When it comes to buying and updating computer systems for an agency, there are plenty of pitfalls to be avoided, but according to networking and systems experts, the biggest pitfall may be failing to consider the way the agency does business and how technology can play a part in that.
According to Eli Dabich, Jr., president of Synergy 2000, Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., “Whos got the best technology doesnt mean diddly.” Usually, he explains, agents decisions on purchasing technology products and services are made on an emotional basis rather than on the merits.
“Agency principals usually dont know that much about the detail of the day-to-day operations and where the bottlenecks are and what the strengths and weaknesses are,” asserts Dabich, whose company does systems integration for insurance and financial services firms. “The customer service reps know, and the agent will make a decision that the CSRs like.”
CSRs, he adds, are often long-term employees who are “not prone to rocking the boat and changing things,” thus they are more likely to want the status quo. “That means picking a system where I dont have to re-engineer my workflow,” says Dabich.
He maintains, however that before making any decisions on technology products or services, an agency needs to re-evaluate how it does business and consider how it might restructure its workflow for better efficiency.
“They may also want to re-evaluate their product set and the companies [with whom they write business],” Dabich adds.
An important question for agents to consider, Dabich notes, is how insurance applications come into the agency–including fax, electronic and paper documents. “My prediction is that you will have two commission schedules, one for electronic applications and one for paper.” Commissions should be lower for paper, he notes, because paper applications cost the agency more to process.
“I actually suggested [the two-commission approach] to a client,” says Dabich. “It was like a giant light went on in the room.”
When it comes to automating or updating an agencys workflow processes, getting the right software is often the stumbling block, Dabich observes. “Hardware is cheap; its not your main cost. Its the software thats the problem. I can change my wife easier than I can change software.
“Any time you change systems, you have a conversion to deal with, and conversions are a bear,” he continues. “Here is where agencies get into trouble.” If an agency already has an agency management system in place, for example, “you dont want to change that and make the CSR mad.”
Dabich suggests, however, that agency principals need to talk with CSRs about the benefits of making workflows more efficient via technology upgrades and improvements.
Overall, says Dabich, “Agents are pretty damn smart when it comes to technology. Agents have spent a lot of money on technology. My sole criticism is that they need to re-evaluate their business first before they make a technology decision.”
W. Russ Taylor, owner of People Computer of Brick, Jackson, N.J., agrees that it is important to consider business needs, and that software is the key to productivity for agencies looking to make technology improvements. The first thing to ask, he says, is “what do your mother companies want?”
Taylor, whose firm implements and integrates computer networks, notes that it is important for agencies to consider improvements for both their back office (administrative) and front office (sales) systems. Newer software applications that combine functions such as letter generation, keeping track of customers and generating presentations may be of help where such functions are not currently integrated.
“Contact management is the link between the back office and front office,” he explains. “The hardware is getting faster and cheaper, but the software is what you have to look at and ask what will do the most for you.”
Taylor cautions that newer software with more functions “wont be as cheap as it used to be, but I think its going to offer the bang for the buck.”
When it comes to delivery of software to the agency–either via traditional disks and updates or through the Internet in the application service provider model–Taylor favors the traditional route. Having the software application in-house means that “no matter what, if the phone lines go down, you can still function,” he notes. “I like the control factor that allows me to do it in-house.”
Taylor also recommends that agencies have a local technology expert nearby to handle any problems that come up. “Get someone you can talk to face-to-face, someone you have confidence in,” he advises.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 29, 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.