Industry executives agree that among the many challenges faced by the insurance industry today, the need to control the combined ratiosthe share of losses incurred to premiums earnedby reducing operational costs is by far the most pressing business problem at hand. And it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.
To deal with this challenge, the insurance industry as a whole has spent, and is continuing to spend, vast sums of money on their existing information technology to make themselves more efficient and cost-effective. Throughout this IT initiative, the insurance industry has adopted workflow and content management systems in large numbers, due to the need to manage its complex paper-driven business processes.
It is estimated that more than 50% of all insurance companies have already adopted some form of workflow or content management tools. Unfortunately, these investments were often made in silosnot enterprise-wideresulting in disconnected and often redundant systems that fail to maximize cost and time savings.
With the advent of the Web and its ability to deliver content management and workflow securely over the Internet through Web-enabled browsers, it is now possible to link enterprise-wide, across satellite or regional offices. However, many insurance companies also failed to recognize the Web as a vehicle for reducing costs when implementing their workflow and content management systems.
For insurance companies, an effective e-process approach focused on improving its business processes is the key to cutting costs and realizing profitable growth and enhanced competitiveness. The successful e-process approach essentially means adopting a philosophy of optimization by taking full advantage of todays advanced technologies.
Innovative software solutions providers are now introducing new products that incorporate legacy workflow and content management tools with advanced e-process management technologies and Web-based applications designed to streamline business processes and reduce costs.
These enterprise content management solutions enable insurance companies to not only create and automate a paperless processing system to handle overwhelming volumes of content, but also harness the power of the Internet as a new service and communication channel.
Business transactions, including customer service, conducted over the Web are far more cost-effective than those using traditional business channels. Insurance companies that recognize the inherent value of linking customers, agents/brokers, partners and employees and extending their business processes and related content to the Web will dramatically reduce costs while increasing operational efficiencyand safeguard their survival.
Despite the promise of e-process, adoption has been slow, with only a few insurance companies blazing the way. So, what do these early-adopter IT managers know that most dont? They realize that a well-implemented e-process strategy will deliver very impressive and measurable results.
E-process solutions can reduce the industrys exceptionally high business acquisition and transaction processing costs. In many cases, a well-implemented e-process strategy can yield up to 30% in savings.
Streamlining and automating the more complex and time-consuming aspect of insurance processing using e-process tools can reduce new business and claims cycle times up to 45%.
Another benefit is improved customer service and transaction efficiency”One call, thats all!” Insurers can establish service centers that can complete transactions on a once-and-done basis. Properly deployed e-process solutions can integrate the Web, phone, fax and paper-based transaction processing and funnel information to agents and brokers using one online interface.
Users can now survey the entire customer account relationship. Front-office processing (customer and agent interaction with customer service centers) is integrated with back-office processing (underwriting, claims and policyholder service departments). This results in more meaningful interactions and higher customer satisfaction, as well as faster turnaround of quotes, endorsements, changes, claims resolution and policy issuance.
Exploiting the Internet gives agents, brokers and customers universal access to business processes and customer self-service. Web environments allow work to be performed anywhere, anytime by the appropriate people. E-process solutions also offer employees the ability to effectively communicate with one another in new ways. Web-based communication can provide access for employees to view procedures and identify others who can answer their questions and help them solve problems quickly.
The potential for insurance companies to benefit from e-process technology is staggering. However, next to realizing the opportunities, choosing the right technology is equally important. A well-implemented e-process strategy must take into account people, business processes and technology to make the transformation as painless as possible.
Insurance companies will benefit most by implementing e-process solutions designed specifically for their industry with out-of-the-box functionality that addresses key business needs. The e-process applications must also be configurable to fit specific insurance environments as well as the needs of various users. It must be flexible to accommodate future requirements and scalable to grow with the company.
Lastly, insurance companies must choose a solutions provider with a history of service and support to keep the technology updated as the market changes.
Without cost reductions, many insurance companies will not survive in business over the next 10 years. In order to achieve profitable growth and stay competitive in todays fast-moving information economy, taking the e-process approach is no longer an option but an imperative for the insurance industry.
The promise of e-process is a reality. Its no longer cutting-edge, but proven technology required to deliver bottom-line results and enable companies to survive in todays market.
P. Kevin McKinney is industry manager, Insurance, for FileNET Corporation, a global business process management solutions provider located in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 27, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.