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Enterprise Content Management: Insurers Aim to Connect the Silos

A project-oriented approach to enterprise content management has solved immediate needs for many insurers. Now, the paradigm is shifting.

Also see these related articles: In Context: Competitive Pressures Drive The Hartford to ECM

In Context: BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota Centralizes Governance

In Context: Grinnell Mutual Re Addresses Compliance Risk

In Context: AmFed Steps Up to ECM

Few would deny a disconnect has existed between the promise of enterprise content management (ECM) and actual solutions, which often fail to go beyond digitizing paper processes. Nonetheless, many insurers' business units have implemented ECM piecemeal to meet real and immediate needs. Now the trend is shifting toward connecting those silos, and the new ECM debate is becoming: What is the best way to proceed?

"Thus far, it's true that most organizations have deployed ECM in mission-critical, process-specific implementations," says John Mancini, president of AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management (Silver Spring, Md.). "Of those, insurers have been early adopters. And, over the past couple of years, there's been a shift toward knitting those systems together."

In fact, according to the results of AIIM's 2008 ECM survey, the insurance industry again may be leading the way. While none of the insurance respondents said they lack either content automation or a deployment plan, a full 35 percent are undertaking full-scale enterprise ECM efforts. By contrast, 4 percent of respondents across all industries said they are completely without content automation, and only 30 percent are presently deploying ECM enterprisewide (see related chart, page 39).

The move to a more integrated approach is being driven by a convergence of four primary factors:

  • Industry-specific compliance-related concerns;
  • Elevation of electronic communications to the same level as paper by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP);
  • ECM technology maturity, making it accessible to organizations across the size spectrum;
  • Competitive pressures related to the Web's universal elevation of service expectations.

Of those drivers, understanding of the final one is most important for successful enterprise content management deployment. "The insuring public doesn't compartmentalize the industry the way we do," notes Karen Pauli, a TowerGroup (Needham, Mass.)research director. "People are tired of providing the same organization with their basic information dozens of times. It's increasingly difficult for them to understand why they can't just give it to us once."

However, leveraging this concept goes beyond better tools for managing a customer's contact info. The point is to utilize data from every touchpoint with customers, including among employees, says Jeff Goldberg, a New York-based Celent insurance analyst. "Competitive advantage comes from the content itself."

Insurers have undervalued their information assets, agrees Gartner (Stamford, Conn.) ECM analyst Toby Bell. "But you can't just add technology, or rip and replace. You must develop a strategy based on business outcomes, with clear success measures, long before issuing RFPs."

The Critical Steps

Effective transitions to ECM begin with the formation of a cross-functional ECM strategy team, drawn from business units and IT, with executive-level leadership. "Those who successfully pull off ECM have an executive responsible for championing, and ac-tively managing, the overall strategy," says TowerGroup's Pauli. "And there must be ongoing executive-level enforcement."

Next, it is critical to ensure that everyone is clear that ECM is about managing processes, not documents. "Documents are just one component," emphasizes Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, a Gartner insurance analyst. "ECM is about content and harnessing the data within it, including IMs, call logs, digital photos, video and, increasingly, even voicemail."

With these foundations laid, the most important task is developing a governance structure, or taxonomy. Bypassing this step is the top ECM deal killer. "You'll never have all of your content creators in the same room, all of the time," stresses Celent's Goldberg. "Therefore, having a common taxonomy is critical to efficiently storing and retrieving content."

An equally critical task is breaking the transition into smaller phases. This ensures repeatable successes, which, in turn, creates a viral embrace of the new tools and processes. In other words, change management is a significant strategy component. "In fact, insurance companies are just coming to grips with the scale of business change," notes Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a principal at Silver Spring, Md.-based analyst firm CMS Watch.

Wisdom From the Front Lines

That said, insurers still may have an edge in ECM deployment. "Traditional insurers hold an advantage over the long term," says Sascha Ohler, senior project manager, financial services solutions, for ECM vendor Perceptive Software (Shawnee, Kan.). "Since they've typically been in business longer, they have access to more customer-related data that's also more accurate."

Essentially, what many insurers sometimes lack is agility, points out Andy MacMillan, vice president of product management, Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.). "In short, an enterprise ECM implementation enables agility by offering faster, more accurate access to information."

But achieving agility comes back to strategy, says Jason King, financial services director for Hyland Software (Westlake, Ohio). "A common mistake we see is incomplete planning, particularly leaving out training, cultural adoption and long-term goals. Also, within every phase, building in open and bidirectional communication mechanisms is key to ROI."

And no strategy is complete without intermediate targets, emphasizes Lubor Ptacek, a senior product marketing director for Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC. "We've observed that having multiple milestones gives organizations places to pause, re-examine and fine-tune," he says. "Otherwise, it's like aiming for a moon landing but finding out, too late, that you're flying toward the sun."

With an enterprise strategy set, vendor evaluations can begin. There are several industry trends that carriers need to take into account as they begin this process. First, the ongoing mergers of ECM vendors with major infrastructure players -- such as EMC's acquisition of Document Sciences and HP's purchase of Exstream Software -- can be good news. For carriers wishing to leverage their relationships with EMC, IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) or Oracle, those vendors now have, or are integrating, enterprise ECM leaders.

While mergers make headlines, the ongoing maturing of content management technology stands to benefit all insurers. "The really good news is the existence of many choices in the marketplace, from packaged to hosted solutions, for carriers across the size spectrum," says TowerGroup's Pauli.

Another notable phenomenon is the popularity of Microsoft's (Redmond, Wash.) collaboration tool, SharePoint. "SharePoint fixes collaboration problems now, which is attractive," notes Gartner's Bell. "However, you must develop governance and management strategies, or anarchy results. In other words, SharePoint may have a viable place, but it creates silos unless it's tightly controlled."

Regardless of the strategy or tools an insurance company chooses, the most important thing is getting started. "No leading organizations are leaving content management up to departments anymore," says AIIM's Mancini. "Only those who begin laying the groundwork for an enterprise ECM strategy now will be more competitive in the future."

The related "In Context" reports (see links at top of page) examine how four insurance companies have embarked on the journey to enterprise content management.

Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio

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