It should not be surprising that a company whose major customers are construction firms anticipated an economic downturn that began with the housing market. So when management at Raleigh, N.C.-based Builders Mutual Insurance Co. told CIO Graeme Boddy in 2007 that it expected economic slowdown to occur in the near future, he began building the business case not to clam up IT development, but to accelerate it.
"We didn't expect quite the precipitous drop that occurred, but we saw that the economy was going to decline quite dramatically," Boddy recalls. "The last thing we wanted to happen was to come out of the recession and be ready for business to grow, but be limited by our capabilities."
It was clear, Boddy says, that companies that were leaders in ease of doing business would be in the best position to recover quickly from the downturn. But the company's existing systems were not able to deliver the capabilities that it anticipated its agents would demand -- principally around e-commerce. Builders Mutual ($5.3 million in 2011 net income) executives and the board of directors unanimously agreed that the company would have to go through a full modernization effort to build a foundation for the post-recession economy.
A Portal Into the Future
Achieving this end state, Boddy explains, required a multipart project. First, the company had to convert its workers' compensation book -- about two-thirds of its total business -- from Falls Church, Va.-based CSC's Point 9 application to Point IN C.0. Once that was completed, all other lines -- including general liability, property, and package, among others -- were changed over. After all of the conversions were completed, it was time to bolt on e-commerce functionality for agents.
"The main thing that agents really wanted was to know very quickly if we were going to be playing in the e-commerce game," Boddy says. "We created a quick-quote capability that allowed them to enter the absolute minimum amount of information that we needed to provide a rough rate. Within two to three minutes, an agent would be able to know -- at least on workers' comp -- if our rate was going to be competitive."
Today, more than 40 percent of all new Builders Mutual business originates through the company's agency portal -- and that proportion is growing, reports Boddy, who says embracing e-commerce has led to major cultural changes across the Builders Mutual organization, from its agents' expectations to its customers' service needs. While this transition is ongoing, the company and its IT infrastructure need to support two different models for interaction and experience, he adds.
"Some of the younger, more tech-savvy agents are quite happy for the insurance company to have a relationship with the policyholder to offer things like billing capabilities, while others want to be the person who does everything on behalf of the policyholder because they feel that their secret sauce is a full-service offering," Boddy says. "And some of the policyholders themselves are very savvy and do a lot of their work electronically, while some are very paper-driven. We have to be able to offer capabilities for both."
As part of that customer-centric focus, Builders Mutual also recently implemented San Francisco-based Salesforce.com as the new platform for its call center. The software-as-a-service offering represents an early move for the company into the CRM realm, according to Boddy. He says the implementation came out of a strategy to build first a foundation for next-generation customer relations through advanced core systems, then make it easier for agents to do business, then upgrade the level of service for both agents and policyholders.
"We have a whole new service center that will do level one and two calls -- everything from answering queries to taking payments and doing the more simple problem solving," Boddy says. "If they can't do it, through our workflow system it will get to the right person in the right department to close that transaction down."
Boddy says he likes Salesforce because of the quality of its data model, its distinct agent and policyholder views, and its ability to link reasons for the service calls with information about policy and claims in the company's new data warehouse. "As an initial step into CRM, it allows us to significantly improve our service offering," he says. "The second step to that is moving into sales force automation and closing that CRM loop, and that's something we'll be doing next year."