Philippines - Every month, bills are delivered to the home, an event solemnly attended by the payee with calculator and reference receipts in one hand and the sacred checkbook in the other.
The only interest to the consumer about the bill is usually limited to paying it, but there is an interesting business aspect to bills.
Jardine Salmat is a company that many Filipino households and consumers should be familiar with. It prints millions of monthly customer bills for PLDT and CitiBank.
Categorically, it is one of a handful of marketing services firms in the Philippines that provide customer communications, documentation and data management services for banks, insurance companies, utility companies, and marketing groups.
But the fact that Jardine Salmat is the market leader in the Philippines implies that Jardine Salmat does things competitors don't.
Regularly, Jardine Salmat receives accounting and finance databases from its clients. Sometimes, the data is structured, and all that needs to be done is to feed it to a computer linked to three ultra-speed laser printers, which immediately churn out bills and account statements at a rate of 35,000 documents an hour (a million in a little over a day). The output need not be bills, it could be direct mail literature, customer communication letters or reports.
"We do back-end operations for our clients' data archiving and content on-demand. What used to take 14 days to accomplish in the printing of billing statements, we do it for them in less than three days. When a customer request comes for a reprint of the statement of account, it usually takes them three days; we do it in one day or less. And when a report requiring the analysis of a database had to be done, clients took ten days; we do it in one," said Vic Cahapay, Jardine Salmat Computing Services Manager.
Many times, the data is not structured and crashes are frequent when there is a large printing volume. In which case, integrated software and hardware solutions are required to meet the high printing demand.
IBM Content Manager OnDemand
At the core of Jardine Salmat's operations is IBM Content Manager OnDemand that switches advanced function printing files to a text format, which they store on DB2 Universal Database on AIX platform.
Using the DB2 Universal Database, IBM supports applications from business intelligence to transaction processing with a single high-value database. It has cornered a bigger market on all forms of office correspondences, customer billing, delivery statements and transaction records.
The Content Manager OnDemand integrates with electronic bill presentment and payment that provides enterprise document, report mining and archiving. It is also useful for high-performance capture, indexing, storage, retrieval and presentation of computer generated output.
Delivering on performance gains
Jardine Salmat initiatives will help their client's customers get their bills one day sooner. It signed an agreement with PhilPost to set up a facility at the Jardine Salmat compound, so that printed documents can be whisked immediately to their destinations. Payees may not welcome the thought of receiving bills earlier, but clients do.
Jardine Salmat does this for eight of their largest clients. After all, if it prints and handles documentation in the millions, it needs to keep its clientele to manageable level so that neither service nor security is compromised. But since the company's info-tech hardware has been powered up, the clientele base is expected to be increased too.
"Our clients' customer databases are very sensitive, and we have physical and logical security measures to protect against data pilferage," Cahapay said.
The company facility itself is a virtual Fort Knox with security and surveillance cameras covering every corridor, door and access point. Door access requires a swipe card and passcode.
Aside from that, databases are encrypted to make the content incomprehensible and unusable without the necessary decryption codes. In addition, guests and employees are not allowed to carry floppy or compact disks in the premises.
The Philippine operations of Jardine Salmat don't just service the local market: it covers Hong Kong and Taiwan, and functions as the back-up for its parent company's system in Australia and New Zealand.
But the company is expanding its business from paper to voice and on-line. That means, consumers can inquire about their bills over the phone or the Internet. Services fuel prospects
For voice, it will link with client PLDT to provide telephony services (telemarketing, customer handling, inquiry handling, on-demand data retrieval) for telecom, banking, insurance and finance companies.
For online or Internet medium, it will develop e-billing, e-mail and e-commerce solutions.
"For these new business thrusts, we're just making it possible for our clients to access their customers through additional channels and media, that is, the telephone and Internet," Cahapay said. He also said that these new ventures are expected to grow the company's business by 300 percent.
"The prospects are very bright, very exciting. We are taking a bullish approach to growth: we are building up our growth around our current customers."
But the Philippines market has changed enough, and made the paradigm shifts to call for more sophisticated B2B and B2C communications.
Making prudent decisions
The appropriate technology doesn't come cheap. Jardine Salmat chose IBM for the necessary DB2 software and hardware solutions. But Cahapay said that the decision was not a cheap one. There were cheaper solutions that bundled separate independent systems. But these systems don't necessarily perform consistently and reliably for the large volumes of data processing required of Jardine Salmat by its clients.
"We wanted a business solution that incorporates industry-standard technology. We're doing this for the long, long haul, and we need a solutions provider that will be around still when we need servicing. That trimmed choices to IBM," he added.
But the company is neither sitting on its laurels nor doing idle speculation. The company wants to accomplish more in the next few years - provide more efficient business processes and innovative business applications, speed up its deployment and delivery of services, and entrench itself as an applications service provider (ASP).
"If you're a major player, you're pressured to work harder, be more innovative than usual," Cahapay said.