Data Storm

A surge in content is forcing insurers to re-examine their ECM solutions.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has made life easier for insurance carriers for most of the 21st century, but as content has changed—and the way insurers do business has changed as well—it seems fair to wonder what lies next for an industry where content remains king, even if that content doesn’t resemble what ECM solutions were initially designed to manage.

“I heard someone say that carriers are building digital landfills—that paints a pretty good picture—literally a dumping ground for all this information,” says Frank Petersmark, CIO Advocate for X by 2. “Most of it—90 percent—is unstructured. Early ECM platforms didn’t have unstructured data in mind, which is why vendors are trying to scramble right now.”

Insurers need a place to aggregate all their content and give users a front end to create their repots.

“I’m oversimplifying, but that was the core design principle for ECM platforms,” says Petersmark. “In my view they got that wrong because the user interfaces were too complicated for business people. They didn’t architect their solutions to handle the amount of unstructured data that is flowing in.”

One of the consequences of that situation is that many insurers have more than one ECM platforms, explains Petersmark, with some carriers using them as point solutions.

“The main issue is people still don’t get what they want,” he says. “Information is so ubiquitous because of the Internet. People go outside the bounds of the company to get the information they need. ECM platforms aren’t quite filling the role they need to fill for insurance companies.”

Multiple Systems

Petersmark doesn’t believe having more than one ECM systems is a major issue in insurance, but he does see situations where many insurers have not leveraged their ECM platform strategically.

“It is either driven by one business position or by IT and becomes not much more than a point solution rather than being part of a strategic plan,” says Petersmark. “There are business divisions that say ECM won’t work for them and it is better solution for claims but not underwriting. A lot of that goes on. Some believe ECM takes too long to implement. It’s not quite ERP, but that’s not the worst analogy in the world either.”

Grange Insurance considered a second ECM solution to service the needs of its customers for items such as dec pages and ID cards. The carrier’s independent agents have a document server, but those documents are filed and indexed by Grange, with a copy going into the ECM system, according to Andrew Eastwood, assistant vice president of computer services, Grange Insurance.

“We thought about using one place for those documents, but it hasn’t been a priority for us and [the solution] is working well the way it is,” says Eastwood. “We have different requirements for agents and customers. Potentially we could merge the two, but the maintenance of the claims file base is not a whole lot of work, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

There may come a time where Grange puts everything through Content Manager, its ECM solution from IBM, but Eastwood explains the problem is the system has different proprietary interfaces and Grange would have to build an interface to expose documents the customers want because they couldn’t use a fat-client tool to search for documents.

“We wouldn’t want to expose that to customers or agents; we would want to build a simpler interface that would allow them to access their documents,” he says.

ECM platforms were designed for structures where people would end up using the print mode, points out Petersmark. He believes that is another area of transition where ECM vendors are playing catch-up.

“A lot of people jumped on the ECM bandwagon as part of a governance effort,” he says. “Companies looked at ECM as a way to get a handle on all the information they had. For governance and common sense reasons, if they need to produce something for insurance commissioners, insurers sometimes have trouble finding all their content.”

Petersmark also believes there is a different mindset when aggregating information that becomes actionable for people and allows them to make the kinds of operational decisions they need to make.

“It’s all part of the transition,” he says. “Just from talking to a few ECM vendors over the past year, it started as governance and controlling a repository, but the trend has been to make ECM platforms more collaborative. Think along the lines of SharePoint and Google Docs. It’s a way for people to interact with the information and with each other using the information. The first ECM platforms didn’t have that built into them.”

Even a decade after the implementation of the ImageRight ECM system for claims (now owned by Vertafore) for the Western World Insurance Group “it’s the center of our universe,” says Thad DeBerry, senior vice president of Western World.

Over the years, the system has been highly customized, according to DeBerry, and more changes are coming. As the result of implementing a new claims system, Western World is in the process of pulling out a lot of the workflow capabilities that went into the solution.

“As our legacy systems are being replaced, the newer systems have much stronger workflow control, we are using the ECM environment more for true document management,” he says.

Claims Handling

Claims departments have been one of the traditional beneficiaries of ECM and DeBerry reports that is where Western World started.

“To effectively manage our claims files 10-plus years ago, having it done in paper was a nightmare,” he says. “Being able to structure content in a meaningful way—to find and react to things—was huge for us.

Western World is in the middle of implementing a new claims system and DeBerry learned some newer systems have their own content management systems.

“Where we draw the line is workflow vs. document management,” he says. “We are going to leave the document management in ImageRight because there is so much integration built with the policy side. However, we are pulling just about all of the workflow out of that environment and utilizing the new claims system.”

Western World already does this with data warehousing and its policy system, where there are hooks back into the document management files for both policy and claims.

“For example, there is a coverage change process within the new claims process, so the diary goes to an examiner who says this policy changed and here is the change that occurred and here is a link that will bring up that policy file for you in ImageRight,” he says.

Unstructured Data

The volume and diversity of content are creating different challenges for insurers, but DeBerry believes it has been something Western World has been able to meet head-on.

“Just starting with the most basic—volume—when we have to put together plans for backup and storage—blocking and tackling type things—the volume has grown so much that we’ve had to re-think and re-engineer the way we do things to protect everything that comes in,” he says. “As [the content] has grown, we’ve had to implement archiving so we have a set of images based on various parameters that are active and those that are archived.”

One problem Western World deals with is retrieving archived content.

“It is less efficient than when [the content] is active,” says DeBerry. “It has an impact on the ability we have to service customers. If [customer service representatives] are on the phone with someone and try to bring up a document that is archived, it can be a challenge.”

On the claims side, when an adjuster or others associated with the claim enter a recorded statement or something associated with the claim, Grange has a call reporting system on its telephones and within the claims system,. So CSRs can tag the recording for the particular claim.

“We tell the customer that we are recording it and it will be automatically placed into the claims file,” says Eastwood. “Our imaging department takes any document coming into the building and categorizes and indexes those documents.”

Grange also uses a product from Captiva called InputAccel, so any fax or email can be indexed and associated with a claim. Anything outside of that can also be manually indexed.

“We are now looking at advanced capture where we can look at a document and pull out various fields or forms and any metadata associated with a claim or business area and send those documents to the right place,” says Eastwood.

The great thing about the IBM system, in Eastwood’s eyes, is it has been widely adopted in the industry and needs just one administrator to run it.

“It has really freed us from a lot of paper and other ways of storing documents and data,” he says. “It is widely used throughout the company; even to the extent the business side uses it for invoices and payments. A lot of companies end up with a hodgepodge solution and we are lucky here at Grange that we selected [a solution] and stuck with it. IBM has been supportive and it has become a real enterprise solution for us.”

Western World is spending more time of late integrating unstructured data and DeBerry points out there are issues with incompatibility—particularly tools that are available to some of the claims and underwriting staff.

“They may not be able to handle some of the formats for things like an audio file,” he says. “We have a room we’ve tried to equip with just about any piece of software or equipment we think might be needed to handle the various formats. It has hurt our efficiency because we can’t equip every desktop with every tool for the different formats. The key is we are able to effectively manage making people know what is available. If there is a certain format of an audio that comes in, they can at least go somewhere and listen to it.”

Customer Service

Western World has an agent portal for claims so customers can come in and see certain documents.

“We call them case analysis stories—a nice, concise look at where a claim stands at a given time,” says DeBerry. “It gives financials and updates on how things are progressing. Just about all of that information is sitting in our document management system, however the content is not easily accessible in a secure fashion to present to our customers through the portal.”

There is a stage of compiling information that is already sitting in the system and the carrier reformats it to make sure it is presentable to the outside world.

“When we started using ECM a little over 10 years ago, we did not envision having an agent portal or some of that information accessible,” he says. “There are limitations to the tool that don’t easily allow us to segregate publicly-accessible information and present it in a way that is acceptable for us to hand over through the portal.”

Customer service has improved significantly for Grange Insurance, according to Eastwood. In claims, which remains paper-intensive, Grange receives documents and letters that call for correspondence with claimants and attorneys.

“It’s document intensive,” says Eastwood. “We fully integrated our ECM solution with our claims solution so when a claimant or anyone associated with a claim contacts us we can bring out any document associated with the claim instantly, including recorded statements. As the claim goes through its lifecycle, including litigation, the documents are available for attorneys.”

There are index classes that include metadata within the ECM solution that are associated with each document, points out Eastwood, so representatives can access the data from outside the application or within the application.

Purging Documents

Grange has only one ECM solution, IBM Content Manager, and Eastwood reports performance has never been an issue for the carrier.

“We haven’t seen much degradation of performance on any front and we are nearing 100 million documents in our repository and adding nearly 15 million documents a year,” he says.

Grange actively purges documents, using a set of document retention regulations and policies that follow the industry regulations and legal needs.

“For a lot of companies, purging documents is an afterthought, but we have been doing it for some time,” says Eastwood. “We monitor regulations to make sure we are in compliance. We don’t end up with a lot of orphan documents.”

The purge function is fed by multiple external systems. With the policy management system, when policies are retired, a file is created and that file is processed throughout the ECM. It’s not tied to the data warehouse, which is more for reporting and for unstructured data.

If there is a long-tail claim, such as workers’ compensation, it will remain in the claims system for as long as needed, explains Eastwood. The claims system creates a purge file when the claim needs to be purged and it goes into the purge process within the ECM.

The purging of old content is not on Western World’s radar, according to DeBerry. Through archiving and more sophisticated tools for backup or storage replication, the carrier started real-time replication of its images from the database earlier this year. That’s been significant improvement for Western World as it has enhanced the way the carrier does things, according to DeBerry.

Needs Are Changing

Today, the needs are different for insurers and the content is different as well. Initially, ECM platforms were marketed to insurance carriers and the insurance customers were internal insurance people. There wasn’t as much thought about the content needs for their agents, explains Petersmark.

“Most companies bought an ECM platform and started to aggregate content and now—for their agents—they are creating a portal outside the ECM platform,” he says. “The ECM platform would become part of that portal, but it wouldn’t be a core entity. Frankly, that just added another layer. [Insurers] would be smart if they started to think about something that works for the triangle—from insurance carrier to agency to probably some regulatory entity so that all three parties can work with it. There are different needs, which is why companies had to build something for the agents.”

Petersmark wonders if the love affair between carriers and their portals might begin to wane as social media takes a more mainstream position in the industry.

“I am amazed at how much gets done these days by text messaging,” he says. One way to look at it is if ECM vendors had done a better job conceiving what they wanted to do up front, they could have been many things to carriers. They didn’t though, which is why you saw over the past several years component technologies—things that could have been in ECM packages—like workflow, imaging, and records management. Not that some of those things weren’t available in an ECM platform, but the platforms didn’t do a good job of utilizing them so new vendors came in the market and specialized in those things. A lot of companies still use portals, but I think there is going to become something even simpler for carriers and agents, not quite Facebook—which is a little too familiar—but something in between that someone will come up with.”

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