At Massachusetts Financial Services, the idea of a virtually "paperless office" became a reality when, in 1990, an imaging and automated workflow system was installed. Today, company officials report that the technologies have significantly improved customer service and reduced operating costs.

The Boston-based mutual funds company, which manages $35 billion in funds, has undergone rapid growth over the past several years, with an increase in customers and the addition of a more complex range of products, said Jim Bailey, senior vice president of data processing.

To handle the demands of an expanding customer base, the decision was made to modify business processes and to install an imaging system, coupled with automated workflow, to improve the overall efficiency of customer transaction processing.

The first step taken by officials was to outsource the company's mission-critical business functions from an in-house International Business Machines Corp. mainframe computer, to DST Systems Inc., an IBM business partner based in Kansas City, Mo.

Massachusetts Financial then installed an IBM AS/400 midrange computer, running IBM ImagePlus software, and an automated workflow application developed by DST.

Use of the system has modified much of the customer service and workflow process at the company. Previously, work was distributed manually by an "assembly line" of individuals, explained Mr. Bailey. Tasks such as sorting, filing, batching, etc., were each done by different employees, a method that was inefficient, he said.

With the imaging-workflow technology in place, paper items, such as letters, forms, reports, and incoming checks, are received, digitized, indexed, and electronically routed to appropriate individuals by the system.

The AS/400, which is linked to 370 personal computer workstations, functions as an image file server.

The automated workflow part of the system, in addition to routing images, distributes telephone, fax, and text information to the appropriate client desktop.

Processing and Filing

The workstations can also reroute data back to the AS/400 for further processing and filing. The final results are ultimately sent to DST's IBM mainframe for processing.

The new system cuts down the number of steps in the workflow process, said Mr. Bailey. With the automated process, company operations are neatly segmented, yet seamlessly tied together: business applications run in DST's mainframe environment, the AS/400 takes care of workflow, and the workstations allow the exchange and sharing of information across all systems throughout the enterprise.

Since the imaging system was installed, Mr. Bailey states that the average response time to a customer inquiry has been cut from one week to one day.

As a result, there's been a 10% increase, since 1989, in the company's book of business, a measure of the volume of accounts that are serviced, and the volume of activity generated by those accounts.

"Activity" refers to the volume of phone calls, letters produced in answer to customer queries, and transactions processed. Today, the company handles 2.2 million transactions, 85,000 letters, and more than one million phone calls each year.

The number of workers handling this business has been cut nearly in half -- from 600 employees in 1989 to about 375 today -- resulting in enormous savings, said Mr. Bailey.

In addition, internal company measurement surveys indicate that the overall quality rate for customer service has increased from approximately 82% in 1989 to 99% today.

The company is no longer wasting time and resources on managing workflow, said Mr. Bailey.

"The system has allowed us to refocus our energies on customer service."

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