Configurable Software Solutions: Blessing or Curse?

Each insurer has its own unique needs, processes, markets and products that require flexibility in today’s policy-administration system. The constant changes in the P&C insurance industry, in particular, demand that administration systems be agile and adaptable. 

In response, most policy-administration solution providers now highlight the “configurability” of their software. Common claims include speed to market with new products in days versus months, and configuration so easy even a business user can do it. But one needs to ask: Could configuration in the hands of business users be too much of a good thing?

There is no denying that an insurer’s business personnel—the underwriters, product managers and their supporting cast—have the closest connection to market opportunities. These people are asked to drive profitable growth and provide insight into how that growth will be achieved.

Then there’s IT. Even with a new policy system in place, many IT groups continue to be charged with managing a tangled mix of enterprise systems, using most of their time just to maintain them—with little remaining bandwidth to implement new functionality, let alone make nimble adjustments for market changes.

Many of today’s new breed of policy solutions promise to alleviate the frustration of both the business and IT organizations by placing configuration tools in the hands of business users for easy modification and adaptability. It sounds like the ideal option: to enable business users to control their own destiny, respond to opportunities and stay one step ahead of the competition. However, before an insurer makes business users responsible for system changes, it may want to perform a little due diligence.

First, what is a business user’s real objective? Is it direct control of the policy system and its product definitions? Or is it a desire for a much more responsive environment that enables the user to achieve business-driven objectives? How deeply should the user know (or care) about the intricate details of what needs to be done within the system and its product definitions to attain this goal?

Configurable solutions are still enterprise systems—and flexibility often means more complexity. Recognizing an opportunity and being able to act on it is business agility, while maintaining architectural and data integrity are just part of the foundation that make this agility sustainable and reliable.

The reality is that, for most insurers, the former is the forte of the business group and the latter the domain of IT. Should any one side dominate in its control, the challenges can stifle results. Consider empowering both sides to work collaboratively across their respective areas of strength to achieve the best results.

So, who should do what? The business group knows the market and understands the product nuances and adjustments required to take advantage of opportunities. IT understands the systems and the need for rigor and integrity.

When faced with an opportunity for change, the business side is the best suited to describe it, while IT is the best suited to implement it (not necessarily news to anyone, since this is how the groups are aligned today). However, the difference a modern policy system brings is that product configuration now enables change to be much more accessible and transparent across these disparate groups.

Perhaps the biggest area of benefit from this transparency is the significantly reduced “translation” gap. By enabling business users to see and understand products in the policy system, IT is now better able to interpret their intent and validate changes. No more time lost to misinterpretation! 

The answer to “who should do what” in a modern policy-system environment varies by insurer based on available skill sets.

Business or system analysts can now be empowered to make some of the needed product-definition changes using the system’s product-configuration tools without feeling dependent on their colleagues in IT. However, they will still need (and should actually want) IT involvement when the nature of the change impacts interactions with the company’s other systems, thereby ensuring that the integrity of the data generated by policy transactions is properly managed across all core systems.

Regardless of who physically makes the change in the system, validation and quality assurance for it becomes the responsibility of both groups, making change a collaborative effort between business and IT.

While the configuration capability offered with modern systems enables the organization to be responsive, configurability doesn’t necessarily transform the organization itself. Configurability does, however, provide the prospect of optimizing business and IT efforts to achieve organizational goals. And product configuration within modern policy systems can effectively remove the barriers between these two groups—for the benefit of all.

 

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