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Best’s Balancing Act

UnumProvident CIO Bob Best Integrates more than 20 product-oriented systems into two customer-based growth engines.

The task of connecting the product-based systems of four fairly recently merged companies into unified customer-based systems could leave anyone feeling they're doing the job of four. But it's not enough to faze UnumProvident's technology chief. Bob Best, chief information officer, UnumProvident ($40.3 billion in assets, Portland, ME, and Chattanooga,TN), is getting closer to his goal of consolidating systems in order to present UnumProvident—underwriter of individual and group disability, long- and short-term group life, long-term care and voluntary products-to customers as one company with multiple offerings.

The result of strategic mergers to form what is today the leader in disability insurance, UnumProvident is a hybrid of the 1999 mergers of Portland-based Unum and Chatanooga-based Provident, as well as Colonial Life and Accident (Columbia, SC) and Paul Revere (Worcester, MA). Each company, according to Best, brought with it different products. "That drives IT to keep integrating and building to scale to support growth," he explains.

Legacy Reduction

Currently, there are several reengineering efforts going on around the company. "Internally we are reducing legacy systems," Best explains. "Post-merger, we were left with more product-oriented systems that we have since migrated toward what we call 'growth engines.'"

Over the past three years, Best and his IT team have been aggressively building and consolidating different administrative systems into two such growth engines, or platforms. "Instead of ending up with 25 or 30 product-oriented systems, we will have about two growth engines," he explains. According to Best, one will be dedicated to traditional group business and the other to individual and worksite-oriented business. "Both are legacy-based but are being redesigned and re-architected for Web-based services, higher growth capacity and other needs as we fold in our lines of business from their existing platforms," he says.

Another consolidation project at UnumProvident involved the telephony systems of the pre-merger companies. They were consolidated on a G3 Lucent (Murray Hill, NJ) switch. "We have about 500 people in our call center," says Best. "And now, even though we have primary people in Maine, Tennessee and California, they are all connected."

The telephony system was useful on September 11. "In less than 24 hours, we had 40 call center agents up and running on a 24/7 help desk, so our customers could have their questions answered," Best says. "Without Lucent connecting the three sites, that would have been virtually impossible."

UnumProvident's customer/care unit—a centralized support center used at Provident pre-merger and later modified for all UnumProvident products—provides enrollment call center services, enrollment kits and small worksite quotes. The operation will be expanding its sales role with brokers in early 2002, nearly doubling the unit's capacity. "We've concentrated on high response and customer satisfaction levels and have also built some unique communication/database technologies," says Best. "Customer care is the guts of the business. We have $3.2 billion in disability claims."

Getting Back To Work

Working towards the goal of improving customer care—which at UnumProvident focuses on getting people back to work—UnumProvident has built impairment units around the country. "Instead of one contact in our company handling things like orthopedic, cardiovascular and nervous conditions, we have built specialized impairment units to support employers and provide them with the proper knowledge and expertise," Best explains. "You could imagine the communications among units and how efficient you have to be, so there was a reengineering effort to eliminate paper and develop flows of different information amongst impairment units and case managers."

Also, earlier this year, UnumProvident added imaging technology and a workflow solution to its customer/care unit. The system, which was developed in-house and uses Staffware's (Arlington, TX) workflow solution, is used to develop files on individual customers. "That project had an ROI three times what a normal threshold might be in the company," he explains. "Our e-services are producing very good returns."

Quotes and consultative services are provided through a virtual call center, Best reports. "These things might have been difficult to provide from a sale/serve basis, but our responses are done via the Web and e-mail versus the old way of doing things. So producers and employers get a very quick response and can consult on somewhat complicated products."

In response to demand for Web-based services within the company, UnumProvident is in the process of replacing its old knowledge-based online information tools for employees—KnowledgeNet and MarketLink—which have outgrown their capacity. According to Best, Corechanges' (Boston, MA) Coreport, a portal framework, will lie between the company's different source layers, which include legacy systems, data warehouse, external sources, CRM, email and unstructured data, such as documents. "This will allow us to present a single point of access—either internally or externally—making our information easier to find," says Best. The project's completion is scheduled for next quarter.

Future Web initiatives will also be delivered through Corechange. According to Best, the carrier will focus on working on customer information delivery needs—an area hardly neglected in the past.

Customer Info Delivery

"We are in excess now of a thousand larger group customers on i-billing," he says. "That is growing quickly and we are up to about 60 percent of customers that access booklets and contracts electronically versus paper. It saves us and them in printing costs, so it is a win-win situation."

Earlier this year, UnumProvident built an Internet claims submission system, which is growing in popularity. "We do lots of customer research and, especially in the smaller markets, there is great demand for Web-based services, and it is growing," says Best.

All these initiatives, reports Best, are approved by an IT steering committee consisting of heads of the company's major operating areas, helping to support UnumProvident's goal of centralization. The committee meets four hours every month. Any project over $100,000 must be approved by the committee.

During two months of every year, planning for the next year's IT projects takes place. "We take all of the major projects and break them into categories: strategic, discretionary, regulatory and baseline," explains Best. "Then each is analyzed for things like ROI."

In 2001, UnumProvident formed a project office, which is run by existing UnumProvident staff as well as new staff. "We have a dedicated group in charge of metrics and analysis," he says. "It does a good job making sure that we have every project status and metric up-to-speed each month to be reviewed. That kind of support is pretty important to making our governance work."

Because of UnumProvident's size, Best observes, 80 to 85 percent of the vendors that it deals with are also its customers. The company works with 100 vendors and more than 200 software products. In August 2000, it began an outsourcing relationship with IBM (Armonk), which, according to Best, helps "clean-up" a lot of infrastructure issues that come up during system consolidation.

UnumProvident also has a significant relationship with Dell (Austin, TX). The insurer entered into a "refresh" deal with the vendor to replace all of the company's PCs, within the next three years.

Ninety to 95 percent of UnumProvident's IT systems are built, as opposed to purchased packages. "We buy internal systems—human resources, financial systems," he says. "Primary business systems like customer service, underwriting and those involving the field office—we virtually build all of those."

Although UnumProvident is the number one company in its space, Best says, there is always room for improvement. Future initiatives, he reports, will support the company's growth. "We are the market leader when it comes to returning to work and providing disability products," he explains. "We are significantly above our closest competitor. So the question is: How does a market leader leverage technology and support that integration growth? There are several ways, including our investment in our portals, Internet and growth engines," says Best. "We have some pretty good technology that's been developed in different places and now we will take that and re-architect and redesign it so we can offer an integrated single view to our customers."


Getting to Work

COMPANY NAME: UnumProvident, Portland, ME, and Chatanooga, TN, $40.3 billion in assets.

LINES OF BUSINESS: Individual and group disability, long- and short-term group life, long-term care and voluntary products.

IT BUDGET: $200 million.

IT STAFF: 725 developers, 350 IBM outsourcing employees.

KEY INITIATIVES:Customer care center reengineering effort and expansion of Internet-based services.

TECHNOLOGY/VENDORS: UnumProvident uses the services of around 100 vendors and 200 software products. UnumProvident outsources to IBM (Armonk, NY) and recently contracted with Dell (Austin, TX) to replace all PCs within the next three years.

IT STEERING COMMITTEE: Heads of the company's major operating areas are represented.


BOB BEST: "It is in our return-to-work area. That is what we want to be noted for: getting people back to work. That is less of a challenge and more of a goal."


BEST: "We are investing in building a more customer-oriented environment, rather than product-oriented."

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