New CRM Products Offer Better Integration, Synchronization

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Despite the tantalizing potential of customer relationship management (CRM) systems, many insurance industry participants say implementing CRM products is still fraught with pitfalls, with such hurdles as high price tags and often-lengthy integration times.

But in the past year, technology companies have been introducing a slew of new and upgraded products aimed at making it easier for clients to implement a CRM strategy more effectively and helping them to know their customers better. The following are some of the recently introduced CRM offerings designed to meet the specific needs of the insurance industry.

PeopleSoft CRM. After its 2002 release of CRM version 8.8, a product designed exclusively for insurance carriers and agencies, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft has introduced a number of upgrades and enhancements in the past year.

“Our version 8.8 was one of our biggest releases for our CRM, and last year, we followed that with new products,” says Rohit Bedi, director of product marketing for PeopleSoft CRM. One upgrade comes from the “predictive analytics” area. “Essentially, what this enhancement allows our clients to do is to look at their customer base and based on the information that they have about their customers, they can build models for predicting behavior of customers,” explains Bedi.

PeopleSoft notes that this is an especially useful tool for insurance companies, where there are big customer bases and intense competition. “You want to be able to predict your customers behavior, and, based on that prediction, you can implement the right strategies for appropriate customer segments,” Bedi says.

The company also has started offering another upgrade called Process Integration Packs. “When you look at the CRM industry, in general, and organizations that deploy CRM, its often found that they might have Oracle or SAP back-office systems for order management, service request materials authorization and service fulfillment,” Bedi observes. He notes that this upgrade is an attempt by PeopleSoft to help clients avoid high costs of integration by providing a pre-built, out-of-the-box solution that allows PeopleSoft CRM to be deployed seamlessly with some of these back-office systems. “Once you have these process integration packs, now you might have SAP or Oracle back office, but you can deploy PeopleSoft CRM on top of that, and you dont have to pay for a big integration cost,” he explains.

In 2003, PeopleSoft CRM also released enhanced functionality to address the Federal Trade Commissions “Do Not Call Registry” requirements. This includes a customer preference tracking feature, which makes it easier for marketing departments to comply with the FTCs legislation. It also offers a “quick-customer-create” feature, allowing call-center agents to create a new customer record when opening an e-mail inquiry.

Another new enhancement, called PeopleSoft Infosync Server, offers automatic, server-to-server synchronization between PeopleSoft CRM and Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes servers. The company says it is the first CRM vendor to deliver bi-directional, server-side synchronization, which removes the need for the client to load separate synchronization software.

“This can be especially useful in the insurance industry where you have a lot of salespeople. There is a lot of information today that is stored in personal information management systems, such as the Outlook e-mail system and Lotus,” Bedi says. “There was a big request from our customer base that we provide a solution that really allows our customers to easily synchronize data seamlessly between the CRM system and personal information management systems, and Infosync technology allows that.”

All PeopleSoft CRM products are based on Internet architecture, so they can be hosted and managed through PeopleSoft Hosting or through its partner application service providers, the company says. The implementation for PeopleSoft CRM can take 4 weeks or more. The company also offers full training and consulting services, as well as product upgrades and support hotlines.

PeopleSoft declined to provide pricing information.

SmartOffice by E-Z Data Inc. This Pasadena, Calif.-based tech company unveiled its Web-based SmartOffice software solutions in November 2003. SmartOffice, formerly known as Enterprise CRM Platform, is now offered in 3 separate versions to better meet varying business and technological needs of insurance and other financial services professionals, E-Z Data says.

“From agents and advisors, to distributor agencies and brokerages, to the home office, SmartOffice solutions can help streamline operations, improve customer relationships, and increase top-line revenue,” says Darren Peterson, vice president of marketing at E-Z Data. SmartOffice offers contact, calendar, marketing and customer-service features, he explains. In addition, it features more insurance-targeted features, such as support for multi-carrier insurance products, investment tracking, commission/compliance tracking and new business/pending case processing.

One version of the E-Z Data software solutions is called SmartOffice Online, and is designed for agents, advisors and other smaller financial services businesses. This option, Peterson notes, is for organizations looking to “get up and running fast, with minimal cost and headache.” Both hardware and software are maintained in E-Z Datas data center for “any time, anywhere” access to clients applications and data.

“Fully hosted in our secure data center, SmartOffice Online offers practice and agency management, without the burden or cost of managing software and servers,” Peterson explains. “Clients can access their data anywhere, any time, using a Web browser and an Internet connection.” SmartOffice Online pricing starts from $30 per month on a subscription basis.

E-Z Data also offers a version of SmartOffice for small- to medium-sized businesses and for divisions of larger enterprises. This is a Web-based software product deployed in the customers environment, the company says. With a standard database and various insurance industry-specific features, clients can get this product in a package that is easy to install and built to scale for growing business.

Another version, called SmartOffice Enterprise, is geared toward larger organizations looking to deploy CRM across several departments. “SmartOffice Enterprise is built to meet the needs of Global 1000 insurance, banking and financial services institutions–it drives the effectiveness of all distribution channels, enabling career agents and advisors, wholesalers and brokerages to orchestrate their efforts using a single, integrated platform,” Peterson says.

Pricing for both of these version starts at $699 per seat but can vary with volume, the company says.

While SmartOffice Online is accessible to anyone using Microsoft Internet Explorer, the other 2 versions require Web server and database server licenses. They support Microsoft and Unix-based Web servers and a number of database servers including Oracle, Sybase and UDB.

As for the implementation time, Peterson says SmartOffice Online can be up and running almost immediately. And, depending on a users data conversion needs, the switchover from their old systems usually takes from 1 to 3 weeks. Setup time for the other 2 versions varies depending upon data conversion, system configuration and integration needs, with time frames ranging from 1 month to a year.

E-Z Data offers various training options, including on-site training with professional instructors, as well as on-demand and instructor-led online training. The company also notes its CRM products are used by more 50 of the largest insurance and financial services companies, with more than 95,000 seats installed globally.

Wintouch eCRM for Websphere by Touchtone Corporation. Wintouch eCRM for Websphere, scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2004, is a product enhancement designed to supplement Touchtones current version of Wintouch eCRM. Rich Hall, vice president of sales and marketing at Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Touchtone, explains that it will offer user-specific, customizable “portlet” views of an organizations data, contacts, activities and projects that are managed by insurance agents, underwriters and brokers.

“This new version brings all the IBM Websphere capabilities to bear, as well as the great customization and data integration capabilities of the existing version of Wintouch eCRM,” Hall says. “Websphere makes the application more compatible with various back-end database structures and creates new Web-based capabilities for user access to the CRM system and other applications. And it provides extensive Internet interface functionality.”

Wintouch eCRM for Websphere is available for any platform, including Windows and Linux. Hall adds that the standard version is best suited to the IBM AS/400 or iSeries server on the back end, with user access over any Internet browser. Both versions include access capabilities for laptops and PDAs.

Touchtones current CRM product, Wintouch eCRM, was first introduced in 2000. It allows users to keep track of activities and histories of customer accounts; drill down to data such as policy details and status, claims or underwriting information, invoices, documents, and scheduled follow-up activities; and do reporting and performance searches on the accounts, the company says. This browser-based software, available for installation on a customers server or as an application service provider offering, runs on the IBM AS/400 or iSeries operating system.

Touchtone says it generally offers a 2- to 3-day training program to clients on-site administrators. “Web training is also available via the Internet. There is an additional charge for training and some organizations choose to have us train the trainer for them to become the expert and conduct their own training sessions,” Hall says.

Prices for Wintouch eCRM range between $1,500 and $2,500 per user, all inclusive for the software and installation, depending on the number of users, the company notes. There are annual software maintenance expenses as well as implementation, data conversion and installation services typically provided by the Wintouch professional services group.

Hall explains that Wintouch eCRM can be installed in relatively short time frames, depending on how quickly the client can make decisions about screen layout, customization and the data they want to access. Typically, implementation takes between 1 and 3 months. The insurance and financial services sector is one of Touchtones strongest market segments, he notes.

Answer Suite by Skywire Software. Frisco, Texas-based Skywire Software recently has launched its “Answer Suite” CRM product for the insurance industry. “Answer Suite provides a robust suite of customer service applications consisting of knowledge management, Web self-service, case management and desktop discovery tools that automate the problem resolution process and make it easy for insurance companies customers to find information on their Web sites 24/7,” explains Wendy Gibson, vice president at Skywire.

With Answer Suite, Gibson says, the clients customers can get their inquiries answered over the Web via the organizations personalized, knowledge-driven support portal that facilitates quick resolution without requiring telephone support assistance.

“Customers can submit and track support requests over the Web via the client companys support portal,” she says. “Custom routing ensures that new cases are assigned to the most qualified support agent. And by understanding customer inquiries, companies can proactively address top issues to improve the quality of support and reduce caseloads.”

Skywire Software offers 2 delivery options for its CRM product. The hosted edition offers turnkey customer service and technical support with no software or hardware to install. The price for this option starts at $99 per agent per month, and this system can be up and running in less than 30 minutes, the company says. The second option, called enterprise edition, provides customized and integrated customer service and technical support designed for larger businesses. Pricing for this option was not provided.

Gibson adds, “Answer Suite offers easy integration with clients existing systems. Clients can integrate knowledge base, case management, customer management and other support processes with their existing systems and Web sites via Web services.”

Training is included with each implementation, and further on-site training options also are available. “For customers using the enterprise edition, professional services are bundled with the product to provide onsite deployment, tight integration with existing CRM systems, integrated content authoring, multi-channel support, enterprise-class analytics and support for industry standards,” Gibson notes. Answer Suite supports key industry standards, including .NET, SQL Server databases and Microsoft Windows platform.

Teradata CRM Version 5.0. Teradata, a data-warehousing division of Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corporation, recently launched its latest customer relationship management software, Teradata CRM Version 5.0.

This version, which became widely available last September, offers enhanced features to better identify industry-specific business opportunities, the company says. Additionally, all functionality has been consolidated into 11 modules, down from the original 20, for ease of use.

Mike Koehler, senior vice president at Teradata, says his companys CRM product can offer an accurate, up-to-the-minute view of customer behaviors, as well as the ability to create timely, personalized customer communications and develop comprehensive customer interactions. Koehler explains that Teradata CRM integrates analytical-intelligence tools to optimize customer communications, personalize the experience of the customer, and thus increase the value of the relationship to the business.

Pricing is dependent on system configuration, Koehler says, but a basic analysis and segmentation package starts at $50,000, with more advanced features such as campaign management and event-based marketing starting at around $140,000.

Teradata says CRM Version 5.0 currently is used by more than 100 large businesses in various industries including insurance, financial, retail, travel and telecommunications.

is an assistant editor for NUs Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, February 20, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.