Pulte Mortgage LLC managers remember all too well the days not so long ago when they had to scour through batch reports on hundreds of loans to make sure a sales agent hadn't missed an appraisal deadline or failed to contact a homeowner before a mortgage closing. Both are potentially costly mistakes for the company's parent, Pulte Homes Inc., the fourth-largest U.S. homebuilder. And in the dark days, managers reluctantly concede that, no matter how diligent they were, some mistakes would slip by.
At Pulte's lending arm, the dark days are defined simply as the days before business activity monitoring (BAM). Since the adoption of BAM--a solution that gives managers dashboards on their PCs that tell them within seconds which loans need attention or which agent on which team hasn't fulfilled one of any number of assigned tasks--Pulte Mortgage managers can now make their parent look good. "It's real-time visibility into the business process, which is highly preferable to the traditional method of overnight batch reports," says Rod Hardin, chief information officer and senior vice president of the Denver, Colo.-based consumer loan subsidiary.
BAM, a term coined by technology research and consulting firm Gartner Inc., refers to the automated real-time monitoring of a company's business activities. In contrast to traditional audits, which offer snapshots of a point in time, and are typically sample-based and backward looking, BAM solutions monitor systems continuously and help spot problems before they occur. BAM differs from business intelligence (BI) software in that it doesn't rely on information from data warehouses, but reels in and analyzes data from a variety of applications, such as order entry systems or accounts receivable and payable. It then spews out alerts via e-mail--some with dashboard attachments. "There are some people who believe that you can get this by just taking BI and coordinating it with more reports; well, it's not about more information," says Mark Smith, senior vice president of research at Ventana Research, a Belmont, Calif.-based consultant. "It's about being notified about particular situations when they occur."
BAM isn't a new concept. Oil servicing and manufacturing companies have been using real-time error-detection software in assembly lines for years and credit card companies use real-time fraud monitors. But BAM is becoming more popular, and Ventana's Smith says that's because regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley and the Patriot Act have put a premium on visibility. Pulte began using TeamWorks 4 from Austin, Texas-based Lombardi Software Inc. this year. So far, Hardin has programmed it to track 40 tasks involved in making loans. He expects the company to save as much as several million dollars in the first year of its four-year implementation. Hardin plans to link the software to Pulte's e-mail and telephone system and says colleagues are clamoring for more. "Now that they know what it can do, they're asking, 'Please have it do this,'" Hardin says. "We've already got a backlog.''
"In many ways, BAM's a solution looking for a problem,'' says Bill Gassman, a principal analyst at Gartner in Bedford, N.H. He cites the retail industry, where companies use the real-time data to make decisions about restocking. It's still early days for BAM, but Gassman expects the technology eventually to be as popular as the Internet. BAM's biggest drawback: It's only as good as the questions the business people ask IT to hard-code.