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Evan McDonnell, Appian
Evan McDonnell, Appian
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Collaboration Tools for Insurers: Using Modern Business Processes to Unseat Tradition

Information exchange and collaboration is typically complicated within insurance companies.

The insurance industry is both dynamic and collaborative. Facts, people, products and regulations are constantly in motion. Sharing the latest information among co-workers, product owners, and outside parties is critically important. Unfortunately, technology used by insurers is typically exclusive rather than inclusive; information exchange and collaboration is complicated because of the segmentation of technology within the company.

For example, field sales people often use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, which is generally not integrated with home office systems, and not accessible by people outside of sales. Meanwhile, loss control services in the field use spreadsheets and word processing documents. These are not usually integrated with home office underwriting systems, and are not easily accessible other than by the author.

This electronically disconnected environment is a challenge to productivity and efficiency in the insurance industry. Decisions often happen slowly, which can lead to a disappointing customer experience. Despite efforts by the insurance industry to automate the flow of information and work tasks with collaborative technologies, none has really been fully successful.

Typical solutions and their limitations

Let’s look at some of the typical solutions used in the insurance industry – and where they fall short.

Email. E-mail often is used as a collaboration tool, not simply a communication platform. It’s of limited use in that way, however, because it doesn’t automatically provide necessary work context, and content may be incomplete or lacking altogether. To fill the context gap, more emails are sent.

[Previously from McDonnell: Automating Sales & Distribution in Life Insurance]

A further limitation to e-mail is that only those involved in the chain benefit from the embedded information and ideas. This can lead to inconsistent interpretations of policies, procedures, and processes when working to resolve a problem that cuts across business areas.

Instant messaging. Instant messaging (IM) is used as a “real-time” collaboration tool. It has the advantage of enabling brief and rapid exchanges of ideas and information. Still, IM faces the same limitations as e-mail: lack of content and context, and information sharing limited to only those involved in the exchange.

Content Management Systems. Collaboration through Content Management Systems (CMS), or other knowledge management technologies, can increase awareness across many more users than email or IM. But CMS and similar technologies typically are only useful to a department or work group. If the activity cuts across more than one department, it’s not easy to involve all the people driving the decision.

Additionally, publishing content in CMS assumes a fairly rigid context. It’s not easily adaptable to fluid circumstances, as when regulations or policies may change in the course of a transaction.

Enterprise social platforms. The goal of enterprise social platforms is to address the weaknesses of the preceding collaboration approaches. Many business have jumped on the bandwagon of these Facebook-like technologies.

Because these platforms are disconnected from other core systems, however, people must initiate communications if they are to add content and context. These are extra steps that undermine the supposed advantage of easy collaboration; as a result, adoption of enterprise social solutions within an organization is often slow.

Modern work platforms for knowledge management

Fortunately, modern work platforms are becoming increasingly popular for developing collaboration tools across an organization. This approach avoids the problems typically encountered in any of the technologies described above.

A modern work platform enables process- and work-related applications to be built for anyone involved in addressing a particular problem. This approach creates secure enterprise collaboration within and across functional areas of an organization. Applications built on modern work platforms can be deployed on all mobile devices natively, to improve collaboration and resolve problems more rapidly, for an overall better customer experience.

By using modern work platforms to develop applications that can be used in both mobile and enterprise settings, information and relevant tasks can be automatically routed to a person or to a group for work completion whether they are in the office or on the road.

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These tasks can be created by a system, such as a finance system that monitors dips in reserves. They also can be created by a person, such as a sales person looking for someone with experience in a particular type of account as part of an electronic case file.

The case file can provide links to graphs, documents, discussion streams, other related activities, and people responsible for the activity. Access to both contextual information and the content needed to fully understand the current condition, decisions and work products both can be completed more quickly.

Taking this approach to process-based problem solving works with the speed of business in the insurance industry. It makes the most of interactions between people, processes and technology to deliver value for your organization.

About the Author: Evan McDonnell is VP of Solutions for Appian. He can be reached at evan.mcdonnell@appian.com.

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KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
3/10/2014 | 1:20:30 PM
re: Collaboration Tools for Insurers: Using Modern Business Processes to Unseat Tradition
Thanks for your insights, Evan. Regardless of the technologies deployed I think we will be seeing some serious focus on enabling collaboration within the insurance industry, for a few reasons. First, it aligns with the intensified focus on innovation (creating a culture of innovation, spurring innovation, innovation that produces results not just rhetoric, etc.) in the industry -- there's a growing recognition that true innovation does not happen without meaningful collaboration. SMA's Mark Breading has written about this. Second (related), it also reflects the broader "consumerization of technology" trend that is reshaping the workplace. Millennials (but not exclusively them) are accustomed to crowd-sourcing, community interaction, sharing info, etc. and expect to have this kind of environment where they work. They do not appreciate impediments to collaboration.
Dan Randow
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Dan Randow,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2014 | 1:43:48 AM
re: Collaboration Tools for Insurers: Using Modern Business Processes to Unseat Tradition
Evan, I agree that e-mail is an often used, if not the most often used collaboration tool, and that it is of limited use in that way.

The challenge with email, however, is that it is very hard to pull people away from it. A better option in my view is to mitigate its problems using online groups. Google Groups and our own OnlineGroups.net are examples of these.

With online groups, all email is in a single place so it is much easier to discover the context of an individual message or file. In addition, it is easier to hold multiple concurrent conversations, to search old conversations, even for non-members if the permissions are set to support that.

Online groups do not of course provide an alternative to a case management or workflow system. Those kinds of systems are needed for structured information management. They do make email much more usable for unstructured information sharing.
Dan Randow
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Dan Randow,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2014 | 1:37:57 AM
re: Collaboration Tools for Insurers: Using Modern Business Processes to Unseat Tradition
Evan, I agree that e-mail is an often used, if not the most often used collaboration tool, and that it is of limited use in that way.

The challenge with email, however, is that it is very hard to pull people away from it. A better option in my view is to mitigate its problems using online groups. I explore this some more in http://onlinegroups.net/blog/2014/03/06/use-email-for-collaboration/

With online groups, all email is in a single place so it is much easier to discover the context of an individual message or file. In addition, it is easier to hold multiple concurrent conversations, to search old conversations, even for non-members if the permissions are set to support that.

There are some examples of this in the tour on our home page at OnlineGroups.net.

Online groups do not of course provide an alternative to a case management or workflow system. Those kinds of systems are needed for structured information management. They do make email much more usable for unstructured information sharing.
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