For smaller banks, searching for revolutionary technology is a bit like window shopping in Beverly Hills -there are a lot of cool solutions out there to speed up everything from mortgage loan processing to human resources, but they're often beyond what a smaller bank can afford.

But Will Barrett, senior operations officer at Bank of Tennessee, is not particularly bothered by the price gap. His $640 million-asset bank has just started a software-as-a-service-heavy (saas) business process management project that aims to improve work efficiency by turning to socially-driven collaboration among staff, a less costly method than replacing or upgrading all of the bank's lending and workflow solutions.

The Johnson City, Tenn.-based bank will use a business process management suite that has certain social media tools built into it. Bank staff will be able to access — on PC, tablet or mobile devices — what appears to be a news feed that updates loans in progress, provides information on new products, tracks and gauges campaign execution and automates back office workflows. The project, which is expected to last into 2013, will start with complex mortgage lending procedures and use that migration to help automate other loans and businesses processes.

There are ramifications for other banks as well, since The Bank of Tennessee processes loans for other local banks, a network that creates the equivalent of a $4 billion-asset institution. The growth of user mobility and social tools are changing business process management from the stodgy single-task automation BPM initiatives of years past to enterprisewide programs that can impact a wide range of bank activities.

Barrett discussed his bank's new project, in which it will integrate Appian's social BPM platform into its core records system, imaging system and other point solutions, in an interview with Bank Technology News late last week.

BTN: What does the banking market look like in your area, and how does that mandate a different approach to creating workflow efficiency?
Barrett: We're a community bank trying to keep up with much larger regional and national banks that have much larger IT budgets. So it's hard for us to afford the best-of-breed solutions for internal and external processes, and it's harder for us to cobble together tech solutions to create a consistent customer experience. We know we need better processes, and when looking at new business process management (BPM) capabilities, it's a bit like a Lego set that that we can customize to use for different purposes.

What is the big challenge in executing the project?
The thing we had to grapple with was deciding if we were going to change our processes to what we want and put that into the BPM system, or take what we have now and use the BPM system to change our processes. The second option is what we decided to do. [There's less] disruption and we can put out a laundry list of things to work on into the Appian system.

How will the initial mortgage migration work?
We're starting with mortgage loan processing and origination. Most vendors out there had a solution that work for part of the process, such as documents or disclosures. But what we're concerned about is as we grow, we want to be able to scale up rapidly. So what we're doing is using the Appian toolset to build out and automate our workflow. A customer will enter an application online and it will flow out to a different part of the process — underwriting, processing, brokerage, etc.

What got you interested in using social technology to drive collaboration?
Over the past 18 months, we've read about social platforms like Yammer (a social collaboration firm owned by Microsoft) and other social platforms built around [IT concepts]. We knew that we needed to a better job of social collaboration…with a mortgage process, for example, instead of logging into a third party mortgage system, social collaboration can create a more dynamic environment among participants in the mortgage loan. Milestones are put into a news feed type scenario and people can collaborate and interact among different parties.

How does that make mortgages close faster and more accurately?
If there is an event that's part of processing that's coming up, say a three-day deadline for certain disclosures, we can bring in different parties in the process who can communicate and share information and documents in a collaborative environment to see what the progress toward that deadline is. If there are regulatory issues that we're in risk of violating, we can spot them and fix them more quickly.

How has the BPM tech improved to make it more accessible for your bank?
A saas model [Appian is delivered via software as a service to reduce startup and maintenance costs]

allows us to migrate from a server-based pricing to use-based pricing …And as the system connects with different platforms at the bank, a lot of the connection is being done with XML and web services. Older integration involved manual coding. Now it's "drag and drop" through XML [drag and drop refers to an easier way of working with data in XML. So someone like me who's familiar with Excel can use a drag and drop environment and do amazing things without coding…With the mortgage industry, this can help us adapt to the [growth of] credit information [from regulations].