From the March 2011 issue of Tech Decisions • Subscribe!

Beautiful Words for Insurers

Saying a project is under budget and ahead of schedule is music to the ears of IT and business leaders alike.

Thirty-year-old legacy systems have a hard time meeting the needs of a 21st century property/casualty insurer—in this case Mountain West Farm Bureau Insurance. The older systems don’t have the ability to perform newer tasks such as business intelligence, so users have to turn to IT for data and information.

The IT situation at Mountain West is complicated, too. Mountain West and two other Farm Bureau insurers own their own IT company, Western Computer Services. Mountain West, in essence, outsources all of its IT operations to Western Computer Services.

“First and foremost, we’re in the process with Mountain West of transforming their business and replacing their policy and claims solution,” says Harold Williams, CEO of Western Computer Services.

“[The legacy system] isn’t agile to meet market changes quickly,” says Williams. That meant an overhaul of the entire system was necessary. “It’s a complete business transformation initiative to refresh and update all of their technology,” he adds.

Western Computer Services aligns itself individually to each of its owners’ business needs, according to Williams.

“We attempt to provide economies of scale with common solutions where it makes sense and common infrastructure and common personnel,” he says. “We hope to be able to achieve customized solutions by being a low-cost provider because of our ability to leverage solutions across multiple Farm Bureaus. It doesn’t always work, but we can share infrastructure and that holds down costs.”

Williams explains there were many twists and turns in the road that eventually led to the Innovation Insurer product from the Innovation Group, but the initial reason they were attracted to Innovation Group was the vendor’s back-office policy capabilities.

Before engaging Innovation Group, Western Computer Services first started to refresh technology for one of the other Farm Bureau owners. “What we did was front-end [the carrier’s] legacy application with a Web-based product that allowed agents to achieve the business needs they were looking for,” says Williams.

As Mountain West saw that unfold, they wanted to be a part of the change, but they also wanted more volume and sophistication around personal and commercial lines, according to Williams.

The problem, though, was that Western Computer Services didn’t feel their back-office engine would support such an approach.

“We started looking for a policy system provider and that’s when we ran across Innovation Group,” says Williams. “During the next year we got to know them and they introduced the Insurer product as well as forming some very strong relationships with their senior management around potential partnership possibilities. All of those things combined made Innovation Group attractive for us to meet Mountain West’s business needs.”

The solution brought about a fundamental shift for Mountain West, explains Williams. “With the unprecedented level of storm activity for Mountain West, we were able to give [business users] catastrophe reports from the new analytics engine in a matter of hours,” he says. “Before, that would have been a couple of weeks worth of effort. While we never want to suffer losses in the P&C industry, those losses were a trigger to the business being able to realize savings almost immediately on a new product implementation. That started a shift in the capabilities of technolgy.”

Mountain West has not had any technology setbacks, but Williams believes the biggest opportunity ahead is to simply improve adoption of the technology by the business units. “We want to get them familiar with the technology so instead of coming to us and asking us to do work for them we can give them the capabilities,” says Williams. “We also want to create an awareness of what the system is capable of doing. They’ve lived so long in a legacy environment that this paradigm shift is pretty new to them.”

Williams felt there was some resistance from business users. They were accustomed to the manual processes and copying data into Excel reports.

“There are things we can target for elimination,” he says. “It’s been a success, but there are opportunities to create greater value.”

It’s hard to believe there will be even more value from a project when Williams describes what has already taken place as, “under budget, ahead of schedule, and its value was immediate.”

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