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Knowledge Is Power

Sharing knowledge in an insurance company is vital. But in order for a knowledge management activity to succeed, it must be tied to business strategy.

Q: Knowledge management (KM) is often misunderstood. What is KM in insurance?

A: Jay Kostrzewa, CNA: Knowledge management and content management are closely related. We were structured in a very siloed mentality. Part of the change to our knowledge management strategy went into crossing the silos.

Also, we go to subject-matter experts in all of the business units. By subject-matter experts, I am referring to the handful of users in every operation that people turn to when they have a problem. Every organization has them. For instance, one claim adjuster may know everything about a particular type of claim and they are great at what they do. However, it is hard to define who the "go-to" people are.

A: Christina Keener, CNA: We are trying to capture the knowledge in the organization in a variety of ways so that when people leave, the knowledge doesn't leave with them. Also-and this is unique at CNA-we are integrating knowledge management with learning at CNA. In July we rolled out a large tool called our CNA online knowledge reference. It is a propriety tool that has been built over the last seven months. It was developed for the enterprisewide claims organization and it required the combined effort of 100 subject matter experts, and it built a large database of knowledge that is organized to be very broad and very shallow-so that information is only a few clicks away.

A: Hubert Saint Onge, Konverge and Know: Knowledge is defined as the ability to take effective action. In an organization knowledge needs to be assimilated so the individuals in the organization can take action. Not until information is assimilated and put into action is it really knowledge.

In an insurer, if I encounter something that I do not understand, there should be someplace in the organization where I can turn. KM is putting in place the tools and processes so that knowledge is available and accessible. KM also has to be able to handle the creation of new knowledge going forward.

A: Charles E. Mihaliak, Accenture: Knowledge management in insurance involves several key elements: First, insurers should use KM to establish networks of people who have interests and knowledge in relevant subject areas, such as claims or underwriting, and then link those people together to improve company performance and deepen the knowledge and skill base of the company. For example, insurers can apply KM to claims by leveraging their network of their best mold claims experts, both internally and externally. Applying this technique allows them to tap into their most skilled experts.

Q: How has KM evolved over the years? Where is KM today?

A: Keener, CNA: At CNA, it is constantly evolving. A little over a year ago, we built functionality to help the underwriters write specialty lines insurance. After we rolled it out, we realized that if we trained standard-lines underwriters with the knowledge captured in the system for the specialty lines area, there are opportunities for cross-selling. For instance, if a group auto policy is sold, the standard-lines rep could also mention some specialty products.

And now we have trained agents on how to cross-sell specialty professional liability products with the same system that was originally designed to support specialty underwriters.

A: Michael Schroeck, IBM: We are seeing knowledge management deployed as a way of abridging and integrating the document management and imaging and to deliver the data from data warehousing. One way that is done is through knowledge portals. Portals are key because they use existing technology and give an interface to the user to allow them to access information across the infrastructure. For true knowledge management, collaboration on knowledge assets is needed.

The other thing that has changed for knowledge management is the technology that enables it. Insurance companies are now able to deploy knowledge across the organization through the intranet or Internet.

A: Saint Onge, Konverge and Know: Knowledge management has to be in a place where it is allowed to be constantly renewed. By that, I mean that a knowledge strategy for a firm needs to be tied directly to the strategic business drivers and the strategy needs to enable the realization of business plans. And as the business strategy evolves, the knowledge strategy has to evolve with it.

Q: With such a strong focus on ROI, is getting funding for KM difficult in today's economy? If so, why?

A: Keener, CNA: No, not at CNA. Although there are always upper limits on particular items, we are finding that we cannot meet the demand from the business users fast enough when it comes to KM. Part of this is because we have a group of leaders who understand KM.

A: Schroeck, IBM: Knowledge management is not well linked into key initiatives, especially the ones that were really getting the funding a few years ago, and therefore many companies see KM as an academic exercise. Over the last couple of years, companies have invested in data warehousing and content management technology, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) technology. Now companies are starting to look at these technologies and are asking if they are getting value out of their investment.

A: Saint Onge, Konverge and Know: Short-term goals are really the second obstacle. The first is the inability of knowledge practitioners to demonstrate value to the business. The second obstacle is overcoming the leadership's focus on short-term things. A lot of managers are looking at the business from the eyes of the spreadsheet. They do not see how the performance of the organization is based on other abilities, such as creating value for the customer.

Q: What areas of insurance are seeing the most KM activity (e.g., underwriting, claims, policy admin)?

A: Keener, CNA: Core processes are receiving the most attention-claims, underwriting and risk control.

A: Schroeck, IBM: A few of the things we are seeing is functionality like better access to online updates, training for underwriting and the ability to collaborate quickly with other people in the organization, such as other underwriters. A few of the benefits of these functionalities are self evident, such as faster underwriting decisions, reducing expenses in head count to allow things to be automated, and reducing training costs by providing Web-based and online training.

A: Mihaliak, Accenture: We are seeing four areas with the most KM activity in insurance: underwriting and claims (P&C); customer service (life) and sales (P&C and life). These functions are where it is most apparent that KM programs make sense, because these jobs are faced with continuous change and because it is obvious that the performance of these jobs improves with better information and increased collaboration.

Q: What are some of the newer technologies and/or processes that will help make KM a reality?

A: Keener, CNA: The Web-enablement of knowledge technology is a huge development. We can build lightweight tools that can be linked through the Web quickly. We also have bigger and faster SQL database servers. We have also made the bandwidth larger in the organization so we can do video and audio.

A: Schroeck, IBM: The technologies are portals, content management, imaging, and we are just starting to see wireless dissemination of knowledge. But to truly have success, knowledge management can not be viewed as a stand-alone technology. KM needs to extend value across the organization.

A: Saint Onge, Konverge and Know: I believe that there is an emergence of technology that didn't exist five years ago that allows KM to happen. With advances in Internet-based technology, insurers can build virtual teams and build spaces for collaboration on certain topics, such as underwriting or claims. The tech allows us to interact virtually, track the knowledge and turn it into knowledge objects, and then make the full knowledge base available to the organization. This is now a reality.

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This Month's Experts

Christina Keener

SVP, Knowledge & Learning

CNA (Chicago)

Jay Kostrzewa

Knowledge Management Director

CNA (Chicago)

Michael Schroeck

Global leader,

Business Intelligence Practice

IBM Business Consulting Services, (Armonk, NY)

Hubert Saint Onge

Chief Executive Officer

Konverge and Know (Toronto)

Charles E. Mihaliak,Associate Partner

Accenture (Chicago)

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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