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Harmonious Beginnings

Colonial Life & Accident's new Web-based enrollment system supports agent-assisted service and self-service.

Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co. (Columbia, S.C.; $838 million in assets) is preparing to introduce Harmony, its new enrollment system that supports both agent-assisted enrollment and online self-service. The Web-based platform features more product options and a centralized database to provide real-time information on Colonial's offerings and members' accounts, according to Tim Parson, director of enrollment technologies at Colonial Life & Accident.

Embarking on an update of its 10-year-old, in-house-built legacy enrollment system two years ago, Colonial instead decided to replace it. According to Chip James, Colonial's director of enrollment systems, the legacy system ran only on agents' laptops and did not have a centralized database. "The technologies for each are so different that we didn't feel like we had a way to replace parts of the legacy system with the new architecture," he explains, adding that Colonial will maintain the legacy platform until Harmony is deployed.

"We wanted a new system that would take advantage of the latest technology to enhance our enrollment capabilities and would operate in both an Internet and stand-alone scenario," Parson continues. The carrier also needed a system that would support a centralized database to provide agents with up-to-date information, he adds.

Harmony was built in-house on a Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) .NET platform and written in C#. "We've developed it in a way where we have the business layer, the data access layer and the database itself all on the same platform," James explains. "From a cost standpoint, we can quickly implement changes to one system [while effecting] two different interfaces."

The plan, according to Parson, was to offer agents and employers enrollment flexibility from a single source. "Although Colonial's preferred method of enrollment is one-on-one assisted enrollment into benefit programs, Harmony has the flexibility to provide an easy-to-use, self-enroll capability for an individual who, for reasons of geography or work conditions, cannot meet with an agent," he says. Harmony also has the ability to support call-center-initiated and group enrollments, Parson notes.

Colonial first implemented Harmony as a pilot program last year and since has run 20 different pilots, according to Parson. "We're primarily piloting different functions of our system to get feedback on which agent-assisted components work and which self-enrollment programs are the most successful," he explains.

"We want agents to choose the way that's best for the account and feel comfortable doing it," James adds. Some of Harmony's tools include electronic business submission, electronic click signatures, salary illustrations and benefits statements.

"We plan to continue active pilots through the mid-2006 time frame," Parson says. "At that point we will go into production with Harmony."

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