write complex code,” says Sicat.

So when a colleague suggested to Sicat that he look into Network Automation’s AutoMate, a business process automation tool that cost less than $1,500, Sicat was interested. AutoMate employs scripts to automate tasks such as batch file processing macros and other executables. The solution is aimed at midsized companies that have complex scripts and custom coding or multiple human-to-computer processes that could be integrated and automated into one computer macro.

Sicat and others in IT liked the nontechnical look and feel of the product as well as its drag-and-drop, plain-English interface, which lets employees format files using commands such as Move File, Find and Replace, or other common actions including terminal emulation, encryption, running embedded scripts, or automatically transferring files to outside recipients via FTP. The software comes with 230 prebuilt actions that can be assembled sequentially in a task-building window to create a small program without the need to write code. To create an automated formatting process, an employee assembles several commands into a task building window. After the sequence of commands has been compiled, an error detection function in AutoMate highlights any bugs or incompatible commands.

It took Sicat about a day to learn the basics of using the program and to compile an automated process for one partner. He was able to compile routines for the other seven partners the next day.

Plans To Further AutoMate

Prime Liberty’s daily membership reports can now run on their own, without help from an IT employee. The AutoMate process takes the daily updates from Salesforce and handles all needed formatting changes. The Task Administrator lets employees schedule the processes that need to run and centrally monitor them for problems.

“It’s helped us out a lot to have a completely automated sequence as opposed to having someone sit and do a very tedious job,” says Sicat. “We expect it’s going to do a lot more for us, as there are a lot of processes here that could be automated.”

Automating the membership updates is saving Prime Liberty close to 10 hours each week in IT manpower, and the company is also looking at other processes that could benefit from automation. One that is high on the list is billing. The company plans to use AutoMate to reformat and, if necessary, combine daily credit card transaction files before submitting them to its merchant processors. Another plan is to automate the delivery of commission payments to Prime Liberty agents.

“We have agencies that sell our products and we pay commissions to them on a weekly basis. That’s one of a whole lot of processes that could be automated,” says Sicat, adding that he still has a lot of learning to do about how the software works.

By automating more of these kinds of processes, Sicat estimates the company can save significantly on labor and speed service delivery for its customers. It will also allow Prime Liberty to add customers and partners without adding greatly to its administrative overhead.

Sicat says the company expects to add five to 10 new wholesale vendors to its existing eight in the near future and also plans to expand into other types of consumer discount programs. All of these new customers will have their own reporting and administrative requirements.

“It’s growing on a daily basis as we’re moving into more customer relationship management. We’ve got a few big ones in the pipeline right now,” says Sicat, adding that he’s “barely scratched the surface” of the types of tasks that he plans to automate down the road.

by Sue Hildreth

Network Automation AutoMate

Automates manual tasks; streamlines business processes; replaces legacy batch files, scripts, and custom application development; and enables employees to automate tasks without having to write any code.

“It’s helped us out a lot to have a completely automated sequence as opposed to having someone sit and do a very tedious job,” says Randy Sicat, COO of Prime Liberty.

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