As expectations for modern web-enabled functionality grew among Union Mutual of Vermont's independent agent network, the Montpelier, Vt.-based insurer's legacy policy administration system struggled to keep up, recalls Gary Ouellette, VP of operations, technology and enterprise risk. What's more, he adds, Union Mutual faced sustainability issues with the legacy platform and underlying systems.
"We weren't confident that we could develop the feature sets our agents desired fast enough," says Ouellette. "Plus, we didn't know how extensive the sustainability issues would become."
After deciding to scrap the legacy system, in mid-2010 Union Mutual ($103 million in annual premium income) began seeking a suite-based solution. "We wanted to engage with only one vendor," Ouellette explains. Working with IPA Consulting, the carrier initially identified 15 options, narrowing the field to two by late 2010, he reports. Of those, Ouellette says, SurePower Innovation from San Jose, Calif.-based ISCS not only offered more advanced functionality and a deeper installed base, the vendor also pledged to meet Union Mutual's January 2012 target to begin phased rollouts.
Meeting this compressed timeline, Ouellette relates, necessitated using the agile development method -- a radical shift for Union Mutual, which traditionally relied on the sequential, waterfall model. Although IT stakeholders quickly grasped the concepts, business leaders required more coaching "to help them understand what 'agile' meant [functionally] in their world," Ouellette says.
Meanwhile, as the discovery and requirements phase proceeded in early 2011, Union Mutual prepared its fully virtualized server and storage environment to accommodate the ISCS software. "We added three blades to our HP [Redwood Shores, Calif.] ProLiant chassis and allocated 500 gigabytes on our Dell [Round Rock, Texas] EqualLogic SAN," notes Ouellette.
Adapting to Agile Development
According to Ouellette, it wasn't until development and implementation sprints commenced in mid-2011 that a true understanding of agile's concepts began to take shape. "It put functionality in our hands quickly," he says. But business users initially struggled with testing throughout, rather than once at the end of the project, requiring them to "engage continually and craft the product one step at a time," Ouellette adds. "This, in turn, required managers to shift workloads among team members to minimize impact on our business."
To smooth the way, Union Mutual leveraged its previously established project management office (PMO). "Having a strong and functional PMO was critical to a project of this size and magnitude," comments Ouellette.
But the deployment hit a few technological snags. "There were a few items that we didn't dive into deeply enough during the sales cycle," Ouellette admits, declining to identify the software's missing functionality. "We left the ISCS demos thinking, 'They have that ready to go.' But one reason we went with ISCS is their commitment to R&D, so they were able to build the required functionality within our deployment timeline."
Nontheless, by January 2012 Union Mutual's core commercial product in the state of Connecticut rolled out smoothly and on time. The next rollout, a month later, extended the line to all states in the insurer's book, Ouellette reports.
With the remaining commercial and all personal lines scheduled to go live throughout 2012, the benefits already are mounting, Ouellette notes. Beyond removing the operational risks and providing internal staff with automated workflows, the project propelled Union Mutual's agent and insured portals into the 21st century, he says. "We immediately met many of our strategic goals around ease of doing business with us. And agent feedback has been very positive, even among those who are less tech-savvy," Ouellette reveals.
Insureds, who now have personalized web landing pages, are equally enthusiastic, Ouellette says. "For them, the experience is night and day," he insists.
While the platform itself is exceeding expectations, the organizational impact of the new process also is critical, Ouellette emphasizes. "It's helping business users take ownership of systems and assisting IT with becoming more supportive of the business," he relates. "This cultural change is transformative. We'll definitely build on it, structurally, going forward."
[To read a case study about how Baltimore Life's Compliance Organization Shows the Value of Innovation, see related link.]
CASE STUDY SNAPSHOTCompany: Union Mutual of Vermont (Montpelier, Vt.; $103 million in annual premium income).
Lines of Business: P&C, personal and commercial lines.
Vendor/Technology: San Jose, Calif.-based ISCS's SurePower Innovation policy administration suite.
Challenge: Overhaul core systems to provide independent agents and policyholders with a modern web experience.