By Jason King

No matter what you call it, enterprise content management (ECM) solutions (in all their incarnations) capture, manage, secure, store and distribute content. And by doing so, ECM emerges as more than just a technology - it is better defined as a business strategy.

ECM also provides the tools necessary to overcome challenges that can put you out of business. These include failing to appropriately manage business information or react to the competitive pressures of a changing marketplace, as well as insufficiently governing risk and compliance.

Insurers using ECM do more than eliminate filing cabinets by scanning paper. They create a comprehensive system for e-mail, reports, faxes and even archived customer documents. And, relationships between all documents can be defined with minimal effort.

Everyone who needs access to stored documents can easily retrieve them - even if many people need documents simultaneously. Content is available directly from employees' desktops, so no time is wasted searching for documents. And advanced features eliminate common problems such as multiple policyholders and duplicate copies.

Automated workflow is another important component of any ECM solution. With workflow, insurers can route files straight through underwriting and claims processes. This reduces handling time and improves the ability to meet service level agreements, not to mention improving the overall integrity and quality of output. Management also can determine what is, is not or should be in the system. Furthermore, management can monitor employee tasks, workloads and cycle times.

Integrating with your existing line-of-business systems for policy management, claims, accounting and other processes protects the management and integrity of your documents. It also promotes user adoption and minimizes any impact on productivity by adapting the technology to user roles.

Of course, business content is more than just underwriting and claims files. How you recruit and manage personnel, conduct financial operations and other operational processes affects overall profitability, therefore, they also need to be managed. Doing so in a consolidated system reduces total cost of ownership and improves management's ability to oversee the entire business.

Mitigating Risk and Supporting Compliance

Every file brings with it a certain amount of risk. Confidential customer information could be taken advantage of by an employee. A box of invoices could be destroyed in a fire. An ECM solution, unlike a paper-based system, manages document security on a number of levels.

Because the content is stored electronically, insurers always have access to critical documents, even if the physical location is inaccessible. ECM ensures content is there when you need it, and is not vulnerable to natural disasters, simple errors or other factors that result in data loss.

ECM solutions also have advanced security options. Insurers can restrict employees to the documents they are authorized to see, down to a specific document type. Every change made by any user who views or alters a document is tracked, and an audit trail is automatically created. With audit information on individual files and the entire repository, ECM helps insurers avoid expensive compliance issues.

ECM solutions also help insurers run more efficiently, making it possible to compete in a price-conscious market. Hard cost savings are achieved because insurers do not have as much paper to buy, store and copy. Labor costs are reduced as well because workflow eliminates many manual tasks from processes. This is especially important because 80 percent of costs required to produce a policy or resolve a claim are labor-related.

Productivity also improves. Employees have the ability to work remotely, and employers can easily track performance metrics so employees can be rewarded for their increased productivity.

One of the greatest differentiators achieved through an ECM solution is improved customer service. With accurate and up-to-date information available at the touch of a button, customers receive better service. You could become the insurer of choice for customers and agents alike.

A true ECM solution ties together several technologies with expertise in insurance and best practices across industries lines. Having this expertise is becoming more important as banks, credit unions and hospitals bring new perspectives and competitive challenges to the insurance industry.

No matter what you call it, the most important aspect of ECM is how it can help meet your current and future business challenges head on. Insurance companies will be able to compete with, and surpass the competition.

Jason King is director of insurance and financial services for Hyland Software Inc., Westlake, Ohio.

This article was originally published on InsuranceNetworking.com.

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