Although retaining a partnership-based business model while simultaneously transitioning to a data-driven enterprise is no small feat, Amerisure Insurance Company is demonstrating how an agile mindset can get the job done.

When executive leadership at the Farmington Hills, Michigan, P&C insurer established business intelligence and analytics as a strategic imperative about four years ago, Amerisure already retained terabytes of information in its Oracle data warehouse. The challenge was getting actionable insights out of the sea of data.

“Extracting data was so time-consuming and IT-centric, our estimated reporting backlog was over two years,” says Doug Pontious, who was hired by Amerisure as its BI and analytics executive in early 2013. Many of the database field names were non-intuitive, making direct access by the business impractical at best.

In addition to enabling internal self-service analytics across its enterprise, the insurer also wanted to extend such capabilities to its distribution network. “It was critical to give our independent agents an agency-branded tool that supported their business whenever they used it for customer presentations,” says Pontious.

Steering Committee Key to Success

To oversee the initiative, Amerisure formed an analytics steering committee. It reports to executive leadership and includes representation from across business units and IT.

Among the steering committee's first actions was planning for a self-service portal, dubbed “Analytics Center,” offering BI and analytics capabilities that would evolve with the initiative. Along the way, marketing would promote news, educational presentations and dashboard releases to actively engage business users and speed adoption.

Another early steering committee decision was to involve its partner agencies throughout the initiative via regular communications and participation opportunities. Within each of Amerisure’s agency tiers, “natural leaders” rose to the top for any given component of the initiative, says Pontious. Functionally, this means an ever-changing group of about a half-dozen constantly contributing ideas and feedback.

As the work of selecting a BI and analytics technology solution proceeded, the steering committee quickly discovered Amerisure required an enterprise data governance strategy. Via a governance subcommittee, a collaborative and inclusive governance process began.

“For instance, defining meta-data terms is vitally important for effective self-service,” says Pontious. “In each data use case, we gathered constituencies to help define meta-data fields, ensuring all needs were met - not just those of the majority.”

Early Hurdles Beget Strong Relationship

Late in 2013, Amerisure selected Information Builders’ WebFOCUS BI solution for it's comprehensiveness and, most importantly, the vendor’s customer service. With its partner agencies expressing a strong desire for mobile access, the insurer took a leap of faith and adopted a recent release of the platform, early in its lifecycle, because of the included automation tools for extending capabilities to each type of mobile OS and device form factor.

“Initially, the mobility enablement tools worked imperfectly,” says Pontious. “To the vendor's credit, we had direct access to the development team and they either fixed issues or created the functionality we needed. This enabled us to deliver a BI solution with advanced features, rather than adopting an existing version without mobility and then undertaking a significant upgrade some months later.”

“In the process, Information Builders went from being a vendor we respected to earning the role of trusted partner,” he adds.

During the ensuing years of building out the BI infrastructure and adding related Information Builders modules such as Active Technologies, InfoAssist and ReportCaster, Amerisure continuously pursued an iterative approach for both technology implementation and change management.

“Instead of a big bang, we believed many small changes add up to success,” says Pontious. “So, we were very transparent with publishing our road maps, offering two-way communications channels and holding departmental and town hall-style meetings. We also involved the business in development and testing, plus we rolled out new capabilities on a monthly basis.”

“One of our best ideas was sponsoring a business team to build and publish several critical analytics dashboards,” he continues. “Then, we broadcast their accomplishments by crediting them for their work in Analytics Center. This really encouraged ownership and company-wide embrace of our new BI platform.”

Iterative Strategy Pays Off

Fast forward to today, and the data governance plan includes a formalized structure, with a dedicated data governance manager overseeing departmental data stewards. Defining data, using business terms, follows an organized process, including an escalation path when a consensus is lacking. "On very rare occasions, a final determination can go all the way to the CEO," Pontious says.

With more than 2,600 employees, independent agencies and clients relying on the platform, Analytics Center traffic is second only to the Amerisure homepage and accessed via mobile or desktop devices. The insurer’s distribution partners gain intelligence about their accounts via intuitive, white-labeled dashboards. What’s more, the IT reporting backlog is gone, freeing development resources for business-critical tasks.

While the overall business benefits are many, a recent example stands out. When the insurer replaced its legacy claims system with Guidewire's ClaimCenter, the BI function played a starring role. It reduced 400 single-view legacy reports to 40 highly-parameterized options, providing users the ability to create any of over 4,000 self-service views, all without IT intervention.

“Today, we use BI to understand how we can grow our relationships and profitably,” says Pontious. “Moving forward, we'll continue expanding our analytic capabilities to include the wealth of unstructured data we already own. We’ll also incorporate external data sources and emerging technology that enables us to continue evolving our company and take advantage of new opportunities within the marketplace."

(This article appears courtesy of our sister publication, Insurance Networking News)

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