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MiddleOak Policy Admin Revamp Kick-Starts the Business

A new policy admin system helps transform MiddleOak's internal processes, speeds time to market, and enables leveraging data and analytics.

While hammering out a commercial habitation expansion strategy in late 2010, Middletown, Conn.-based MiddleOak determined its legacy policy administration system couldn’t keep up. “The system’s capabilities were unable to keep pace with the business demand and was hampering our ability to grow as we desired,” recalls Sean Sweeney, senior VP of IT for the personal, commercial, and specialty P&C insurer. “It also lacked capabilities for handling large policies.”

MiddleOak (affiliated with Bloomington, Ill.-headquartered Country Financial, $15 billion in total assets) began its policy admin evaluation in 2011 with six contenders, which it narrowed to three. In the process, the insurer discovered advantages to skipping the initial wave of modernizations.

Sean Sweeney, MiddleOak
Sean Sweeney, MiddleOak

“Just a few years ago, new platforms required considerable customization,” notes Vern Abbott, MiddleOak’s VP of IT. “Now, such solutions contain tool sets enabling company-specific configurations that avoid the complexity of customization, which is especially critical for efficient maintenance and upgrades.”

After further scrutiny, PolicyCenter by Guidewire Software of San Mateo, Calif., rose to the top. “It provided a system we could maintain ourselves, enabling us to speed time to market,” says Sweeney.

Also, policy admin comprised only a portion of the overall initiative. Other key technology adoptions occurring concurrently included document and content management as well as rating and building valuation software.

“Each of those deployments was more significant efforts than our 20-person IT staff had undertaken before,” says Abbott. “This made Guidewire’s strong consulting services, implementation methodology, and knowledge transfer capabilities important considerations for selecting them as our policy administration partner.”

With a contract inked in January 2012, a core implementation team of about 20 business, IT, and Guidewire representatives was formed. The implementation team divided the project into two parallel tracks: one for design and configuration, the other for systems integration.

Over the life of the project, approximately 300 people would play a role, including about 15 agencies spread across the states designated for the first of three rollout phases. The core team also coordinated with the Country Financial IT organization, which invested in a new virtualized server farm to house MiddleOak’s various new systems.

Agile lends to success
In a first for MiddleOak, much of the PolicyCenter deployment used agile methodology. “During the early sprints specific developers and business analysts formed such tight bonds they wanted to continue working together,” Abbott says. “To help keep enthusiasm levels high, we formed micro-teams within the larger effort to accommodate these requests.”

By November 2013 the new platform rolled out successfully to the first four states. “Positive feedback from our agency network and our internal employees came in immediately,” says Sweeney. “This continued as we launched an additional 10 states in January of 2014 and another 18 in February, for a total of 32.”

Unsurprisingly, the initiative has been transformative. “Before, our discussions with the business centered on how long it would take to make even small adjustments. Today, with changes occurring within minutes instead of weeks, discussions are about how we leverage data and analytics -- which were unavailable to us before -- to take advantage of market opportunities.”

Additionally, re-engineering business processes and workflows end-to-end has boosted output efficiency and quality. “Employees who previously were dedicated to mundane tracking activities are now performing the higher-value work involved with risk valuation and underwriting,” explains Sweeney. “This gives them a positive career path.”

The new system has also impacted distribution heavily. “Although we expected about a 50% adoption rate for our automated underwriting portal, it’s now over 70% and continues to increase,” says Abbott. “So, as we look toward 2015, our primary enhancements are around agent entry and workflows to keep that momentum going.”

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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Anne Gabriel (Old Acct)
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Anne Gabriel (Old Acct),
User Rank: Apprentice
10/30/2014 | 5:29:31 PM
Re: high adoption rates
Nate, my apologies for how I presented the information - they did expect high adoption rates over time. It was the strength of the immediate adoption that was surprising. So, essentially, MiddleOak is achieving ROI faster than anticipated.
Anne Gabriel (Old Acct)
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Anne Gabriel (Old Acct),
User Rank: Apprentice
10/30/2014 | 5:21:27 PM
Re: high adoption rates
Indeed, MiddleOak was surprised by the adoption strength within such a short period of time. While they pursued the typical course of including agencies in the design and testing sprints, Middle expected more resistence to change that would ease over time and boost adoption. However, the ability to receive an immediate pricing indicator appears to be more attractive than MiddleOak's agent research previously suggested.
Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2014 | 1:15:10 PM
Re: high adoption rates
Yes, it's interesting that they only expected half of potential users to try it. Makes it difficult to calculate ROI from a project if you are thinking like that. At least it seems to have paid off and more.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2014 | 10:50:29 AM
high adoption rates
A 70% adoption rate is really great! One problem many organizations they have with new systems and apps is getting the users (either internal employees or external) to start using the application. Do you have any insight what they did to get a 70% adoption rate?
Anne Gabriel (Old Acct)
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Anne Gabriel (Old Acct),
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2014 | 4:53:14 PM
Re: Agile modernization
Yes, Kelly, that's a very good point. MiddleOak officials stressed how exciting it is to be focused on leveraging information provided by the new system rather than how long it will take to make system patches.  Further, it was difficult to fully appreciate the magnitude of this benefit until the new solution was in place. Core transformations are, by nature, disruptive but, as MiddleOak discovered, the end result can be so much greater than the sum of the parts.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
10/29/2014 | 4:16:05 PM
Re: Agile modernization
So true, the right planning is essential to taking on this kind of project. I also noticed you mentioned the improvement of business/IT collaboration at MiddleOak - another benefit of Agile methodology. Now that those teams can implement small changes faster, they have more time to discuss adoption of new technologies. 
Anne Gabriel (Old Acct)
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Anne Gabriel (Old Acct),
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2014 | 11:51:27 AM
Re: Agile modernization
Thank you, Kelly! Indeed, I've observed that systems modernization is becoming much more about planning and design than in the past, when data center integration was the trickiest part of the transformation process. Also, in my discussions with insurers, agile methodology is really being embraced, as deployments that are completely waterfall seem rarer these days. That's not to say waterfall is non-existent, just  not the overwhelmingly-dominiant methodology among industry leaders.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
10/29/2014 | 11:32:17 AM
Agile modernization
Interesting story, Anne, thanks for sharing. This is a good example of how organized planning can lead to effective modernization - MiddleOak took the time to create dedicated teams for system design and integration, which undoubtedly helped the process move faster. I've also been hearing a lot of great things about the Agile methodology; glad to see MiddleOak also had success with it. 
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