An enterprise content management (ECM) system can automate workflows to trim processing time, meet compliance requirements, enhance disaster recovery preparedness and facilitate straight-through processing. And the management capabilities of ECM packages also can help carriers better organize their workforces.

Yet, the true value of ECM may be less about the printing and storage costs the technology can eliminate and more about the business agility it enables.

The move to a paper-free environment, however, is not without challenges. ECM packages present a host of technical and cultural obstacles that must be overcome before the system's true benefits can be realized.

Overwhelmed by paper processes scattered across their enterprise, many carriers are scurrying around to locate documents, struggling to comply with tightening regulations and sluggishly responding to increasingly demanding customers. Forward-looking firms are battling such disarray and confusion by increasingly embracing enterprise content management (ECM) technology, which serves to both standardize and automate processes.

By transforming to paperless offices, they are finding enhanced organization and order, along with the ability to slash printing, fax and courier costs and to transform storage space into more productive use. At the same time, they are boosting compliance by quickly uncovering archival documents, which they have at the ready to present at court cases should litigation arise.

Disaster Proof

In December of 2006, the Gray Insurance Co. turned to a content management and enterprise workflow solution to make itself more hurricane-proof, minimize paperwork, provide information to users in a more timely fashion and empower claims adjusters, explains Carl Schneider, CIO of Gray Insurance.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Gray Insurance had to leave its home office in New Orleans for five weeks and relocate to a temporary space that it built inside a subsidiary's office in Baton Rouge. While it had a back-up data center, Gray Insurance did not have access to all its paper files, and so for five to six weeks, it motored around almost daily in a rented U-Haul from Baton Rouge to New Orleans under state trooper escort to scoop up all its claim files.

As a workers' comp provider, the company was under duress to continue producing checks on a regular basis to keep claimants, policyholders and state regulatory bodies at bay. "People weren't real sympathetic about the fact that we were displaced from New Orleans when it is our job to give them their weekly paycheck," says Schneider.

Gray's ability to respond to demanding clients changed quickly after it adopted ImageRight, an ECM solution from Conyers, Ga.-based Vertafore Inc., which made its files virtual. This ensured that a document was available in all of the company's five branch offices across four states in real time. Having reduced its cluttered and dispersed paper files, the company now redirects all documents sent to its offices to the corporate office's mailroom, which opens, scans and indexes letters that are then sent to adjusters through an established electronic workflow.

Now armed with 12 million electronic records and counting, Gray Insurance doesn't lose track of its important documents. "Even if New Orleans floods completely or our building burns down or goes under water, we have the electronic versions of those files so that we can continue to work business as usual," says Schneider.

Flooding Paper

Like many carriers, the Equitable Life Insurance Co. of Canada found itself "drowning in paper" and hungry to improve turnaround times as its business soared, says Kevin Powell, AVP and chief underwriter for the company. After its 2008 implementation of OnBase, an ECM product from Westlake, Ohio-based Hyland Software Inc., the carrier saw major results: Whereas in 2006 about 43% of its cases were processed within 30 days, now 57% are, says Powell.

Since the company now scans all documents it receives, it no longer has people chasing files around the office. This has helped it to reduce staff, while also enabling it to have its underwriters work remotely.

Additionally, the product has enhanced the carrier's response times. "One of my strong pet peeves is the fact that if I had a call from a broker or an MGA about a particular case, invariably I would have to say to them, 'Let me get the file and give you a call back,'" Powell says. "Now, in terms of customer efficiency/customer service, I can answer questions one-and-done and not have to worry about a lot of call backs anymore," explains Powell.

OnBase has helped carriers boost first-call resolution from 50% to 60% up to approximately 90% - and experience a 280% increase in new business capacity - says Bill Priemer, Hyland's COO.

Carriers are also seeing major benefits in workflow due to ECM adoptions. Routing documents along with the work needed to be completed to the right people at the right time can be enormously efficient.

Just one-and-a-half years after implementing ImageNow, an ECM solution from Shawnee, Kan.-based Perceptive Software, Frontline Homeowners Insurance has not only made most of its processes paperless and boosted business volume, but also has vastly improved organizational structure and order through its newly designed automatic workflow. The Lake Mary, Fla.-based carrier has been able to fully automate the allocation of work and the routing of transactions to appropriate departments and teams based on business logic defined in its workflow system.

"It directs every process through a certain pre-defined series of steps that you know you can adhere to and report off, and you can look at the metrics of your team's performance and make sure that everything is handled in a consistent manner," says Kurt Bonigut, CIO of Frontline Homeowners Insurance.

Thanks to a polished electronic workflow, effective ECM strategies and tools are helping insurers boost customer satisfaction and new business by giving them a wealth of enterprisewide documents at their fingertips. This is the case for firms that provide, for instance, mortgage insurance and worker's compensation, as they experience rising claims volumes as a result of the recession, according to Priemer.

"Because it is easier for customers to leave [carriers], you are seeing a greater emphasis on customer service," says Priemer. "And in the insurance space, that means getting stuff done faster, being more responsive, faster turnaround, and where possible, greater visibility into the process."

Smooth workflow also reduces the tsunami of unnecessary e-mails swamping employees and agents, as these can be "very disruptive in the process," says Phil Hargrove, director of carrier and MGA segments for Vertafore Inc. Workflow also is sped along by the standardized formats that ECM technology creates. For instance, Vertafore created its system so that underwriters, claims representatives and others can have access to all content and tasks in Microsoft Outlook in which they typically like to work, opines Hargrove.

With heightened scrutiny and regulations on carriers, compliance has also driven many to embrace new ECM technologies and strategies. When carriers know where the documents are at all times, and who has looked them, compliance is enhanced.

As a non-profit organization based in Eagan, Minn., Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) faces a vast range of different state and federal regulations, including HIPAA.

Consequently, Blue Cross maintains a variety of document management and workflow platforms today that help ensure that the company has the proper control flow and audit capability over both privacy information and contract information. In an effort to improve operational efficiency, Blue Cross is engaged in a multi-year enterprise-wide ECM consolidation project, according to Jay Levine, SVP and CIO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

This work includes consolidating the document control platforms on its mainframe and distributed platforms. "Our goal is to maintain fewer platforms where we have what I would call 'regulated workflow and paper flow'," says Levine.

Those carriers with European links are also shaping their ECM projects around Solvency II, says Doug Coombs, an information management advocate for Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. "Through the retention of information and proper governance of information, they can build up an audit to provide proof against providing compliance, but also in things like litigation and to aid discovery," says Coombs. For many carriers, better compliance is not an impetus for but rather the byproduct of an ECM implementation, according to various carriers.

Staffing and Training

Those insurers that have particularly overcome the ECM challenges of integration and training are finding that ECM serves as a good management tool, helping them move staff to more productive areas, to track staff work, and to enable underwriters and others to work remotely.

Due to its ECM work, Gray Insurance was able to clear out 7,000 square feet of shelves that were housing claim files, and then use that space to build a classroom, where it holds training sessions on subjects such as office productivity tools, imaging orientation and safety. Further, the company no longer needs to employ couriers whose sole task was to go to the storage facility and bring claims files to an adjuster. (Courier costs, for one, are less than 10% of what they were prior to the company's implementation of its imaging system.)

Employee and agent training is also crucial in order to maximize an ECM adoption. "The real bottom-line benefits for the insurers that we have seen and measured comes from that focus on the basics - looking at the employee training and adoption, [including] an actual audit and review to ensure that they are following the policies and they are using the systems the way the systems were designed to be used," says Brian Eppig, a senior manager of business consulting for SMART Business Advisory and Consulting, a Devon, Pa.-based firm.

Yet, that important stage in the ECM process during which users need to adapt to all of the changes required when embracing an ECM tool can be overcome. "The culture shift of getting people to operate in a paper-free environment and learning to deal with electronic workflows was a bit of a challenge," says Bonigut. "But once they got used to it, they loved it."

This article can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com.

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