3 Ways to Improve Conversion of PDF and Image Files

It can be argued that a large percentage of hospitals and medical facilities are using technology decades behind present-day patient and billing management systems. Agency owners are reminded of that debate every month when their new business file is once again delivered in a PDF file or even worse, a scanned image format. The painstaking process of manually entering every account and patient record resumes. Inefficiencies aside, the element of human error is ever-present and the probability of it is very high. It will not take much for someone to mistype a patient account number, procedure code, patient balance or some other critical data element. When asking your client for an electronically formatted final, you are left with a response something like, “we are working on it” or simply “no.” What else can be done?

A simple Internet search will result in a seemingly endless list of options. It’s not likely you will find a solution that works or more importantly, works for your use case. Essentially, the options fall into three different categories, which are listed and detailed below. If you are not lucky enough to stumble upon the perfect solution, consult with your end users and IT staff or vendor to understand the process of getting the data from the unstructured format into the collection software. This type of conversation will help direct you to the most logical path.

First

The most ideal option is working directly with the PDF or image file to electronically extract the data. This method does not mean the task can be completed without additional software. Rather, it means working with the raw file (source of the data). One positive attribute of the PDF or image file is that is has structure. This is obvious because it most cases, you can see it. The picture is clearly organized into columns and rows, usually with headings and summaries as well. Copy and paste is a common mistake. Any structure that was there is immediately corrupted. This lack of structure makes it tough to make sense of the data and you may have unknowingly lost some data during the transition.

Second

The first option assumes you discovered some out of the box software that accurately reads the image file you are working with. There is a second option very much like the first, but involves a completely custom software application to understand and parse the image file. This is going to require a skilled IT staff or services from an outside vendor. With careful analysis of the image file to identify regular patterns, splits, and trends, technologies such as Java or Python can be used to identify and accurately extract the data fields into a more structured and workable format. Many custom developed applications will output to HTML or XML. This is often easier than trying to move data directly from the image file to Excel or CSV. This output of the data becomes the new source for further processing or for electronically loading into your collection software.

Third

A more extreme option involves utilizing features of next generation tools which may otherwise be of no use to you. (If these tools are of use to you, it is likely in another division of the business so if you are part of a large organization, check with other departments because they may have something you can utilize.) Big Data technology, like Hadoop, is designed for extremely large datasets and robust environments, uncommon in most agencies, but may have features for reducing image files to understand and extract the data fields. Similarly, some Business Intelligence (BI) tools have features for reading PDF or image file sources, identifying the structure, and accurately extracting the data. For example, one of the latest releases of Tableau contains such features. If you opt for this route, there is a good chance you will find some other cool features and potential use cases for the Big Data or BI technology.

Finding a way to electronically manage PDF and image files is critical. It greatly improves operational efficiency and reduces the risk of human error. An element I haven’t even touched on involves culture and the work environment. In probably all cases, those performing the manual work to key new account and patient information into the system are likely not doing the work they were hired to do and are not doing work that is more rewarding, both personally and for the company. I hope you make it a priority to create an exciting and more productive environment through the elimination of manual processes.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

Advertisements

Does Business Intelligence Matter?

Most agencies have data scattered amid many different systems. The standard setup likely includes some combination of the collection software, a sales or CRM system, an accounting system, a payment portal, a client access website and a reporting factory. The technology for accessing data across many systems has grown tremendously in recent years. Business intelligence (BI) is everywhere right now, yet many agencies are not interested or they are somewhat interested but not enough to jump in. I have witnessed agencies lose clients solely due to lacking BI. I have also witnessed agencies win clients, they had no business signing, only because they displayed top-tier BI with excellent reporting and dashboarding.

It is not difficult to get started with BI and if your company is not doing anything, you are missing out on some quick productivity gains. Top performing companies are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable with data-driven business intelligence.

It is imperative to note that I am specifically referencing datadriven BI. This is where you want to be as a company because self-reliance is achieved and insight into the real business performance and trends is quickly accessible. The truth is only 8% of companies are benefiting from data-driven BI. The rest are making critical business decisions using opinion-based BI. This is the traditional method of BI where the same critical business decisions are made using outdated data, uncompromising reports, or nothing other than how you believe the business is performing.

Great, so how can the regular credit card collection agency move from opinion-based BI to data-driven BI?

The excellent news is that you already have the data! The rest is primarily intangible. The one tangible piece includes the introduction of BI technology and data standardization. There are hundreds of BI tools available. For many of them, it is merely a matter of due diligence in selecting a tool to move forward with because a hosted or cloud instance is almost always an option. Some BI tools I like and have seen a lot of are Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and IBM Cognos.

Obtaining a new BI tool does not have to, and probably should not, include standing up a new environment with servers, firewalls, switches, and so on. During the BI technology due diligence process, you should be thinking about data standardization as well. Data standardization is the art of getting all your data, regardless of systems or where the data originates, into an accessible and workable format. In the case of BI, it usually means achieving integration with all data sources and capturing all or most of the business critical data in a central repository, such as a data warehouse.

The intangibles for adopting BI are arguably more important than the tangibles. Even with the best BI technology and data standards in place, a successful adoption of BI must include a change in people and the way people think about data. The conventional experience involves a request for a report, usually a ticket is created, the ticket is assigned to IT, and IT builds the report. This takes both time and resources. Even when the report gets in the hands of the requestor, there is often a question about the data or a change to the way the data is presented. The request, ticketing and IT process repeats.

This experience is unpleasant for all involved because the business is not getting what they need, IT does not understand what the business wants and the speed for delivery on each iteration is too slow. The experience improves with a greater collaboration between business and IT. This naturally occurs when the two groups spend more time together going over requirements and presentation options. But what if the two groups were both working in the BI toolset? Let’s advance to BI and analytics that may be significant for agencies. Ask yourself the following sample questions to direct your thought process.

  • In which state or geographic region is my agency the most successful?
  • How much better am I compared to the next most successful state or region?
  • Based on my historical numbers, can I forecast the next three months? Six months? Year?
  • What is my level of certainty with those forecast numbers?

Now consider your staff, clients, and partners.
• Does my staff have the tools they need to answer the same four questions above?

  • If my clients or partners saw my current BI and reporting process, they would think ________.

There are endless thought processes that can help you introduce a better BI practice at your agency. You must break through traditional thinking to be successful. Agencies that promote self-reliance and empower users at all levels by giving them access to work with the data will be successful moving from an opinion-based organization to a data-driven organization.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

3 Ways to Wow Governments (And Everyone) With Your Tech

In 2010, the framework for massive technology updates in healthcare was set in motion. It started with the introduction of the health insurance marketplace for the public sector. This resulted in hospitals, medical facilities, insurance companies, claims processors and third-party agencies racing to upgrade systems and technology for patient-account management, privacy and data security, compatibility, and simply to keep up with the changing trends. For the agencies servicing healthcare accounts, technology updates and upgrades were necessary to stand out and to survive as a provider of receivables management services.

Now, in 2017 and stepping out of the healthcare vertical, are we about to see another massive technology update impacting third-party agencies? For those in the government space, the answer is probably yes. Without launching a political debate, there is uncertainty surrounding what is taking place and will take place with the federal government as well as with state and local governments. Nonetheless, technology advancement and increasing IT budgets appear to be a priority. A report from Forrester Research published on govtech.com forecasts that IT spending at the state and local levels will overtake IT spending at the federal level as soon as this year and then continuing into 2018.1 More specifically, the report details that the largest investment will be in cloud-based software and solutions.

Technological advances are nothing new but there does appear to be an evolving understanding that a fundamental change is underway. Innovation is essential. Younger generations rely heavily on mobile devices and therefore are always “connected.” The device market is growing and changing rapidly. There is an expectation that technology in other markets is keeping up. Increased IT spending at the state and local levels could help to close this gap.

We can tie this all together by looking back at the question raised – Will any of this impact third-party agencies? Sooner or later it will so the new question is how can agencies prepare? In my opinion, agencies should upgrade their technology so it stands out as if they were attempting to sell their services to government entities. Essentially, make your operation appear cutting edge. “Appear” is the most important word in that statement because nothing needs to change with your collection process. Instead, pretend you are working a state government contract and are in a position to give them the data they need, the reports they are looking for and the analytics they want. Here are three things your agency can do to stand out:

1) Data Centralization

Use a data warehouse, data lake, master data management (MDM) system or whatever you want to name it to gather all the data from all your systems. Most agencies have many database systems in place to run the business. Common cases include collection software, client or debtor access portals, accounting software, outside vendor services and a CRM. These are all standalone systems with their own data sets. By getting as much of the overall data as you can into a central location, you are in a position to report on the entire enterprise and to use the data to really understand how the business is performing. To stand out even further, put your data centralization solution in the cloud.

2) Performance Reporting Package

Develop a package of canned reports about your agency’s performance at the portfolio level that rolls all the way up to the entire organization. There is a good chance you already have a pile of client reports to start with. Having a performance reporting package available shows you are ready to take on more business and you have an understanding of what creditors and first parties want to see from their agencies. If your client does not have hard report layout and formatting requirements, use your package to eliminate a large chunk of the new client onboarding work. You will onboard quicker and will not miss reporting deadlines with your new client.

3) Business Intelligence

An element of this includes report development but with business intelligence (BI), you are adding the bells and whistles. A BI solution can be tough to implement because similar to developing a reporting package, you must know the information that is critical and the data points that are key performance indicators. Only when those elements are understood, a slick set of dashboards and analytictype reports can be developed. To really achieve a noticeable BI solution, an outside provider is almost always necessary. BI is a popular topic these days and there are many good providers in the industry but Tableau offers the best product I have seen. I highly recommend their product and at the very least, it is worth a demo.

An initial push to upgrade your technology and keep up with trends does not have to break the budget or involve a massive overall in how your business operates. It is forecast that government IT spending will be increasing in the coming years and a few updates now could reduce the amount of work that may be required later this year or next. Additionally, the element of change is naturally a challenge and most are comfortable with the way things are but a little change now could ease the pain from a big change coming soon.

1 http://www.govtech.com/civic/Stateand- Local-IT-Spending-to-Outpace-Federal- in-2017-and-2018.html

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

Increase Telecom Recoveries with Robust Scoring Models

When handling telecom accounts, agencies need to have a distinct approach to be successful in their recovery attempts. Customer delinquency is on the rise in the telecom market. Higher subscriber prices, providers combining services, the competitive nature of the players in the market, and third-party involvement is to blame for the growing number of delinquent subscribers and rising write-off amounts. News like this should be welcoming to agencies servicing telecom accounts, but with it comes increased pressure on the agencies to recover.

It is a mistake to think of telecom accounts just like every other account. It is an even greater mistake to treat telecom consumers as you would treat bank card, student loan, or medical consumers who have delinquent accounts. Take a minute and think about yourself as a consumer in the telecom market. This should be easy as you likely have some combination of telephone, cable, satellite, or streaming service accounts in your name. As a consumer in the market, do you understand what you signed up for, how much you owe, and in what respect the money is applied when you make a payment? Generally, consumers in the telecom market cannot answer these questions and furthermore, cannot explain the contract they signed or if they even signed a contract. We see this phenomenon in the telecom industry because it has been commoditized to the extent where it is too easy for consumers to switch suppliers. When a consumer switches, he/ she usually either does not know or does not care he/she owes money. The point is the industry is different so how an agency utilizes systems and technology to collect needs to be different.

Closer management is essential. Creating and implementing finely segmented profiles using strong scoring models is one way to manage telecom accounts in your collection software. First and foremost, identify the data elements that should factor into generating your recovery score and how each may positively or negatively impact the score. The list below includes some data elements and considerations when generating a recovery score for your telecom accounts.

Credit Score

In most cases this is undoubtedly the top data element to include when generating a custom recovery score. It should weigh heavily in determining the collectability of an account. The workflows or queue logic in your software should stage consumers with the higher credit scores to receive the most attention. Likewise, you may set up your workflow to all but close out accounts with a credit score in the 300 or 400 range.

Quantity and Quality of Data

It is important to know how much data you have per account and the quality of the data. Generating a custom recovery score with not enough and or unqualified data may hurt your recovery attempt more than helps it. Ideally, you already have the data captured in your software. If not, most data should be included in the placement file from the service provider or can be obtained by interfacing with data scrub service providers like LexisNexis, MicroBilt, or any of the major credit bureaus. At a minimum, make sure you are receiving and storing data points like full name, social security number, full and verified address, and verified phone.

Number of Delinquent Accounts

Any consumer with multiple delinquent accounts in your system should receive a lower score. It is an indication the consumer is hopping suppliers when better deals or introductory offers are available.

Geographic Location

Some may question the significance of this data element but in remote or lesspopulated areas of the country, consumers do not have many options for telecom service. They may even be limited to a single supplier for Internet, cable, and/or telephone service. In these cases, a higher recovery score is reasonable as the consumer must satisfy the debt in order to resume service or to receive new services from the supplier.

Type of Residence

You may consider increasing the recovery score if the consumer owns versus rents or shares a residence. In just about all cases, the telecom accounts for a homeowner are in his/her name. When working with consumers in an apartment, condo, or other renting situation, the telecom services and responsibilities may be split among many of the residents, making it somewhat easier to neglect their portion of the service.

After identifying and detailing the data elements important for generating your custom recovery score, they must be built into your software for automatic and fluent management. Some recovery software platforms include modules to set up custom scoring but none I have encountered are very impressive. More flexibility and options are likely available outside of the software. In most cases, custom scripting will be required to consume the data and make systematic scoring decisions. If you have strong programmers on staff, their skills will certainly be required to configure your scoring model. This can be handled strictly with scripting a solution that will integrate with your recovery software or externally in a data warehouse or “black box.” The terms data warehouse and black box are interchangeable on this topic. It is a place external to the recovery software where data from your recovery software, accounting software, web portal, CRM, or any of other in-house system is captured.

Custom scripting can be applied here as well and may be a better option than against the recovery software database because you may have more data elements to work with in the data warehouse. Regardless of the database(s) utilized, it is imperative to apply the recovery score logic uniformly and against all consumers in the system. One mistake agencies make when implementing new logic is only applying it on a go-forward basis. Circle back on all the existing telecom consumers in your system and run them through your new custom scoring logic as well. Allow the system to make decisions and commit to allowing your scoring to drive collection efforts.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

Launching Your Data Warehouse for Skip Tracing

The production data you receive can be simply classified into two categories. It is good data or it is bad data. We refer to the bad data as “garbage data” because it breaks your automated processes, will not load into your software, and in most cases requires some agonizing manual intervention. However, it is important to intelligently collect all skip tracing data and build automated processes for managing it. Technology solutions should be in place to manage your skip tracing data and to avoid your agency being buried in a landfill of skip tracing data.

Although, most collection software includes some sort of inherent module, feature, or perhaps even integrations for interfacing with skip trace service providers, a data warehouse should be implemented as a paired solution for housing and evaluating your skip tracing data. Your agency may already have a data warehouse that can be enhanced to include skip tracing data. Here are some considerations when launching or enhancing a data warehouse for your skip tracing data.

Basic Considerations

The basic, or not-that-exciting, considerations include:
1) Location – You need a server. If your security, compliance, and client requirements do not force you to host the data in-house, I recommend outsourcing to a hosting company. Most hosting companies can dedicate a physical server in a secure environment or implement a virtual environment with the same levels of safety and security.

2) System Sizing – Aside from the other data structures in your warehouse, how much disk space or how much processing power will you need to account for your skip tracing data? The disk space should be enough to house the production data from all systems feeding the data warehouse and from all the ancillary sources, such as your skip trace vendors. Regarding performance, there should be enough muscle to execute all jobs, rules, and interfaces in enough time to not interfere with any regu lar backups. If utilizing a hosting company, they can help you figure this out.

3) Software and Licensing – For most agencies, Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server will do the job. You may require .NET framework, Java, or special drivers based on your preferred technology for interfacing with the data warehouse. This is another area your hosting company can assist with.

Complex Considerations

The complex, and more stimulating, considerations include:
1) Data Structure – All skip tracing data should be captured and stored in your data warehouse even if it is not utilized today. After all, you are paying for it. It is safer to have the data and not need it than to need the data and not have it readily available. Try to construct an intuitive data structure. This will make future build out and scalability much easier.

2) Business Rules – There are many considerations on this topic but let’s focus on the skip tracing data your agency deems important. If you do not have documented business rules stating which pieces of returned data are imperative and how that data is used, you should. Let’s look at a simple business rule example. Most agencies run a skip for phone and address. Of course this information is imperative but how are you handling this returned data? Is it accepted as the best and always overwrites the primary phone and address in your system? Are you running a process to validate the returned phone and address prior to overwriting data in your system? Are you handling the returned data differently based on the source? These are some of the questions your documented business rules should answer. Finally, program these rules into your data warehouse so the process is fully automated.

3) Data Analytics – Many agencies overlook the importance of data analytics and thus lack the understanding of data trends. If you are going through the process of implementing or enhancing your data warehouse to include skip tracing data, you should absolutely run systemic analysis to understand your skip tracing data. This is more than identifying which skip tracing data points are important. Rather, it will show you what the data means. With proper build out, you will understand where you are getting the best skip trace results, what is not working within your business rules, and will likely identify cost saving opportunities.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

The Big Data & Integration Summit was a Success

he Big Data & Integration Summit was a success and our presentations are now available to the public for viewing. http://ow.ly/q64hz