Company: VerastreamCustomer: AT&TSubmitted by: Grant Butler CoomberDate: July 2001Communications giant AT&T used Verastream Host Integrator to expedite billing, inquiry, and service calls from the hundreds of thousands of AT&T customers who have toll-free numbers. One of AT&T’s 1,100 customer service representatives could take as long as a quarter-hour or more to retrieve the appropriate information from more than 1 million records in three different legacy applications.

The cost of training the CSRs in the three systems, the time it was taking to respond, and the less-than optimal customer service all begged for an effective solution.Working with WRQ, Chris Byler, rapid applications development manager at AT;T Global Customer Care in Kansas City, Mo., outlined a solution that would be ambitious as well as practical. The challenging goal was to slash callers’ wait times to a range of five to 30 seconds. The heart of the solution would be a simple web interface that would enable CSRs to retrieve records based on the caller’s phone number. The ideal solution would be a non-invasive process that would not impact host system structure or operations, yet would unite access to billing, carrier and customer profiles, and administrative information systems.

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A familiar legacy system challenge

The challenge at AT;T is a familiar one for corporate IT executives these days — to marry the speed and flexibility of the Internet to the tremendous value of large volumes of data captured on decades-old legacy systems. The business and technical issues inherent to legacy integration make it one of the toughest elements of enterprise application integration.The WRQ Verastream Host Integrator solution was more than ready to meet the AT;T challenge. Verastream Host Integrator comprises server software and development tools that provide a non-invasive way to unlock host information and integrate it with service, supply-chain, and other customer-facing applications. With Verastream Host Integrator, the CSRs no longer have to deal with three different systems.

They now get a single, Windows-like front end to AT;T’s applications. And the Verastream implementation let AT&T change their business processes without code changes or re-engineering of the applications.The three applications the CSRs must access are billing information, carrier information (in an industry database), and a routing database. Part of the challenge involved the interface with the industry database, which AT&T could not touch or change. The WRQ solution included multiple prelogged connections to the database so that the CSRs could access the information in three to five seconds.

Speed, openness, and flexibility

AT&TByler could have attacked the problem with an in-house solution, or another integration product, but the speed, openness, and flexibility of Verastream Host Integrator won him over.”We had the ability in-house to write the legacy apps with no problem,” Byler explained. “But the challenges we were facing included speed. Verastream Host Integrator is much faster than green screen scraping, Secondly, we needed to multitask — which meant we would have to fire up multiple copies of the software, and that’s pretty hard on the machines.

By going with Verastream Host Integrator, the host application ran much faster, and we were able to integrate it with Java for multi-threading, which was good for our machines. We didn’t have to load up dozens of copies of the application.”

Answers in seconds, not minutes

Much of the underlying data resides in AT&T’s legacy applications on IBM MVS machines using 3270 terminal emulation. The new approach builds on the value of AT;T’s considerable legacy investment by reducing the typical information gathering and response cycle to less than 30 seconds — quite an improvement from the seven to 10 minutes it used to take.

Customers are getting their questions answered in seconds, rather than minutes, and CSR productivity has risen dramatically.Those aren’t the only benefits. CSR turnover runs around 15 percent a year and generates quite a high tab for training operators. But implementing WRQ’s Verastream solution cut about one week out of the 12-week CSR training time, saving at least $250,000 a year. With the new system, the cryptic host-system codes have been replaced by clear, plain-English descriptions and a CSR-friendly interface.

The new interface requires only minimal CSR training and (by using the existing system data naming semantics) smoothes the transition from the old method of retrieving information.

Verastream Host Integrator: A legacy-to-Web dynamo

During implementation, Verastream Host Integrator allows users to map screen flows and data fields interactively. These mappings are used by the runtime server to access the correct fields in the correct screens to read or write required data. The runtime environment, located on servers, offers robust features for availability, scalability, security, and other desirable qualities, which can be enhanced over time by the vendor.Verastream Host Integrator interacts with new application programs (and programmers) via an appropriate programming model — a set of objects that represents the legacy data and the operations allowed on that data. This effectively encapsulates the legacy systems, helping the user avoid undesirable dependencies between new applications and old.

At AT&T, the Verastream Host Integrator installation paid for itself in about six weeks, and continues to generate substantial savings and benefits. (Note to reviewers: yes, this six weeks hasn’t passed yet, but by the time most reader see this, it will have.)

CSRs are freed-up to do problem solving

“We have seen a dramatic increase in my reps’ productivity, because now they don’t spend so much time looking through green screens,” Byler said. “They put the phone number in, and 10 to 15 seconds later, here come the results.” The new efficiency allows CSRs to focus elsewhere. Byler added, “they can talk to customers, they can solve billing issues, things like that, that you can’t ever automate.

“The Verastream Host Integrator solution was quickly installed by WRQ Consulting Services, and the time and money savings for Byler’s organization continue to grow. He summarized his WRQ experience as “outstanding.””They have really gone above and beyond what I would expect to be normal service, to help us ensure that this project succeeded in every way that I had laid out,” Byler said. “They’ve been phenomenal to work with. I consider WRQ a very valuable business partner to me and my team.”