Simply put, an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) replaces paper files and documents in an office and enables users to send electronic documents through the same steps a paper document or file would follow. An EDMS is primarily used to increase efficiency and eliminate costly inconsistencies common in a paper-based process.
For instance, each new policy application most likely needs to be processed by multiple individuals before it is returned to the filing cabinet. A true EDMS not only provides storage, but must provide the same workflow capabilities. Along the way, it must also protect documents so that only authorized people can view, edit and/or delete them based on the individual’s access rights.
An example might be a client’s claim records. These records should be kept confidential and an audit trail kept of all access. The EDMS must be easy and straightforward to use and ideally integrate with other applications the office is already using with minimum effort.
Agents need to be as efficient as possible when dealing with clients and their associated paperwork and an EDMS can help a company streamline the document flow throughout the office. Below are the five most common ways an EDMS can help generate more profitability in an insurance agency.
No. 1: Instant Access
One of the largest benefits to using an EDMS is the ability to access documents (policies, claims, etc.) at any time, from anywhere. No more running back and forth to the file cabinet or asking an assistant to track down a relevant document. Think of the time savings that can be felt across the agency when it only takes seconds to find a policy.
With instant access, two users can work in the same client’s file simultaneously and have access to all relevant documentation. For example, an agent in the field can reference a client’s policy documents while an assistant works on processing a claim—using an EDMS allows multiple people to access to all of the documents at any time.
A web interface adds another layer of accessibility by allowing the user to look up documents from any computer, anywhere. There is no longer a need to make copies of and carry around briefcases full of policy documents.
If a client calls after hours or while a user is out of the office, documents can still be accessed and discussed on the spot. This secure and instant access of documents saves huge amounts of time and cuts down on call backs to clients as the documents can be pulled up while talking to the client on the phone.
No. 2: Electronic Workflow
Whether document workflow consists of processing client, staff, or vendor/provider documents and email, workflow occurs every single day. Realizing how often document workflow occurs each day, one begins to consider ways to improve and streamline the document workflow process so as to maximize time and cost savings.
The easiest way to implement electronic workflow is to select a software package that can mimic the way documents are currently routed physically. For instance, there could be a new policy workflow that follows a specific path. Similarly there could be a claims processing rule that has specific steps each claim must go through. Each of these steps should be audited by the EDMS to provide a method of seeing who used the documents.
No. 3: Search and Retrieval Capabilities
Most agencies store policy documents across three or four separate locations: centralized paper-based file cabinets, papers in an employee’s desk, folders on shared server drives, and local desktop hard drives.
As a result, multiple searches are often required when the exact location of a document is unknown. This is especially true when the person who created or filed the document is unavailable. Most companies try to centralize all filing to a single file room and a server, eliminating storing of business documents on local hard drives and file cabinets in people’s offices. This is usually the first step toward making the transition to an EDMS.
There are a variety of ways to search for electronic documents. Most EDMS use one or more of the following:
- Structural Search
Structural search is the method most closely related to the file cabinet/file folder approach because it relies on a consistent, hierarchical and controlled structure for storing documents. The best systems are able to emulate the physical filing world to make the transition to an EDMS more seamless for people who are accustomed to working with file cabinets, folders, index tabs, documents and even paper-clipped or stapled documents. Now, an assistant can log into the EDMS, select a particular cabinet, find and open a file, identify the required policy document and even email, fax or print the document to the client while they are on the phone.
- Keyword and Document Title Search
An EDMS allows users to index documents with a title and keywords. Those words can be
entered later in a search field and a list of documents associated with these words will be presented. The more words associated with a document the more specific the searches that can be performed. The fewer words, the more likely a longer list of documents will be returned from the search. Unique words in a document title or keyword can be used to produce very narrow searches. For example, searching for a specific policy number from a specific provider in the title of a document could result in immediately locating a single document, or searching for all policies from a specific provider could show an agent how many policies are underwritten by that provider.
- Full Text Search
Full Text Search (FTS) involves looking for a document based on a word or phrase that may be contained within. FTS first and foremost requires that documents contain text. An EDMS that provides full text search indexes the text contained in all the documents within a database. As documents are filed and indexed, they become searchable using the EDMS FTS feature. This is a straightforward process for documents like email, MS Word, MS Excel and other text-based documents. However, scanned documents do not contain text (a scanned document is an image) so they must be converted to a format that contains text and is searchable (i.e. searchable pdf). For example an agent could search for all life insurance policies from a specific provider. This type of information may be difficult to find via other methods.
No. 4: Integration with Other Office Applications
It is now possible for small and medium-sized agencies to achieve levels of application integration historically reserved for large corporate organizations with deep IT pockets. Specifically, now an EDMS can be integrated with other core firm applications to drive efficiency and manage IT costs.
One of the bigger problems agencies face is the need to enter the same data more than once to satisfy the requirements of different software applications such as a contact management system or an accounting software package. Frequently these applications do not communicate data with each other. As a result, data is entered twice, which take additional time and increases the possibility of data entry errors. Selecting an EDMS that can integrate with existing systems minimizes errors and maximizes efficiency.
No. 5: Disaster Recovery
According to research by the University of Texas, only 6 percent of companies suffering from a catastrophic data loss survive, while 43 percent never reopen and 51 percent close within two years.
- If you come to work one morning to find your office has been destroyed, would your business recover?
- Would you lose all of your paper policies?
- Are electronic documents that are scattered across many different workstations now useless?
- Have you lost valuable email messages?
- Where are your policy records?
- What would you do?
- How will you process claims if you and others are subject to a large natural disaster?
Paper documents stored in file cabinets are susceptible to fire and flood. You cannot recover a paper document that has been destroyed by a fire or a flood. But the problem goes beyond your paper files. Electronic documents stored on workstations and servers across your operation are equally vulnerable to catastrophic loss.
Nobody wants to think they might need to implement a disaster recovery plan, but proper planning could enable your agency to survive such a disaster. What processes do you have in place for backing up critical data? Consider where and how your paper documents are stored. Think about important electronic documents within your network. Now, lock the doors and walk away. How would your company reestablish operations? If you take that thought process and expand it and begin thinking about what you would need to resume operations then you have the beginnings of a disaster recovery plan.
Using an EDMS allows multiple backups to be stored at offsite locations providing a means to recover your data in the event of a disaster.
In the event of a disaster, the goal is to be able to quickly procure a temporary office, install computer systems and restore all required documents and information that enables a business to function. The biggest differentiator between a backup plan and a disaster recovery plan is maintaining a copy of your critical documents in an offsite location.
BONUS No. 6: Return on Investment (ROI)
An EDMS can be a very valuable tool for insurance agencies. Take a look around your office and plug in numbers that make sense for your agency and see what your ROI would be with this ROI calculator: http://www.cabinetng.com/downloads/ROI-Calculator.xls.