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Interview: Inside Sentry's Digital Interactive Team

The insurer's director of digital interactive tells Insurance & Technology why user experience is a priority for the company.

Sentry Insurance (Stevens Point, Wisc.) introduced a mobile version of its risk management portal earlier this year. The project, like many, originated with the insurer's Digital Interactive Team, which was carved out of IT about two and a half years ago under the direction of Jeffrey Sanner, who had been director of architecture.

"We added a group for user experience specifically and it definitely made changes in how we perceived our solutions," Sanner says. "If you have 10 people that don't know where the button is that you thought was so easy to see, you've got a problem."

Traditionally, requests for new technology were brought to IT from the business without much background. But members of the interactive team sit in on agent meetings and other places where new technology solutions were being discussed so they could determine the true need and best plan of attack, Sanner says.

"What's happened is sort of a change in the way we run projects," he explains. "We're going on sales calls, watching what they do with the agents. That higher touch gives us the ability to draw some conclusions where we can connect the dots between some solutions happening within IT and industry trends" for user experience.

But, he adds, a lot of this work is only possible because of prudent legacy system replacement activity. It was a claims system revamp, for example, that enabled the risk management portal to deliver the user experience on PC or mobile that customers demanded.

"We had heard that some people didn't want to do business with us because of our risk management dashboard, but the claims solution was replaces a couple years ago that set the stage for a better data management approach," he explains. "The updates from that system goes into an operational data store and now if I want to get a report on the number of claims that happened yesterday, I can get text alerts or e-mail alerts."

And reinforcing the importance of the team is a focus on data and metrics that establish clearly the value of easy-to-use technology solutions for all stakeholders.

"These solutions we actually conduct usability studies on; sometimes we work with third-party companies," he says. "We're getting good executive sponsorship from business areas and [the CIO], and have gotten a lot of good feedback from that approach."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/14/2013 | 10:42:06 AM
re: Interview: Inside Sentry's Digital Interactive Team
Very few financial companies seem to do this (get developers out to see how users work with the technology). As Kathy mentions, firms talk about it but few actually do it. Many firms have developers sitting with business people internally, but it seems that only a handful of companies have actually sent their developers out into the field.
Nathan Golia
Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Author
10/13/2013 | 8:04:56 PM
re: Interview: Inside Sentry's Digital Interactive Team
Well, by the time they were accompanying the agents, they weren't just architecture folks Gă÷ they were tasked specifically with finding ways to improve UX. But what stands out is that they didn't have to ask to go along Gă÷ it was part of the strategy in building that team from the beginning.
User Rank: Author
10/12/2013 | 1:56:50 AM
re: Interview: Inside Sentry's Digital Interactive Team
This is a great example of a company that is going beyond the rhetoric on the old saw about "IT/business alignment" --I'm impressed that IT/architecture folks accompanied agents on sales calls. That must have been a reality check, but a very productive one.
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