Building Policy Administration Systems for the Future
Robert Regis Hyle | February 10, 2014
New policy systems provide freedom from tired legacy systems and create excitement about the future, but IT shops—and business users—soon realize that even with modern platforms there is much work left to be done.
By Robert Regis Hyle
“After you’ve upgraded your systems and spent $20 million—or whatever your particular number happens to be—and decades of manual effort, where are you going to get your business value?” asks Mike Fitzgerald, senior analyst with Celent.
Each year, dozens of insurance carriers upgrade their platforms in search of a brighter future, but questions will always remain about how well the business performs and how long these modern systems will last.
“The next step with systems is broader than technology,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s a wider business issue. How long will these systems be around? Unfortunately, the newer systems will be around for 20 or 30 years. This might change, but people have to have in their mind that they are going to be living with these systems for 20 years. Hopefully we get a more frequent refresh of the technology so we don’t fall back into the 1980s or 90s, when systems were left to clunk along. Businesses have to look at a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 20 years.”
Freedom or the Future
“For me, the thought of a newer technology was more exciting than the freedom from legacy systems,” says Judith Haddad, Executive Vice President and CIO/CTO, Patriot National Insurance Group and a member of the Insurance Technology Association advisory board. “I don’t think the older technology was that much of a hardship on IT as it was a constraint for the business side, but the new technology is exciting for everyone, especially in the IT organization.”
A decade ago, it was easy for an insurer to get excited over a new policy system because their previous systems, more than likely, were too rigid to modernize.
“It was tough to make changes; they were difficult to implement, they were expensive, and that was the world we all lived in,” says Frank Petersmark, CIO advocate for X by 2. “There was no thought processes around integrating a suite of core systems and making the data easy to access and compatible with other systems. It was a world of best-of-breed and point solutions.”
Fast forward to 2014 and there is hope for the future.
“The whole idea of a modern system with an integrated suite of core systems—policy claims and billing—has great appeal to people for different reasons,” says Petersmark.
For starters, today’s systems have the advantage of modern technology and they are componentized. “You couldn’t change the older systems,” says Petersmark. “You could hard code things into the system—and we all did a lot of that—but those changes were there forever and you had to live with them.”
Today’s systems are more configurable with several components and layers between data, and that makes the IT shop a little more flexible, adds Petersmark. But underlying all that, insurers still need something to drive the data.
“The data is getting a lot cleaner in the new systems we are seeing,” he says. “There are standard data models being used and there is more agility. It’s not perfect, but there is potential to use data more effectively and get it out of the old systems, even with other vendors’ tools. It is starting to feel like there are better choices and when insurers make those choices they have some hope that these systems will match their process and functional needs.”
Donald Light, Director, Americas Property/Casualty Practice for Celent, believes insurers are appreciative of the freedom from legacy systems when making the leap to a modern platform. He feels the drivers behind making a substantial investment in a new policy admin system fall into several categories: flexibility, agility, and a system that is easier and cheaper to maintain as well as make changes.
From the business perspective, Light believes insurers want the ability to change operations and processes more quickly in response to the competition in order to gain a competitive advantage.
“With a legacy system, if it meets all the business needs and allows carriers to keep a competitive advantage, keep it. But 49 times out of 50 it doesn’t allow the insurance companies to do that, which is why we keep seeing interest in modern systems,” says Light.
How Much Easier
Patriot is operating on a modern system, but some issues still remain, explains Haddad. Entering new data is not a problem, but the challenges the carrier faces involve the conversion of data, which she believes is to be expected.
“It’s a lot easier than running two platforms parallel,” she says. “When we took the full plunge on conversion we knew we were in a better place, but also in a place where converted data would take some extra effort to process.”
Patriot has renewals throughout the year, but like many carriers operating in the workers’ comp space, January 1 seems to be a big date for renewals.
“We looked at January as a good opportunity to get over the hump with converted policies, so we were looking forward to it,” says Haddad. “We took a full plunge into a brand new system for all the areas in the company and converted all our data. We basically bit off half a house. Now we are making sure we continue to deal with whatever questions and comments come our way.”
Some training still needs to be conducted and process and workflow issues are being refined, but for Haddad the great news is Patriot is on its platform for the future.
“Everybody on the business side sees that we are positioned for the future on an advanced technological platform and everyone is looking forward to getting there,” she says. “That will take us some more time—two months, five months or six months—but they know what we are building on will be spectacular.”
Patriot went with Vikaran Solutions, a new vendor that Haddad describes as having a terrific platform, web-based, with newer technology and architecture built in. They are working on building out all lines of business, but workers’ compensation was already built out. Patriot was their first client.
Did being the first client scare Haddad at all?
“I have to put some of my own experience in the mix,” she says. “Having been in the industry for 30 years, I’ve been through buying systems, building systems, and converting systems. I know the constraints when you buy one of the platforms. There are pros and cons to doing that and to going with a vendor that has no clients. Part of the differentiator here is Vikaran was looking to partner and came through to us as a partner. They were here with us on site, working through everything we needed. Their commitment to this project was huge.”
Insurance companies have people that work for them a long time, both in IT and on the business side. Petersmark believes some of the newer technology is ahead of people’s ability to accept it, understand it, and use it effectively.
“We’ve seen cases where clients are using highly functional and highly configurable systems and clients seem to think it is too much,” he says. “They don’t think their claims people can absorb all the changes that kind of system brings. We’ve had to help them plan incremental implementations of such platforms. The technology and functionality is already baked in there when someone buys it, it’s a matter of how to knead some of that out. It is quite a change for people.”
There has to be focus on changing the culture of the company, according to Petersmark. Otherwise, companies end up leaving money on the table.
“If it takes five years to fully implement all the functionality, you are not leveraging the big investment you’ve made,” he says.
Haddad believes the business side sees what this platform offers Patriot.
“They are looking at a new way of doing things and that is a lot to take on as they work in a new environment on a web-based system,” she says. “They are balancing that with the excitement that when we are streamlined and functional among departments, they can see all the value-add to where we are headed.”
Patriot reached out to the consulting firm Strategy Meets Action for help on how to go about changing business processes to get the most out of the new technology.
“SMA has a great amount of knowledge in the areas of underwriting and claims processes and straight-through processing,” says Haddad. “Now that we have been implemented for five months we want them to take a look at the system and processes and come back with an objective view. Some of the recommendations help us with the low hanging fruit of operational efficiencies and the pain points.”
Haddad believes it was important to have an outside view of what Patriot was doing.
“Sometimes you may not see things,” she says. “It may not be visible that there are changes that can be made. Or maybe you think a big change has been made because you are doing things differently, but when you are taking that in you may not see the things an outside consulting team can help you with.”
Fitzgerald maintains the industry has all the technology so the next step in value is how people are going to leverage the technology.
“The negative side is when we talk to companies implementing systems, the pressure is always there to get it done in nine months or 18 months,” says Fitzgerald. “What we see is they should revisit the process system and reengineer the processes, but they really have to get the first line or the first state out the door.”
Even with new technology, some companies still use old processes. Fitzgerald predicts business leaders eventually are going to challenge IT leaders over why they are doing the same processes, but with faster systems and fewer people.
“It’s going to be the second wave of core system implementation to really look at how business is being done,” he says. “I think what has happened is that a lot of legacy ways of doing business have been transferred to a modern platform. People are not going to get the benefit they expect from these systems with that kind of dynamic going on.”
Fitzgerald understands the need to get the new systems online, but feels carriers have to look forward to the transformation as more than plugging into a system and going online.
“It should be about getting the platform in place and continue to work on the business processes,” he says. “The mindset can’t be to plug in a new package system and go back to a steady state. Maybe you take a breather, but you have to look at the platform you have and how do you change the tools you have.”
As insurers look forward 10 years, Fitzgerald sees the question about innovation being about getting better at processes.
“It’s not magic,” he says. “It’s something they can do if they put people in charge of getting it done, funding it, and finding the right processes to achieve a better outcome.”
A lot of the challenges insurers face have to do with connectivity, data exchange, and analytics and Fitzgerald maintains the modern systems are well positioned to do that. Where the gap comes is making all that technology work.
Fitzgerald explains that he is intrigued by the IBM Watson technology and believes the next leap in technology has to do with the artificial intelligence and self-learning predictive systems.
“That’s when the platforms we have now will be obsolete, but we have so much work and so much opportunity before we get there,” he says. “We have to let the big boys in the industry sort all that stuff out before it becomes commercially viable for insurance. If there is a crystal ball, I think the next big shift will be the self-learning artificial intelligence systems. It won’t be mobile or miniaturization or messaging. I think with predictive analytics we have all the tools in place, but we aren’t even crawling when it comes to leveraging those things.”
Haddad knew that Patriot could not live on an older platform. When she joined Patriot five years ago she did a roadmap based on the carrier’s business model to cover five, eight, and 10 years ahead.
“In my own mind there was no way that platform was going to sustain our business model,” she says. “I made the decision that whatever we chose we wanted to look at scalability. If we as a company wanted to write another line of business, I could bolt on another solution or build out the older one. We talked about best-of-breed throughout the development cycle. If I wanted to do a best-of-breed document management system instead of what’s native, could I even do that and how. We played through a lot of what-if scenarios and that was important to see that we not only selected the right platform, but we could grow with it and sustain it for the years to come.”
Business and IT leaders need to realize that the purchase and implementation of new systems has to be the start of a big push to achieve all the benefits that come from a new system. Carriers need to build capabilities, according to Fitzgerald, particularly around customer engagement with the company, how the company interacts with suppliers, and how the company pulls in data and analytics that it had not previously used.
“How do they identify opportunities in business approach and regulation?” asks Fitzgerald. “That’s around processes with really deliberate innovation. If you look back 10 to 15 years insurers were really bad with project management, but today more professionals on the business and IT side started getting certified [as project managers]. Carriers put PMOs in place and are better about project governance.”
Expect More Changes
When looking at the capabilities of new systems, Light believes mobility is close to a universal need. Light likes the phrase, “any time, any place, any platform.”
This is a design feature that vendors have been hustling to include in the new releases of their systems, explains Light, because they want to make the output of their system compatible with all present and foreseeable devices.
“I did not say device independent because the screen real estate on your iPhone is much smaller than the flat screen that sits in your office,” he says. “You have to make changes in terms of content and screen flow if you are outputting to an iPhone or a tablet. This is what the insurance companies are demanding, certainly if they sell personal lines insurance, but also the business users within the insurance company who are no longer chained to their desks. Carriers have to give close to all the functionality as if the users were sitting at their desk.”
Petersmark believes one part of the process that is not going to change for IT leaders is what he calls the “you bet your career decisions” when insurers purchase a new platform.
“Modern systems are more functional and it is easier to swap out a piece of technology and put another in, but with the investments being made you are going to use these systems for at least 10 years and in some cases a lot longer than that,” he says.
Looking ahead, if carriers expect their customers to interact in a more mobile way—and they probably should expect that—how are they going to handle that, points out Petersmark
“Does the new system have the capability to do that? If not, will the vendor assure them those capabilities will be available down the road?” he asks. “The same is true of data and analytics. The industry is just scratching the surface of the value that is locked up in data stores for many years. That is going to continue to be an important way companies can look at to leverage some competitive difference.”
Anticipating the needs of customers is starting to happen now, but Petersmark believes it is in the infancy stage. That is another area carriers have to consider when they look to purchase new systems.
“What is it you want to do five years from now and is the platform you are going to invest in and the vendor going to be able to take that journey with you?” asks Petersmark. “Years ago people didn’t think about that. There are a lot of bright software vendors now that are working hard on things, but it is still a risk—financial and political for some who make the choices—and all that needs to get weighed.”
Yesterday’s systems were kept longer than they should have, based on technological advances and what was available in the marketplace, points out Petersmark. He believes the reason they were kept longer is partly economic because the carriers owned the systems, like an old car.
“Maybe you aren’t making a monthly payment, but you are putting in a lot of maintenance,” he says. “It is painful to get off the old systems. There is a whole division of IT people that only knows that platform and 2000 users that only know that platform, too. That was more important than the economics of a new system for some.”
Celent tells any insurance company that comes to them that they should be thinking in terms of a 10- to 15-year horizon for the useable life of a new policy system because of the expense, both in terms of dollars and people to get the system running,
“You don’t want to have to repeat this in five years, but the problem is 10 to 15 years out is such a long time that nobody knows what the world is going to be like,” says Light.
Light suggests it is important to look closely at the vendor you choose and determine if the vendor is financially strong, has strong management, and is continuing to grow.
“You also look at the investments they’ve made over the last two to four years,” he says. “There are no guarantees that any new releases with significant improvements are going to continue, but you have to base your decision on something and that’s not a bad thing to base your decision on.”
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The Email Chat is a regular feature of the ITA Pro magazine and website. We send a series of questions to an insurance IT leader in search of thought-provoking responses on important issues facing the insurance industry.
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