Next Level Solutions: Taking the SI Concept to a Higher Plane

Chris Sawyer, co-founder and CEO of NLS, talks with IIR about how a connection with Duck Creek expert Michael Smith led to the onshore/nearshore SI’s unique company culture.

(Chris Sawyer, co-founder and CEO, Next Level Solutions. Source: Next Level Solutions.)

Next Level Solutions (NLS; Springfield, Mo.) was founded in July 2018 after Chris Sawyer connected with Michael Smith while doing a system integration selection for a Duck Creek implementation for a client. Sawyer’s insurance experience came from a career that had started at Liberty Mutual (Boston), involved a stint at property/casualty insurance core system vendor Insurity (Hartford), and had arrived at an advisory firm called Premium Consulting (Portland, Me.). While seeking a systems integrator (SI), Sawyer found himself underwhelmed by the options, which he found all of a sameness. Smith, who worked for a different Duck Creek SI, was one of the integrators bidding on the work in question. Through this interaction, Sawyer concluded that Smith was an industry leader in Duck Creek experience and his expertise was exactly what he was looking for and needed to take the concept to the next level. The two recognized a void in the market that needed to be filled with an onshore owned and operated Duck Creek implementation partner. Following that conclusion, Sawyer and Smith began conceptualizing a business model that offered onshore/nearshore value proposition and that had other distinguishing characteristics that would differentiate them from the other SIs. Sawyer is now President and CEO of Next Level, and Michael Smith is COO and Managing Partner. IIR and Next Level connected recently in advance of the InsureTech Connect show in Las Vegas, and the author had a chance to connect directly with Chris Sawyer on the floor.

Insurance Innovation Reporter: Give us a quick recap of how the business has prospered since its founding in 2018. What would you cite as a significant milestone in the early days?

Chris Sawyer, President & CEO, Next Level Solutions: We’ve been in operations for four years, now. We signed a significant client in late 2019 that really helped skyrocket us into needing a much larger workforce. We gained additional customers through word-of-mouth and statements of work became longer and project scopes became larger. Today, we continue to hire additional employees to keep pace with the work we have coming in.

IIR: How does Next Level differentiate itself in the market?

Michael Smith, COO and Managing Partner, Next Level Solutions.

CS: We foster a collaborative work environment that promotes extensive training and ongoing learning. We have clear career paths laid out for all our employees–we make sure our people know what it will take for them to reach the next level on their journey with us. We’ve been named the Fastest Growing Company in Springfield [Missouri] two years in a row and have also made it to the list of Best Places to Work in 417. The nearshore difference is something that makes us special and sets us apart from the competition. Because all of our main offices are in the United States, Puerto Rico and Honduras, we’re able to jibe with the time zones that our clients work in. Most of our resources are working at the same time, meaning meetings happen seamlessly and collaboration happens organically. The amount of expertise we have is also unique—across our team, we have a combined 1,800 years of Duck Creek, insurance and software experience—making us a trusted source for clients needing a knowledgeable partner with lots of industry know-how.

IIR: Given your Duck Creek connections, I guess it’s not surprising that you have offices in both Springfield, Mo., and Columbia, S.C.

CS: Those locations are obviously very important for finding really experienced Duck Creek talent. Duck Creek has a major hub in Bolivar, MO—just 35 miles from Springfield—and Duck also had a main office in Columbia, S.C. prior to the COVID shutdowns. Springfield and Columbia are also great markets for other reasons: good cost of living and great universities, to name a couple. Remote work continues to be important for our growth, but we really value our presence in these locations. Our office in Springfield, MO houses about 150 employees, which makes for terrific collaboration, easy knowledge exchange and increased team morale.

IIR: Tell us how you ended up opening offices in Puerto Rico and Honduras.

CS: In brief: North American time zones! I visited Puerto Rico, kind of on a whim, and fell in love with the place. Part of our company’s purpose is to provide opportunities for people in places that they might not have otherwise. A majority of the technical talent in Puerto Rico has to relocate stateside to find a good job. NLS is looking to change that by offering quality jobs to the talented tech people that live in PR. The Honduras/Tegucigalpa office came about when NLS acquired TAG [The Americas Group Technologies]. We had a connection with the TAG owner who was already doing work on Duck Creek projects. The relationship made sense for both parties and still stayed true to our nearshore model.

IIR: What’s on Next Level’s agenda in terms of market activity, strategy? How would you describe where you’ve gotten to and what’s coming…next?

Chris Sawyer with Next Level Solutions colleagues Matt Benton and Vicki Treptow at the ITC show in Las Vegas. (Click to enlarge.)

CS: We’re looking to expand our inventory of offerings beyond just Duck Creek. Our client partners continue to ask us about growing our offerings to support their unique needs. We don’t end up supporting every ask, but many requests become full-scale offerings. Our industry knowledge, P&C focus, and technical expertise are the right recipe to deliver the solutions that companies in this industry are demanding.

We’ve also put a strong focus on onboarding new talent that will help our teams grow and give us the capacity to take on more clients and additional work and projects.

IIR: Since we’re meeting at ITC, what are your impressions of this year’s show? What has stood out, how have your interactions with participants been?

CS: This was our first year as a sponsor with a booth, which has really been a game-changer for us. Instead of our team wandering around, we were able to have a purposeful presence at the show. We had quite a bit of traffic at the booth, and we definitely had impactful conversations with potential partners and clients. With COVID finally fizzling out a bit, it was great to be back in person, in full swing. People seemed to be embracing the conference and the networking opportunities it presented. I think we’ve already booked our hotel rooms for next year.

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Anthony R. O’Donnell // Anthony O'Donnell is Executive Editor of Insurance Innovation Reporter. For nearly two decades, he has been an observer and commentator on the use of information technology in the insurance industry, following industry trends and writing about the use of IT across all sectors of the insurance industry. He can be reached at or (503) 936-2803.

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