Conditioned to Respond
Don Honeycutt | December 04, 2017
The expression “feast or famine” obviously started as a personal reference to how much one may, or may not, have to eat at any given point in time. Today, the expression is still used to cover overabundance or shortage of personal experiences like food availability and potential dating prospects, but today it is also commonly extended to things like qualified leads, sales of products or services, and various other aspects of modern business.
Cautious by nature, insurers go to extreme lengths to ensure partnerships, integrations, and technology purchases, in particular, are not only prudent, but productive as well. The mechanism most often utilized by insurers attempting to find the perfect vendor partner or solution silver bullet is a request for proposal (RFP). While insurers have amassed considerable expertise when it comes to mitigating and homogenizing risk, and developing products to protect policyholders against risk, there is no baseline level of internal expertise when it comes to crafting an effective RFP.
Unfortunately, incumbent insurance technology (MatureTech) and startup InsurTech vendors alike have been conditioned to respond to every RFP which comes across, even if it lacks specificity or sufficiently detailed business requirements. This creates is a bad situation for everyone involved. Wondering who is at fault here and how an unwanted end-result can be avoided?
The RFP Development Process
In a perfect world, each RFP sent out to potential solution provider partners would be customized to the situation of the insurer driving the project. The reality is that with no experience writing requirements documents, or knowledge of options available in terms of the partner or solution landscape, insurers often wind up with generic RFPs which are unlikely to yield the needed positive and situation-specific results.
The solution here is not Googling “how to write an RFP for a software solution,” downloading generic forms from the Internet, or taking what was used by another insurer friend and removing names to protect the innocent. Instead insurers should invest some time in working with an experienced industry analyst or consulting firm with a successful track record in vendor and software selection for insurance companies of like size and lines of business.
While engaging a knowledgeable consultant to help in the RFP and solution selection process will cost some money upfront, this cost can and should be included in the overall project budget and not looked upon as a separate expense. Additionally, this is the perfect time to start forming an internal project support team or project management office (PMO) who can develop some synergy and momentum as the process of gathering requirements and prioritizing needs gets underway.
Plan the Work, and Work the Plan
As in the feast or famine analogy, RFPs come in at a rapid-fire pace at times, and at a bare trickle at others. Such an uneven pace makes it extremely difficult to plan and distribute workload, especially since accurate completion of RFPs necessarily involves personnel otherwise committed to actual customer deliverables which, of course, must come first.
Without sacrificing customer deliverables and existing project timelines, there are ways to plan the work and work the plan even when RFPs are due at busy or inconvenient times. The best way to do this, in our experience, is for MatureTech and InsurTech firms to hire or designate an existing full-time employee (FTE) to be a first responder. This person can review and evaluate the RFP for resources and information needed to complete, for relevance to the company’s solution functionality, and for due dates. Any misfires or misfits during this initial evaluation could mean the final project would not be a good fit, that the culture of the company for which the RFP is being conducted is not a match, or that the opportunity is not worth the existing service levels which might be sacrificed in order to complete the RFP.
In a perfect world, every MatureTech and InsurTech vendor would be easily capable of completing every RFP that comes in the door. The reality is that being conditioned to respond to try to respond to every RFP is not necessarily a good thing. Not every project is a good fit for every vendor. Deciding which opportunities are right to take advantage of, and declining all others can help maintain a consistent workflow and project timelines which will keep internal and external customers happy.
There is a lot of talk in the insurance industry about the most successful relationships between insurers and MatureTech/InsurTech vendors being those which function as partnerships. Taking this at face value, that means there must be a lot of vendor-insurer relationships built on mutual respect.
Such respect typically comes via considerable concessions which help achieve a working relationship and end-result with benefits for both sides. This may mean an insurer must commit more internal resources to a project implementation or pilot. It may mean a vendor working overtime to deliver in a set timeframe in spite of moving-target business requirements. Most of all, it likely means transparency from both sides.
With the industry talking far and wide about modernization and innovation, today there is a cost to missed opportunities in so much as insurers choosing not to update systems, engage with new solutions and partners, or explore practical applications for emerging technologies may be significantly less able to compete. That said, it’s a calculated risk that you could be missing an opportunity, but you don’t have to respond to every RFP that comes along.
Don Honeycutt is the chief data officer for Maple Technologies. He can be reached for more information or comment via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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