Tag Archives: line of business

No More Need for Best-of-Breed Solutions?

Every five years or so, the insurance industry changes course. Hard market, then soft market. Keep the lights on, then innovate. Build, then buy. Outsource, then in-house. Best-of-breed, then suite.

Unlike with most politicians, some measure of this waffling is certainly beyond the control of insurers truly in the thick of it. However, other preferences reflect the uncertainty of markets and economies, the fluctuation of consumer expectations and demands and what some may call downright desperation to stay ahead of the curve.

Technology has long been recognized as an enabler, and it definitely fills that role when planned for strategically and implemented well. As the industry has taken up the challenge of providing faster, better, more personalized service to consumers, the demand for technology to facilitate the necessary processes has increased, as well. Core system modernization has become a top priority for insurers across all lines of business (LOBs). This means analyst firms and consultants are being engaged at a staggering (and expensive) rate to help spec out requirements, develop the request for proposal (RFP) and narrow things down to a very short list.

Interestingly, the biggest question for most insurers is not whether all of the core administration systems need to be replaced, but rather how and when is the best time to do it. Enterprise rip-and-replace projects traditionally come with a big stigma, a heavy dose of fear and bit of skepticism. Can it be pulled off successfully? With advances in technology such as the move toward cloud for deployment, the incorporation of configuration tools that promote insurer self-sufficiency and better implementation methodologies, the dark skies are definitely clearing.

Today’s most modern enterprise suites provide better integration, better capability and better results than niche-focused solutions of the past. While suite components can, by and large, all be implemented individually, pre-integration, reliance on a single data repository, use of a common architecture, an ensured upgrade path and common user interfaces mean these solutions still have a serious competitive edge over standalone systems. But does this really mean there is no more need for best of breed?

Better Integration

Once famous for creating silos and building “kingdoms” within the enterprise, insurance technology has come a long way. Recognition that insurance processes could be completed faster, and with greater assurance of accuracy, if every relevant employee was looking at the same information, insurers are turning to enterprise suites as the solution of choice. The core administration (policy, billing and claims) components of most modern enterprise suites offer increased integration and conveniently draw information for customer service representatives (CSRs), agents and underwriters from a single data or document repository. Further, by building on similar workflows, user interfaces (UIs) and processes, enterprise suites minimize change management issues and decrease downtime needed for training.

Better Capability

It’s pretty common to hear technology vendors talk about how their solutions let insurers concentrate on core competencies, but rarely is this turn of phrase actually applied to technology vendors. Insurance suites of the past typically built out full, robust capability for core administration processes, but only invested in the bare minimum when it came to supporting processes, functions and components. The best enterprise suites available today not only handle, but excel at, providing capability for peripheral processes that support core administration, including reinsurance, underwriting, document/content management, accounting/general ledger, agent/producer and consumer portals. This depth of capability was once only available to insurers through best-of-breed solutions, but now only highly customized situations and processes require such niche-focused systems.

Better Results

Even though everyone suspects it’s a much higher number, best guesses throughout the industry say that insurers replace core administration systems only once every eight to 10 years. That low frequency hardly allows internal IT staff to gain any kind of proficiency in implementation methodologies or change management. The tightly integrated nature of suite components eases implementation challenges measurably, and at the end of the day, once you get into a groove, why get out? By taking advantage of teams already established for one replacement project for another, insurers can lessen business interruption significantly. Plus, using an agile implementation methodology that incorporates iterative releases will eliminate the scope creep and missed expectations inherent to waterfall projects.

Conclusion

Five or 10 years ago, it may have been necessary to buy a best-of-breed technology solution to get capability specific to a certain LOB or process. However, modern enterprise suites, whether implemented together or individually, today offer the same robust capability once offered only by best-of-breed solutions, but with better integration, faster access to critical data, significantly easier upgrades and ultimately, better results.

Is Your Organization Open to New Ideas?

Recently, I wrote about innovation and changing the way we acknowledge, nurture and incorporate it into our organizational culture. There are many areas where our industry desperately needs transformation and innovation. Our very survival depends on new ideas.

We at SMA are witnessing remarkable progress — innovation is on a bullet train! — but we have some observations about the opportunities and the obstacles for new ideas. There are high hopes for a boatload of great ideas — creative product offerings, process improvements, better ways to engage the customer, more effective service modes, new approaches to capitalize on maturing and emerging technologies, etc. But the reality is that in many organizations, the innovation path is lined with obstacles that leave potentially success-producing concepts off the table and out of the picture. In many cases, these roadblocks are not intentional — in fact, they are not even apparent to the very leaders who are working hard to stimulate innovation.

Some insurers are open to any and all new ideas — every single one! Any and all innovation ideas are nurtured. In contrast, other insurers have targeted their innovation efforts by assigning teams to look at specific process areas or business lines. A project approach makes it easier to manage and measure but can limit the scope of the vision. Other insurers designate the responsibility for innovation to a department head, frequently IT or a line of business. With this approach, responsibility is assigned, typically with accompanying funding, but it too can be limiting because of unintended gatekeepers and biased priorities.

Innovation requires a nurturing environment, one that encourages people to submit ideas with the confidence that this is a place to explore and experiment – to assess the state of readiness, address potential obstacles, find probable pitfalls and measure the potential for success with the assurance that failure is acceptable. Once an idea is explored, there needs to be a place for it to mature and flourish or a graceful way to table it until timing is right, and in some cases a gentle way to kill it. The ideal is an environment with no gating criteria, no judgment, no politics.

Embracing true transformation and innovation requires a thorough and straightforward examination of the current role innovation is allowed to play within your organization. To discover the roadblocks, begin by asking these five questions:

  • Is there a genuine acceptance that valuable ideas can come from any level within our organization?
  • Are employees empowered to offer suggestions without the fear of embarrassment or possible reprimand?
  • Is there authentic encouragement for an exchange of opinions?
  • Does a pathway for fresh ideas exist?
  • Have we demonstrated administrative as well as executive support for innovation in general?