NEXPERT OBJECT's RULE-BASED SYSTEM HELPS GRAEBEL VAN LINES MOVE PAYMENTS
But in August 1993, Graebel implemented a rule-based system built with Neuron Data's NEXPERT OBJECT that makes this complex determination automatically. As a result, the company has realized a 300 percent gain in productivity while cutting training time in half. The sixty agents who now access the system did more than a million transactions in its first five months of operation.
Payment distribution is a complex business in the moving industry because several different organizations may do the work. While a booking agent makes the sale, an origin agent does the packing and a hauling agent performs the actual move. Each of these parties may either be an independent franchise or a Graebel-owned subsidiary, and while some subsidiaries handle their own accounting, others rely on Graebel corporate. All of this means that a highly complex sequence of payments must be determined and sent via different channels- all preferably within 48 hours of the job's completion.
Automation through Business Process Re-engineering
In the past these transactions were handled manually by an in-house expert. But in 1993 the company decided to re-evaluate its business process through automation and looked into implementing a rule-based system.
Graebel management called in Michael Popelka, a consultant of information systems at the University of North Texas, who had done a comparable rule-based system using NEXPERT OBJECT for Mary Kay Cosmetics. His presentation on linking knowledge bases and relational databases earned him a new assignment, and a chance to bring his expertise to a brand new field.
Popelka set about interviewing staffers in accounting and the specialists in revenue distribution. From these conversations, he came up with a set of about a thousand rules that govern Graebel's often complex disbursements.
"We had a lot to consider," Popelka said. "For example, if a packing service was offered, was it provided by the driver and therefore considered an incidental expense? Or was it done by a booking agent, who perhaps hired yet another agent to do it? The transaction also has to consider what kind of authority was used: international, interstate, intrastate or local? That's important because many states, have unique rules governing shipments that remain within their borders. The type of shipment also matters: the rules covering household items differ from electronic equipment."
Graebel's rule-based system also considers what kinds of commissions go with different means of transportation, what the origin booking and hauling agents should receive, and the reimbursement to drivers for different types of insurance.
Popelka has already made numerous changes to the rules he first specified. "NEXPERT OBJECT allows us to adjust quickly to a rapidly changing business," he said. "It has been easy to convert business decisions into rules that we could put into effect. Such flexibility is very important in this business."
Popelka notes that the Graebel system is unusual because it combines a high performance rule-based system, NEXPERT OBJECT , with the Oracle relational database, to create a transaction processing application as an end result. "Most developers still don't think that you can couple the two and deliver the performance needed for real-time transactions. Instead, they would have attempted to program the whole thing in COBOL or C and gotten bogged down in the details. But the success of this system speaks for itself. "
So far, Graebel's invoice distribution system is text-based, running on VT220 terminals linked with Sun SPARCstations, with screens generated by Oracle SQL Forms. But Popelka is now working on a related system that will actually determine the actual amount to charge on a given job. It will make use of X Window System and Motif graphical user interface. Eventually both systems will be linked under the same interface, and will be deployed to NEXPERT-based applications running at 40 corporate locations throughout the country.
Application: Payment distribution system
Environment: NEXPERT OBJECT , ORACLE, and Oracle's SQL Forms running on networked Sun SPARCstation servers linked with VT220 terminals.
"NEXPERT OBJECT allows us to adjust quickly to a rapidly changing business.
It has been easy to convert business decisions into rules that we could put into effect.
Such flexibility is very important in this business."
Consultant to Graebel Van Lines