(Boys judging prize heifers at 4 H Club Fair at Charleston, W. Va., in 1921. Photo credit: Lewis Hines.)
Every five years or so, the insurance industry changes course. Hard market, soft market. Keep the lights on, innovate. Build, buy. Outsource, in-house. Best-of-breed, suite.
Unlike with most politicians, some measure of this waffling is certainly beyond the control of insurers truly in the thick of it. However, other preferences reflect the uncertainty of markets and economies, the fluctuation of consumer expectations and demands, and what some may call downright desperation to stay ahead of the curve.
Technology has long been recognized as an enabler, and it definitely fills that role when planned for strategically and implemented well. But, as the industry has taken up the challenge of providing faster, better, more personalized service to consumers, the demand for technology to facilitate the necessary processes has increased as well. Core system modernization has become a top priority for insurers across all lines of business (LOBs). This means analyst firms and consultants are being engaged at a staggering (and expensive) rate to help spec out requirements, develop the request for proposal (RFP), and narrow things down to a very short list.
Interestingly, the biggest question for most insurers is not whether all of the core administration systems need to be replaced, but rather how and when is the best time to do it. Enterprise rip-and-replace projects traditionally come with a big stigma, a heavy dose of fear, and bit of skepticism as well. Can it be pulled off successfully? With advances in technology such as the move toward cloud for deployment, the incorporation of configuration tools which promote insurer self-sufficiency, and better implementation methodologies, the dark skies are definitely clearing.
Today’s most modern enterprise suites provide better integration, better functionality and better results than niche-focused solutions of the past. While suite components can, by and large, all be implemented individually, pre-integration, reliance on a single data repository, use of a common architecture, an ensured upgrade path, and common user interfaces mean these solutions still have a serious competitive edge over standalone systems. But, does this really mean there is no more need for best-of-breed?
Once famous for creating silos and building “kingdoms” within the enterprise, insurance technology has come a long way. Recognition that insurance processes could be completed faster, and with greater assurance of accuracy, if every relevant employee was looking at the same information, insurers are turning to enterprise suites as the solution of choice. The core administration (policy, billing and claims) components of most modern enterprise suites offer increased integration and conveniently draw information for customer service representatives (CSRs), agents and underwriters from a single data or document repository. Further, by building on similar workflows, user interfaces (UIs) and processes, enterprise suites minimize change management issues, and decrease downtime needed for training.
It’s pretty common to hear technology vendors talk about how their solutions let insurers concentrate on core competencies, but rarely is this turn of phrase actually applied to technology vendors. Insurance suites of the past typically built out full, robust functionality for core administration processes, but only invested in the bare minimum when it came to supporting processes, functions and components. The best enterprise suites available today not only handle, but excel at, providing functionality for peripheral processes which support core administration, including reinsurance, underwriting, document/content management, accounting/general ledger, agent/producer and consumer portals. This depth of functionality was once only available to insurers through best-of-breed solutions, but now only highly-customized situations and processes require such niche-focused systems.
Even though everyone suspects it’s a much higher number, best guesses throughout the industry say that insurers replace core administration systems only once every eight to ten years. That low frequency hardly allows internal IT staff to gain any kind of proficiency in implementation methodologies or change management. The tightly-integrated nature of suite components eases implementation challenges measurably, and at the end of the day, once you get into a groove, why get out? By taking advantage of teams already established for one replacement project for another, insurers can lessen business interruption significantly. Plus, using an agile implementation methodology which incorporates iterative releases will eliminate the scope creep and missed expectations inherent to waterfall projects.
Five or ten years ago, it may have been necessary to buy a best-of-breed technology solution to get functionality specific to a certain LOB or process. However, modern enterprise suites, whether implemented together or individually, today offer the same robust functionality once offered only by best-of-breed solutions, but with better integration, faster access to critical data, significantly easier upgrades, and ultimately, better results.