Like many insurance producers, agents for Baltimore-based home services life and health insurer Monumental Life Insurance ($650 million in in-force premium) often travel to clients' homes to provide service. Key to the success of their efforts is the reliability of their mobile offices, in the form of laptop computers, according to Sandy Campbell, Monumental's assistant VP, technology and training support.
Agents' laptops tend to be subjected to more than normal wear and tear. For example, Campbell says, "Agents will be in a home and a child will run by the table and knock [the laptop] over." Though the company leases the units to agents, it pays for replacements and repairs. As a result, the insurer buys more than 3,000 new machines every three to three-and-a-half years, according to Campbell.
However, quality issues with existing machines forced Monumental to accelerate its recent replacement cycle. Hardware failures were running about 35 a day by early 2004, Campbell notes. Many of the problems were due to poor cabling between the laptops and their screens, a defect the manufacturer (which Campbell declines to name) acknowledged, and faulty hinges. "We were constantly replacing the screens at high cost," Campbell says. "We could have bought extended warranties, but that would have cost us $350,000 a quarter."
When laptops fail, Monumental's agents contact its technical support partner, Future Tech Enterprise (Holbrook, N.Y.), to secure replacements. Agents often lost more than a day's worth of work by the time the new machines arrived and were set up, according to Campbell. Worse, it was not uncommon for the replacements to be damaged in shipping, she adds.
Monumental began searching for a new supplier in March 2004. The company examined IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) ThinkPads, Panasonic (Secaucus, N.J.) Toughbooks and the legacy manufacturer's newest model. All were stress tested by a Future Tech executive who, Campbell insists, stood on them, poured water on them and dropped them repeatedly.
Both the Panasonic and IBM laptops withstood the punishment, but the IBM models were less expensive, Campbell notes. Campbell particularly liked IBM's active hard drive protection feature, which enables the devices to continue working after being dropped. "Our programmers were very impressed by the amount of infrastructure developed by IBM and built into the laptops," she says. (IBM's personal computer division was acquired by Lenovo, which has U.S. headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., in May 2005.)
At a cost of more than $4 million, Monumental replaced its legacy machines with ThinkPads in June 2004. The insurer had to make a few minor changes to existing systems because the ThinkPads run Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Windows XP, rather than the Windows 2000 operating system, Campbell notes. Among the changes, Monumental adapted its proprietary dial-in program.
A year into the installation, repairs were down to three to four a day, Campbell relates. And, the new laptops are faster than their predecessors, she adds, shaving start-up time by 10 to 15 seconds. Though that may not seem like much time, Campbell says, it makes a difference to clients and agents who are waiting to get down to business.
Case Study Profile
Monumental Life (Baltimore; $650 million in in-force premium).
Lines Of Business
Life and health.
IBM (Armonk, N.Y.)/Lenovo (Purchase, N.Y.) ThinkPads.
Provide more-reliable laptops for agents.