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New advancements in technology and methodologies may signal that knowledge management is ready for broader acceptance in the insurance industry.

Although insurance companies have used knowledge management with varying success over the past decade, the knowledge-management concept has never really gained sustained traction. However, new advancements in technology and methodologies may signal that knowledge management (KM) is ready for broader acceptance in the insurance industry.

"Knowledge Management has evolved in waves over the years, from information in a binder to posting the information on Web sites," says Charles E. Mihaliak, associate partner, in Chicago-based Accenture's insurance industry group. "Today, knowledge workers have access to more information than ever via databases, but the information hasn't been streamlined and access methods haven't been improved, so they are not always using the information effectively.

"Today, we are also seeing an increase in collaboration and networking to connect experts inside and outside of the insurer," Mihaliak adds. "KM needs to get to the point where technology is used to improve usability and increase speed of access to help people get to the right information quickly. Technologies that link file-sharing with workflow management are being leveraged in claims and underwriting to encourage collaboration and link the best experts together to review and share cases to make decisions quickly."

Specifically, industry experts are seeing increased KM activity in certain areas of the insurance enterprise. "In claims and underwriting we are already seeing new technology improving KM," continues Mihaliak. "For example, underwriting and claims workbenches and account management systems are helping insurers bring specific information on a case directly to the appropriate person. These systems are designed with rules-based systems...that allow very effective collaboration around complicated cases. Additionally, CRM-type systems have applied similar capabilities to sales and customer service."

And since most KM activities are forming in specific areas, gaining funding and support for projects will most likely come from the business-unit, rather than enterprise, level. "People need to have a knowledge management strategy that includes IT and the business," states Michael Schroeck, global leader, business intelligence practice in IBM Business Consulting Services (Armonk, NY). "Many times KM starts out as a broad list that extends across the insurance value chain. However, the business units are dictating the priorities. In many cases we are seeing funding going towards knowledge initiatives by functional area. Sometimes the funding goes towards the agency, underwriting or claims area, then it is expanded later if the results are good."

However, sometimes finding a supporter in high places is the best way for a KM practice to succeed, according to Hubert Saint Onge, Chief Executive Officer, Konverge and Know (Toronto), a knowledge strategy consulting firm. "Generally the CEOs have a good view of the value of knowledge because they can take in the big picture," he says. "The levels below the CEO are driven by the short-term results and are managing by spreadsheets. If you can demonstrate what the knowledge strategy is doing, or can do, to free up assets in the organization to achieve strategic goals, the rest is easy-basically wiring the organization."

By wiring the organization, Saint Onge is referring to connecting all of the business units to the KM technology-something that is much easier than mapping and determining the entire KM strategy. "In most cases the knowledge practitioners start with the wiring, and that is the wrong way to approach a knowledge strategy," he adds. "You need to have a good overall sense of how the strategy fits into the firm. Once that logic is understood, then the wiring should take place."

For more on the evolution of knowledge management in the insurance industry, see the September issue of Insurance & Technology magazine.

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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