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Reviewing its technology needs options three years ago, Grupo Financiero Uno suspected there was a better way to conduct business.

As the largest issuer of Visa credit cards in Central America, the company found that inefficient operations and decentralized business processes were cutting into its profit margins. Grupo Uno took 15 days to approve a credit card application. But it wasn’t sure how to discover the specific problem. At that time it did not know that business process management [BPM] software could help.

“We knew we had a problem,” said Erick Holmann, regional coordinator of BPM for Miami-based Grupo Financiero Uno. “Back then, [business process automation] might have been a reality in the U.S., but it was not in Latin America. Everything was handled by one person, at one desk; one person handled one task of one process.”

When Ultimus Inc. approached Holmann to offer a no-risk, no-cost pilot of the Cary, N.C., developer’s BPM software, he jumped at the opportunity. After installing the Ultimus BPM Suite, Grupo Uno is now able to process nearly five times more credit card applications and credit card disputes with the same number of staff members, while client growth is up 30 percent.

“We [ran the pilot] with one of our non-critical tasks — loan applications,” said Holmann. “It was really successful, so we implemented [Ultimus] in our credit cards, and we are now completely automated. Now, one person revises data, and another is in charge of approving and everything else is automated.”

With initial success in its credit card division, Grupo Uno is expanding its use of Ultimus BPM Suite into other areas—credit line increases and approvals—and looking to integrate its proprietary customer relationship management software with the Ultimus software.

Prior to piloting Ultimus’ BPM Suite, everything at Grupo Uno was done manually, according to Holmann. Applications were handed physically to an analyst, and they went through the information checking: verifying policies and looking for references in external bureaus. This system, not surprisingly, had an incredibly high rate of error, with paper sitting on desks for days or weeks or often literally getting lost in the shuffle. Some processes took 16 people to complete—the same processes that can now be completed by one person in some cases.

Click here to read about how toy maker Hasbro Inc. used BPM to streamline its manufacturing and supply chain.

With locations in seven Latin American countries, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, Grupo Uno has more than 15 subsidiaries and 4,000 employees under its umbrella. Because of this, full-scale business process automation across the company has not been an easy task.

“Our processes were not standard. Each country was an island of its own,” said Holmann. “It’s different when one enterprise [has different divisions] in one country. In separate countries, there are different cultures and laws that apply. To standardize is almost impossible.”

Holmann and his colleagues implemented Ultimus in phases, using Web services to integrate processes. Currently, the company is working with nearly a dozen Web services, including those for data entry, adherence to credit card policies, credit scoring and importing external credit card bureau information. With the introduction of automated Web services, Grupo Uno has more than doubled its processing capacity, according to Holmann.

For example, prior to employing Web services—using Microsoft Corp.’s .Net integration platform—it took a year to implement a policy change across the company. “To implement policies in each country, it was a year. At the end of the year, we needed to change again because business changes,” he said. “Now, when we change a policy—a process—we change through Web services. Now, we just need to change a parameter, and it is applied automatically.”

To date, Grupo Uno can process 300 to 600 credit applications a day. In the past, it took the company three days to handle one application and 15 days to receive an approval notification. Today, customers know almost in real time if their application is accepted.

“A thousand cards to us a year means a million dollars. This is our core business,” said Holmann. “Ultimus can cost a fraction of a fraction of that. We got a return on investment in three months for one of the countries. You can multiply that by six for our different regions. And this is for one of the processes we automated.”

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