Shashi Kiran: Hello and welcome to yet another edition of the Aryaka Dreamers and Doers podcast, where we invite thought leaders, experts, and practitioners from all over the world. This is Shashi Kiran, your host, and I'm very privileged to have with me today, joining us all the way from the Philippines, Michael Rivera, who is the President and Chief Operating Officer of ProView global, or PVG. Now PVG is a company that was founded almost 60 years ago, and they aim to create a better way to administer benefits at a lower cost without sacrificing quality. And they've got tremendous experience in administering employee benefits along with a very deep domain expertise in leveraging technology-based solutions to do that. So with that, Michael, welcome.
Michael Rivera: Well, thank you, Shashi. Thanks for having me. Probably one of the best introductions for ProView Global I've ever heard. I appreciate you inviting me.
Shashi Kiran: It's always an honor to talk to a company that's been around dealing with employees for almost 60 years, so that's our pleasure and privilege.
Before we kick things off, could you talk about PVG in your own words, and perhaps share with our listeners what exactly you do there?
Michael Rivera: We are a U.S.-based Business Process Outsourcing company. We provide knowledge process outsourcing services, specifically to the employee benefits administration industry. So we serve employee benefits administration companies, insurance brokers, and technology companies that provide solutions to the employee benefits administrators. What we do is we build customized, dedicated, captive teams to compliment our clients own service centers and help them scale their operations.
I think, for most of your listeners, they've heard of outsourcing, or offshoring, or business process outsourcing, and traditionally that is used for transactions based activities. And while we do that, we're a little different as we actually do knowledge processing. So Shashi, I actually call that sort of above-the-shoulder type work. But that is what we do. It's very niche-y, but we provide an invaluable service to these organizations.
Shashi Kiran: I'd like to dig into that a bit. First of all, Business Process Outsourcing, or BPOs, and this terminology that you used about knowledge process outsourcing, perhaps you can get a bit into that. And also in these contexts, Philippines has been a bit of a shining star in the industry, so what do you think is the reason for that?
Michael Rivera: I'll answer your first follow-up question first. I'll give a contrast between what I call transactional work and knowledge process work. So transactional work is, let's say, you are processing claims, you're adjudicating claim following a distinct set of process, steps, or workflow. Knowledge work is, you're trained very specifically on the "why" this has to happen, and you apply more cognitive, analytical skills such as underwriting or benchmarking. Those are the types of activities that we actually do for our clients.
But you raise an interesting point around the Philippines being one of the most popular locations for outsourcing. And I think, Shashi, there are three reasons for this. One, the Filipino culture is one that has a natural desire to serve and care for others. One of the reasons why the best nurses, in my personal opinion, are Filipino nurses. Hope you never have to find out. But if you do, I hope you end up with Filipino nurse, and you'll understand.
Second is the Filipinos' affinity to the American culture, from movies, to music, to food, and even taste in clothing. So in a way, a lot of Filipinos feel connected to the American culture.
Third, most Filipinos tend to have an intrinsic positive viewpoint, and a high level of resiliency.
So if you think about the combination of these things, when it comes to highly repetitive, perhaps labor intensive, transactional work, and even knowledge work, and think about it in voice support operations, these traits, I think make a remarkable difference.
Shashi Kiran: Well, Michael, my wife is in the healthcare industry and we come across a lot of Filipinos in the healthcare and nursing profession, and I can totally relate to what you're saying there because they demonstrate empathy, which is a very important trait, whether it be in healthcare or in administering benefits for employees.
Michael Rivera: Yeah. Right. Right.
Shashi Kiran: It's also, I think a culture and a people thing, in some ways.
So how do you go about attracting the right kind of talent to deliver on these knowledge process outsourcing initiatives? And after that, I want to maybe dig a bit into the technology stack because what you mentioned about analytics, I want to draw a correlation between the people and then the technology elements associated with it.
Michael Rivera: Sure. Gosh, people or talent are the most important part of the calculus, especially in our business model. Whatever comes next is a distant second, in my opinion. However, to attract and retain the best talent, the company has to have a fantastic culture. Everyone talks about culture, but I don't think all companies approach the cultivation and nurturing of culture in a way that we do. It's an obsession for us. I look at culture a lot like farming. It takes persistent work even in drought, or less than ideal weather conditions, or floods. You just never stop working on the farm, if the outcome you're looking for is to bear the fruits that you're looking to harvest. A company that someone wants to be a part of, to dedicate 30 to 40% of their day to, is something we invest a lot of time and energy in doing. And Shashi, talent will follow, if a company has great culture, and more importantly, talent will stay.
Shashi Kiran: That's so beautifully said, you could almost have been a poet, Michael. I'm not sure if you're not one.
Michael Rivera: Yeah, I really mean it, then I think it comes through my words. I have worked for many companies that had vision statements on the walls, in the pantry, when you enter, there's their vision, their mission. And yet the organization itself doesn't really live by it. And that's something I worked very hard to make sure that it's congruent in our organization.
Shashi Kiran: And that authenticity, people see through it, and that's what they respect. I'm really glad that PVG has a leader such as yourself. Shifting gears a little bit from, I guess, people to the technology pieces, I mean these are the two sides of the same coin today as the boundaries are blurring in some ways between people, processes, and technologies. So what kind of technology stack, or architecture do you actually conceive to support these global operations?
Michael Rivera: That's a really good question, and there's a bit of dichotomy here. So in our world, when we transact for our clients, we have very little impact or influence on the technology that they use for us to execute on those transactions. Basically, we will follow whatever systems or technology that they're using. So I'll set that aside for a second. In our industry though, it's connectivity or technology supporting stable, fast connectivity, is mission critical. This is then followed by information security technology providing transactional and perimeter security controls, followed by process automation tools such as RPA. I think it's starting to have a prominent position in our technology stack as well. So from a transactional technology, we don't have a lot of influence in that. We have to be good at and know of all the typical transaction technologies that are used within our industry. But in terms of our own technology, believe it or not, talent's only half the equation. It's connectivity and technology such as Aryaka that makes a difference in our execution of our mission.
And by the way, communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, and learning management systems for training are essential supporting technologies as well.
Shashi Kiran: So I think you need to look at these different technology elements and connect the dots in a way, literally speaking. Just speaking about the importance of connectivity, you mentioned in an earlier conversation that the internet wasn't good enough when you looked at different things. Could you comment on why that is so?
Michael Rivera: As I mentioned earlier, connectivity and technology that supports stable, fast connectivity is vital. Well, we're able to tap talent regardless of geography, is certainly a great business proposition. But if you cannot provide that talent, that you found in whatever geography in the world, stable, consistent, fast connection to be able to perform the transactions at a cycle time that is better, or at least not worse than your clients, if we can't do that, that doesn't work. So access to talent is only possible with exceptional network connectivity, and so it's incredibly vital, Shashi.
Shashi Kiran: And connectivity was the big theme in the last 12 months, perhaps more so than any other time in history as everybody had to shift their connectivity models.
Michael Rivera: Yes.
Shashi Kiran: So Michael, as we went through the pandemic, and I think all of us are still going through it in several waves, how did your company deal with this in terms of any shift with the operational model, or your workforce deployment and their connectivity needs? Could you just comment on that?
Michael Rivera: Sure. Gosh, much like the rest of the world, we found ourselves transitioning to a remote work environment, pretty much wholesale in not a matter of weeks, but days, specifically three business days. So since March, 2020, our entire workforce has been working from home. We had to revise how we conducted everything, from talent acquisition, training and onboarding, socializing, culture building, performance management, client management, and production management.
But one lesson we learned early on though that, Shashi, was that we needed to make quick decisions, but remain committed to making equally fast course corrections if needed. There's no playbook for going remote work wholesale for an entire organization in a matter of days. So as a result, our decision-making process, in a way, became agile. And we were able to support our operations and people successfully, and we still do. Taking care of our people was a guiding principle. We knew that if we did that right, everything else would fall into place.
So in terms of connectivity, the way we were able to get around that is, our production operations connected to our VPN. And then by doing that, they were connected to the service of Aryaka, and our internet connectivity. And so the latency that we experienced was similar to when they were in the office. So thankfully we didn't experience any increase in cycle time, or productivity loss in the process. So we're very fortunate about that.
Shashi Kiran: Yeah, congratulations to you and your team. I know that these things are never easy and I imagine you'd have to invent the playbook in real-time, and then figure out what's working, and what's not.
Michael Rivera: Yeah.
Shashi Kiran: So huge kudos all of you in your team.
I just wanted to touch upon this aspect of workflow changes. When somebody is used to working in an office environment, there is a different sort of security and privacy construct that may already be hardened. But when you shift to this kind of a remote workforce, did you have to do anything different to ensure data privacy requirements, or regulatory requirements are met? Because I imagine you deal with a lot of sensitive information.
Michael Rivera: We do. And this was, in fact, a significant concern and challenge to overcome. This was a concern of our clients, and it was ours as well. Well, all of our transactions were still being performed within our client's network environment, through Citrix, remote desktop, VPN. What we lost going into remote work environment was perimeter security control. So our approach to mitigate this was multifaceted, and this is still evolving to this day. One, we deployed ActivTrak on workstations to track any behavior or activities that are not approved, or might introduce compliance risks, such as going into certain websites that are not permitted. ActivTrak sends alerts to our compliance team immediately when this behavior occurs. And also it has a feature of blocking website that we enabled.
Two, we increased the number of our internal auditors, who do random audits over our workforce. This is both a video audit to examine the physical work environment on a random basis, as well as an hardware audit, what do they have in their systems, and look at certain history of transactions.
Three, we required all employees to go through our own VPN network, and that allowed us to continue to have some of the controls in our firewalls, et cetera, to be engaged. Right now, though, we're also testing a new piece of technology that has promised. So it has facial recognition and can monitor the workspace around the employee for a mobile or prohibited devices in the perimeter, and it would automatically lock the computer. So we're testing that, and hopefully have that deployed in a few weeks.
Shashi Kiran: That's fascinating. I think that's another playbook in the works there.
Michael Rivera: I tell ya, we'd prefer to have everybody back to the office, but since that's not feasible for a while, I think, thankfully, there are pieces of technology that you can put them together. There's only so much you can do in terms of addressing perimeter security, but transactional security is something we were able to attack early on when we moved to remote work.
Shashi Kiran: Now, Michael, you've been a longstanding Aryaka customer, we're very grateful to you for that. You mentioned to me in one of our earlier conversations that you found the company by doing a search on Google, do you recall what you were searching for?
Michael Rivera: Yes, I actually did. We did find you on Google. I remember I was one of the ones who were actually doing the search and, I guess, I was a bit impatient with our technology folks. We didn't really know what we were looking for exactly and started to look for organization who could possibly provide cloud-based wide area networks. We didn't even know it existed. Aryaka's name came up in the search, so congratulations to your search optimization team, by the way. And that's how the relationship started. We were looking for a provider to optimize our connectivity to our client's data centers in the U.S., because our clients were located all over. And so we were experiencing significant latency across the multiple hops our traffic had to go through, and needed a solution pretty fast. And so that's how the relationship started. True story.
Shashi Kiran: I'll be sure to pass on congratulations to my team for the search engine optimization thing.
Michael Rivera: Yeah.
Shashi Kiran: But now that you found the company, what's your experience been like? Is the problem that you were looking to get resolved, is it solved? Can you talk about that a bit?
Michael Rivera: Sure. Yeah. Aryaka has been, and continues to be, a great partner for us. From day one of implementation, everything that was promised was delivered. And in today's world, that experience is becoming a rare one, but that's one we truly experienced when we implemented Aryaka. Implementation was fast, relatively pain-free. If we experienced any pain, it was more around the things that we couldn't do in a timely matter on our end. And since implementing Aryaka solution, our downtime is pretty much non-existent and the quality of our connection improved by at least 50%. And for one client, connection improved by a 100%. You can imagine this has been a great experience for us and our employees.
So you're going to laugh, Shashi, but this is the difference, pre-Aryaka, when you walked through the operational floor, you would hear a lot of clicks, and what it was, out of frustration, our employees would basically pound their mouse on the desk in some weird fashion, thinking that it might speed things up. And that was a constant noise you would hear. When we implemented Aryaka, that noise went away. That's not a technology metric I could give you, but I don't know of a better test on how well it worked than that.
Shashi Kiran: Michael, that is one of the most interesting tidbits of information I have received about Aryaka's experience, and I think we're going to go make that a big deal then.
Michael Rivera: Yeah.
Shashi Kiran: And we talk about click to connect, this is the opposite of it.
Was cost a big deal for you, Michael, in making a decision? How did cost aspects work out?
Michael Rivera: We knew that building our own data center on the West coast and the East coast to take care of our needs, was not an option, not just from an initial cost standpoint, and ongoing maintenance standpoint, it also wasn't our expertise. Aryaka's cloud-based services offered the best solution for us. Not only was it more cost-effective, but it also allowed us to convert what would have been an incredibly expensive CapEx to an OpEx cost. and to us, that was a deal breaker. So yes, definitely cost was a major decision point.
Shashi Kiran: That's very interesting. And I can imagine it's a bit difficult to look at cost structures, especially when you're dealing with connectivity, stacks, and all of that. It looks like you got the model right. Michael, you are a leader, you're a technologist, if I were to ask you, let's say post-pandemic, looking ahead into the next few years, what are some of the key technology elements or business practices that excite you, that you're looking to bring in? Could you comment a bit about something that really is interesting for you in the years ahead?
Michael Rivera: Sure, sure. Here's the sad fact, employee benefits is pretty much administered the same way today as it was 20 years ago, perhaps with just some webification of enrolling into a plan process. I've been doing this for, let's just say, over 30 years, and it hasn't changed much. There hasn't been a lot of technology-based innovation in our space, primarily due to regulations, lack of standardization in data and systems, and among employers, among other things. What I'm excited about is the adoption of RPA in this industry. It has a very low adoption rate today, primarily because it's pretty much impossible to deploy RPA end-to-end in a workflow. And so usually that discourages this industry from deploying RPA as a viable, innovative solution.
However, I think while it may be a slow crawl, it will be, in my opinion, the technology that will bring some relief to this traditionally labor and transaction-heavy business sector. It's definitely prime for innovation, but there's just too many stakeholders, and too many desperate systems that I think true innovation and technology is going to take a little longer still. But I predict RPA is going to be the middleware, if you will, between that full innovation, hopefully in my lifetime and what's today.
Shashi Kiran: Yeah, I think you captured something very significant there. This industry is certainly going through a positive change in terms of supplementing humans with RPA and maybe artificial intelligence based tools. And unfortunately, it's a bit fragmented today, but most of these solving point problems. And for somebody like you that is really looking at an end-to-end workflow, you probably want to see more consolidation in the value chain get expanded. That's probably when you derive the maximum benefit.
Michael Rivera: I'd like to see that more consistently applied in this industry. It certainly needs some relief soon.
Shashi Kiran: Yeah.
Michael Rivera: Something's got to come.
Shashi Kiran: So this is a note to all the RPA vendors out there. So, Michael, first of all, it's customers like you that make it really worthwhile for companies and businesses like us. You're the reason we exist. It has been a pleasure talking to you. You're a authentic leader, you're a technologist, and you encapsulate all of these so beautifully in how you communicate things. So we're really thankful for the time that you spent with us, and we hope to have you again in another format to share more of your thoughts, and learnings, and best practices soon. Thank you so much.
Michael Rivera: Thank you for having me as well. Have a good one. Take care.
Note: The transcripts of the podcasts may not be fully accurate. Please excuse any grammar and spelling issues.