Global Work Management System Implemented with IBM BPM

Photo by Lukas Blazek / Unsplash
  • Customer: Big 4 Accounting Firm
  • Industry: Financial Services
  • Challenge: Strict audit season deadline to implement global IBM BPM application for workflow optimization
  • Solution: IBM BPM Application to promote optimized workflow
  • Outcome: Application launched in time for audit season,  several hundred thousand work hours scheduled and completed in new system

The Summary

A Big 4 Accounting Firm teamed up with Apex and IBM to pursue a cost saving opportunity that needed to go live prior to audit season. Strengthening the workflow between client-facing Engagement teams and global Delivery Centers would improve outcomes for both clients and the firm. Apex led strategy, development, and playback of the new solution using IBM BPM. This solution was developed in time, and led to hundreds of thousands of successfully completed work hours.

The Customer

This Big 4 Accounting Firm has employees and clients across the globe. They faced cost pressure from competitors and needed to transform their business model from one based on co-located engagement teams near the client location to one based on hybrid teams that included centralized shared resources.  

There are two key teams to the firm’s new application implementation:

  • Delivery Centers around the world that provide skilled resources both at onshore and offshore locations
  • Client-facing Engagement Teams based in the US and the UK

Representatives from both sets of teams joined the project to participate in the design and development process to ensure the application would support their needs.

The Challenge

The accounting firm had identified a huge cost saving opportunity by strengthening the connection between the Engagement Teams and Delivery Center teams.

The connection had to be mutually beneficial. For the Engagement Teams, it needed to be easy for these teams to leverage the shared resources based in Delivery Centers around the world. For Delivery Centers, the firm needed to predict workload to ensure the Centers were adequately staffed.

One of the unique complexities of this project was supporting the year-long process of planning, scheduling and coordinating work for each engagement while giving the Delivery Centers control over day-to-day delivery of the work.

After an extensive review of the available platforms, the Big 4 Firm selected IBM's Business Process Management (BPM) platform to form the basis of the solution.

The Apex Action

Apex led a hybrid team composed of Apex, IBM, and client resources to develop the IBM BPM application.

Apex drove conceptualization of the solution and Agile team structuring. Apex provided specialized user interface capabilities through a toolkit of client-side widgets that was the predecessor of Apex Coach Views. Apex also took on leading development teams and mentoring the resources.

Past that, Apex led the development playbacks to firm participants from India, Brazil, Australia, UK, US and many other countries to promote and encourage adoption.

At a high level, the overall project plan followed the below stages:

  1. Process Discovery Project
  2. Solution Conceptualization
  3. Playback Zero
  4. User Story Development
  5. Process & Database Development
  6. Development Playbacks
  7. Integration testing and user acceptance testing

IBM and Apex started with a process discovery project leading to a Playback Zero event. Playback Zero events bring stakeholders into the fold to discuss and exchange feedback. These events reveal any areas of disconnect and measure progress towards the big picture problem being solved.

Based on the discovery project, the teams wrote a set of user stories for the first release. The first release had a non-negotiable deadline imposed by the seasonality of audit work: the system needed to be live by October 1st.

Another challenge presented itself: The firm had been using a Lotus Notes based database for coordinating work. However, Lotus Notes suffered major performance problems and would not survive another year, especially with increased demand for Delivery Center work.

To replace Lotus Notes, the hybrid team developed a work reservation process for Engagement Teams. The new process would notify the Delivery Centers of upcoming work and support forward planning. They developed tools for assessing and assigning the incoming work requests for the Delivery Center managers.

In addition to building databases, Apex developed an integrated interface to the client’s document management and storage system. This interface helped move the work papers as close to the Delivery Centers as possible, while still maintaining document storage geographical rules. The work papers moved after the Delivery Center was assigned but before resources were assigned to eliminate the need for teams to wait for the file transfers to take place.

The Solution

The BPM application launched on time for audit season. It immediately went to work throughout the first busy season.

Key features of the new solution:

  • Delivery Center
    • Planning, Execution, and Monitoring of Work
  • Engagement Team Process Development
    • Requesting Work
    • Specifying Delivery Milestones
    • Organizing Deliverables
  • Work Reservation Process
    • Engagement Teams can notify the Delivery Centers of upcoming work and support forward planning
    • Tools for assessing and assigning incoming work requests for Delivery Center managers
  • Database Build
    • System of record database
    • Consolidated reporting database
  • Integrated Interface
    • Developed for the client’s document management and storage system.
  • Specialized User Interface Capabilities
    • Provided by Apex through a toolkit of client-side widgets
  • Mentorship for firm members
    • Apex mentored resources
    • Apex led development playbacks across the firm’s global team

The Results

Several hundred thousand hours of work were scheduled and completed using the system, available to some 30,000 users.

"This is the smoothest and most successful implementation we have ever seen."

The client’s quote above speaks for itself. As a result of the BPM implementation, the client maximized its resources to save costs and better serve their customers.

The success of this project led to an ongoing relationship between Apex and the Big 4 Firm. This project formed the basis for a family of follow-up projects for organizing various types of work across the firm.

Looking for a partner to save costs and optimize your workflows? Talk to Apex to find the right solution.

Nick Laughton

Nick Laughton