Pet Partners' aging, brittle technology was limiting its ability to acquire, integrate, and operate new veterinary practices.
Pet Partners had acquired over 40 veterinary practices without any full-time IT employees. Outsourcing to several small IT companies and contractors had allowed Pet Partners to scale technology costs alongside revenue. However, it had gradually accumulated a mash-up of packaged software and custom applications with little to no integration. It faced an ongoing struggle to make its reporting foot between multiple systems of record, and integrating a newly acquired practice was taking longer and longer.
To accelerate acquisitions, Pet Partners needed to modernize its infrastructure, improve data quality and access, and automate brittle, error prone, and labor intensive processes.
Establishing the Current State
Pet Partners could identify pain points, but didn't have a coherent understanding of all the systems it used and how data flowed between them. So the first task was to document the existing infrastructure, systems, data flows, and the company or contractor responsible for maintaining them. Once we had a clearer understanding of the environment, we were able to prioritize areas that needed improvement and establish a roadmap to do so.
Unlocking Operational and Financial Data
Pet Partners supported several different Practice Management Systems and relied on manual database scripts for integration. The original process was to load and transform database backup files from each practice into a single MS SQL-Server database for operational reporting. The whole process took multiple days to complete.
In parallel, the finance team logged into each practice management system every day to run a sales report. The same accountant then logged into the corresponding Microsoft Dynamics company to enter that day's revenue. Repeat 40+ times. Getting the operational and financial numbers to match up was an ongoing headache.
We addressed these issues by phasing in modern ETL and API-based data integrations. Implementing a hybrid public/private cloud on Amazon Web Services gave us access to modern infrastructure that scaled as needed. We replaced the standalone SQL-Server database with a data lake using a managed PostgreSQL instance on AWS. Automated ETL processes now ran nightly, publishing the same data to the data lake and the accounting system.
One design requirement for operations was to continue publishing PDFs to establish a fixed set of operational metrics. After we migrated file access from a Windows shared drive to Box, we uploaded new pdf reports through the Box API and just sent a notification with a link. For ad hoc queries and analysis, we implemented Metabase, an open-source BI tool. Written in Clojure, it let business users run analytics against the new data lake repository.
Streamlining Accounts Payable
One of Pet Partners' selling points to acquisition targets was freeing up the clinical staff to practice medicine instead of worrying about paying the bills. However, submitting an invoice to Pet Partners for payment required scanning it in the practice to a Windows shared drive or when that failed, using email, a file transfer service, or FedEx. The process was labor intensive, error-prone, and lacked proper financial controls.
The new Pet Partners API gateway on AWS let us create an invoice service that larger vendors could use to post invoices electronically. In the first three months, Pet Partners was able to automate 70% of its invoice processing through the new service. For the remaining invoices, we implemented Kofax TotalAgility. Kofax extracted data automatically from each invoice image and then routed it for processing based on configurable business logic.
Lastly, we created a custom invoice notification and approval application on the Pet Partners Intranet. Managers in each practice used it to approve or reject invoices for payment. Our implementation and use case received an Inspire Award for Financial Process Automation Solution of the Year. It also removed the bottleneck in Accounts Payable and helped accelerate monthly financial closing from 20 days to 3 days.
Improving Owner Appointment Conversions
One critical process Pet Partners wanted to improve was wellness appointment conversions. The process began with a postcard notifying owners that their pet was due for an appointment and ideally ended with a visit to the clinic.
Sending reminders required generating CSV files for every practice. These files were uploaded to a commercial printer, who then mailed postcards and emailed a pdf version to owners. There was no audit trail, which left practices in the dark about whether and when a specific owner received a reminder. Pet Partners did not have SMS capabilities.
We knew the existing process didn't scale and needed to be rearchitected. Our design goals were to offer practices complete customization, including the design template, images, reminder timing, and communication channels. Pet Partners also wanted a comprehensive audit trail that could determine every owner touch point and whether it resulted in an appointment.
Once the new data lake was in place, we designed a completely new reminders service based on Event Sourcing. We treated each step in the process as an event, starting with "appointment due in 'x' days", followed by a series of events like "postcard sent" or "email link clicked." Because new invoices were published to the data lake each night, we were able to add an "appointmentCompleted" event to the event stream. You can read more about Event Sourcing and Command Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS) in our blog.
For reminder deliveries, we turned to a new set of vendors that could process individual reminders on demand through an API. Thus Pet Partners could send a single customized postcard to an individual client. After a postcard was sent, our new printer LOB used the Pet Partners API to confirm it was delivered to USPS. SendGrid sent back "email read" and "link clicked" events and Twilio posted events related to SMS messages.
Now anyone at Pet Partners could pull up an owner to get a 360 degree view of reminders sent, messages received, and clinic visits with charges. Clicking on "postcard sent" or "email sent" let users view exactly what the owner received.
One view of the customer
Pet Partners had used ACT! for nearly a decade and had long since outgrown its limited CRM capabilities. Pet Partners needed an enterprise level CRM that could manage a larger acquisition pipeline and then transition clinics to an integrated support platform after the deal closed.
We rolled out Salesforce Sales and Service Cloud in four months. The Salesforce platform gave Pet Partners a single, unified view of every interaction between the corporate office and practices in the field. A subsequent integration with Box streamlined managing all the files associated with acquisition due diligence, while still providing granular permissions and security.
The End of the Roadmap
Pet Partners was acquired by Mars in 2018 and ultimately merged into Veterinary Centers of America. We completed the final piece of the original roadmap after the acquisition by helping Pet Partners migrate to Oracle financials. Over three years, Pet Partners' grew revenue from $80 million to over $230 million.