MatsSoft: Simple, flexible BPM technology for supporting customer interactions

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One of the biggest opportunities for applying BPM technology platforms is in support of more joined-up, responsive customer experiences. MatsSoft’s heritage (it started as a digital marketing agency) means it has a strong track record of addressing customer experience challenges for clients. MATS, the company’s BPM Platform-as-a-Service offering, has some standout features that make it particularly suitable for those looking to support customer experience improvements with BPM.

Top takeaways

A background in mortgage application processing lends MatsSoft real strengths

MatsSoft emerged in 2007 from a digital marketing agency serving UK banks and building societies, and initially focused on building systems to help clients streamline the mortgage application process. The natural consequences of this heritage – case management capabilities; the ability to manage customer communications across multiple channels; solid responsive user interface support (for mobile devices); and a flexible reporting system that makes it easy to not only report on process performance, but also explore performance by individuals, teams and on behalf of individual customers or customer groups – make the MATS Platform stand out.

Flexible hosting and pricing approaches make a real difference

Beyond its functional strengths, there are two other capabilities that MatsSoft brings to the table that stand out – its flexibility around hosting and pricing models for the MATS platform. This readiness to fit the MATS Platform to its customers’ own business circumstances demonstrates the company’s partnership approach as a supplier; something that – until the company becomes much larger, at least – will stand it in good stead.

MatsSoft: from professional services to software platform

MatsSoft is a growing UK-based business process application technology platform provider with a fairly long heritage but a low profile. Now the company is setting its sights on reaching new markets with a radically overhauled platform and a new go-to-market approach.

The company’s origins were as a digital marketing agency serving UK banks and building societies. Between 2004 and 2007 it secured the UK’s top three mortgage providers as clients, for which it built web-based systems to streamline the client-facing aspects of mortgage application processing. MatsSoft became a standalone software business in 2007, and today around 35% of UK mortgage applications are processed using a MATS system – although the company has since diversified to offer solutions to other industry sectors.

Initially, MatsSoft built its tools to help its own consultants develop and maintain applications for clients. However with the release of the seventh version of the toolset (in 2013), MatsSoft started to position the MATS platform as something clients could use themselves to design and build process applications.

MatsSoft now highlights MATS as competing against ‘low-code development’ tools from the likes of Salesforce, Outsystems and Mendix as well as BPM platforms from vendors like Appian, Bizagi and K2.

As well as selling MATS directly to clients, it also manages a strategic alliance with Vodafone’s Global Enterprise business, which sells MATS as ‘Process Tracker’.

The MATS Platform

MatsSoft sells one product: MATS – an integrated platform for building and running web-based business process applications. MATS is delivered as a hosted service, normally running on Amazon Web Services or a colocation hoster such as Claranet.  Alternatively, clients can host the platform themselves on-premises should they require.

MATS is currently on version 7.5. Unusually, but naturally due to its heritage, MATS is built using the highly-popular open-source LAMP stack of technologies (Linux operating system, Apache web server, MySQL DBMS, PHP scripting language).

With MATS, the design-time tools are integrated into the same front-end experience as that provided for operational applications. Depending on your individual authorisation level, when accessing a MATS system you may see only application menus, or application menus augmented with some level of access to the suite of design tools. Access permissions are highly configurable based on individuals’ roles in the system (see Access permissions below).

Design tools

MATS provides a set of tools specialised for the design of the following application objects:

  • Data stores. In MATS, data stores are business entities; they describe objects such as customers, orders and so on. When defining data stores and their attributes, you can also define one or more ‘subsets’ – filtered views of the data based on criteria you specify.
  • Process models. There’s a visual drag-and-drop, BPMN-conformant business process editor that supports the usual business process model concepts, and makes it easy for you to define timers and triggers, work escalations and notifications. You define one main business process per application, but can introduce an arbitrary number of subprocesses.
  • User interfaces. A visual page editor makes it easy to create very tailorable role-based views and forms using a WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop approach; you can easily define different views and menus that will be shown to individuals playing different roles (see Access permissions below). Unusually, you design performance reports and dashboards using the same tools as you use for designing task forms; this means that it’s straightforward to integrate graphical views of data with other form details to provide additional context to task workers in the runtime environment. In MATS, user interface styling is explicitly separated from the logical design of interfaces and the data stores they surface, through the concept of themes. Multiple themes can be specified within one application installation; and what’s more, you can also define multiple languages within one installation. User interfaces you design are fully responsive, and results of work you carry out in the design tools display well across mobile devices (whether rendered in one of MatsSoft’s native mobile apps – see Runtime environment below – or not).
  • Communications channels. The ability to specify and configure multiple communication channels that your applications will use to connect with individuals is an unusual but welcome feature (and again, is natural given MATS’ heritage). You can easily specify details of services you’ll use for Instant Messaging, email, Twitter and SMS communication; and more than that, you can specify ‘sociable hours’ for communications – so, for example, you can identify local time-windows when it’s generally acceptable to send SMS messages to customers.
  • Business rules. In MATS, business rules can be invoked based on events that are generated from multiple subsystems – not only when tasks are executed, but also when user-interface events (such as form field navigation) are fired, or when the runtime engine emits specified signals. In addition you can also use business rules to specify data object constraints and relationships. Rules can also be executed based on defined schedules.
  • Integration interfaces. MATS can publish and consume REST and SOAP API endpoints, making it possible to access data from, or provide data to, many other systems. Data integration facilities are not as sophisticated as some other vendors provide, but you can set up data import and export via CSV files, and MATS includes pre-built APIs for Twitter, Facebook, Zendesk, Salesforce applications and postcode lookup services are provided. MatsSoft can also build custom integration adapters for clients – typically taking 3-5 days per adapter, depending on the complexity of the system being integrated with.
  • Access permissions and security policies. The ability to set up fine-grained access controls is one of MATS’ real strong points. You can define an unlimited number of user roles (and individuals can have multiple roles assigned to them); roles not only control access to applications, but also access to data objects, access to user interfaces and access to individual tools within the design environment. You also have quite a lot of flexibility in policies you can set to constrain user passwords and their management.

Runtime environment

With MATS, as mentioned above, the runtime and design time environments are integrated within a single web-based platform. Only users with appropriate access permissions can see or access the design tools. Most clients implement separate development, testing and live instances. For the most part, the runtime environment is as you would expect: the definitions of process models, business rules, communications channels, user interfaces and data stores that you specify are together used to drive a PHP-based business process application framework. In MATS, individual process instances are called ‘cases’.

There are some features that particularly stand out, though. First is the concept of calendars.  Events and time-based activities can be displayed on a single or multi-month calendar view. ICS files can be automatically generated and attached to emails, allowing easy email-based integration with multiple calendar systems. You can implement more seamless integration with Microsoft Exchange if you need by using a prebuilt integration adapter.

Second is the case audit trail feature, that quickly shows all the activities that have impinged on a case, all the changes that have been made to case data, by whom, and when. In the runtime it’s straightforward to change the verbosity of the audit trail. Third is the ability to integrate chat features into individual case activities. Fourth is the ability to pause, or ‘pend’, cases; when someone with sufficient access rights does this, any SLA clocks for the case are stopped (until the case is un-pended). And last is the ability for individuals (again, with the correct access permissions) to easily ‘regress’ (undo) individual case steps.

When it comes to delivering application functionality to mobile devices, MatsSoft provides free native mobile apps for iOS and Android devices for customers to use if they wish. These apps ‘wrap’ MATS responsive user interfaces, and also provide native features – such as supporting use of the device’s camera, implementing push notifications, gathering location data, and so on.

Reporting and analytics

The flexibility and range of reporting provided within the core MATS product is impressive. When reporting on case performance, there’s a handy heatmap view of how processes are performing; you can quickly see how often individual steps are invoked, and how long they take on average. More than that, though, it’s also very straightforward to design reports and visualisations that show performance not only by process, but by participant/worker, by team, by customer, and so on. It’s also easy to build reports that show the history of interactions with, and work done on behalf of, individual customers.

As mentioned above, the ease of embedding reports and charts in any MATS user interfaces is a bonus, as it opens up all kinds of possibilities to help individuals using MATS applications carry out their tasks. With MATS, reports aren’t just for managers.

Change management

The application change management features on offer in MATS are mixed. On one hand, there are some real strong points: MATS maintains a full audit trail of detailed changes to application assets (who changed what, and when); and it’s straightforward for an administrator to set the environment up so that only individuals with certain permissions can create or change applications. It’s also quite straightforward to set up a process model in MATS that you can use to implement reviews and controls around application deployment using the platform.

On the other hand, team development features are a little weak, beyond a simple alerting feature that warns if you attempt to edit a form or other object that is already locked by another editor. There’s no versioning of objects and no prebuilt configuration management features. Most deployments employ separate development, test and production servers; configuration information and application data can be easily exported and imported by authorised developers to achieve a controlled approach to release of new functionality.

Pricing

MatsSoft prides itself on the level of flexibility that it has when pricing and billing customers. It has customers paying monthly, quarterly, and annually; and customers paying based on the number of cases they process, the number of application users and developers they have – and even on a risk-reward basis (where the company gets paid a proportion of the return that the client gets through its use of MATS).

Services

Beyond selling MATS, MatsSoft also sells a range of consulting and programme management services, training and technology support services to clients.

Positioning MatsSoft in the market

Until 2013 MatsSoft had developed ‘under the radar’, with its early tool offerings primarily designed and built to help the company’s own professional services staff build systems for customers. With the release of version 7 in 2013, the company has completely reworked the MATS Platform, and the result is intriguing.

MATS lacks some of the advanced integration and change management features that you would find in more established platforms aimed particularly at large organisations wanting to roll out large transformation programmes. However the company’s flexibility on both pricing and hosting puts many other vendors to shame, and its customer communications, reporting and case management features are all very noteworthy.

The company’s biggest customer, the UK’s Nationwide Building Society, has 16,000 employees and uses MATS in a hosted configuration.

Where next for MatsSoft?

MatsSoft pursues a combination of direct and indirect sales, and already enjoys a fruitful partnership with Vodafone, which sells solutions in areas such as contact centres, mobility, M2M and mobile health.

Partner recruitment is an important tactic to enable MatsSoft to rapidly scale during the next few years. Recent partnerships have enabled the company to penetrate additional sectors such as local and central government; the business is rapidly diversifying and can no longer be considered just a specialist in financial services. MatsSoft is currently ramping up direct commercial operations in North America, having already recruited a number of channel partners during 2013/14.

From a technology perspective, future MATS product capabilities are planned around document management (integrated storage, editing and saving of Microsoft Office documents held in MATS), enhancements to reporting and providing a number of new pre-configured integration adapters for third-party systems.

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