Easy Does It
Although the carrier was able to support its objective of "committing technology to increasing the quality of customer service," and despite its rapid growth from $28.2 million in gross premium in 2001 to $45.26 million in 2003, Webber acknowledges that CAMICO is careful to take a slow and steady approach to its own growth so that it can preserve quality customer service. "Although CAMICO is growing quickly, we are constraining our growth so that it is manageable," Webber says. "That way, we can dedicate resources to servicing our customer base."
Though the carrier gets many sales leads as a result of endorsements it receives from the CPA societies of 10 states, CAMICO's conservative approach is vital to its status as a mutual insurance company, relates Sandra Maker, vice president of CAMICO's marketing and communications. "Since we are a mutual, it's not our philosophy to jump into a new market and lower rates just to gain new business," Maker says. "CAMICO is here for the long term, so we have to charge insurance premium that can sustain the program on a long-term basis."
In an effort to stay on track with this long-term growth strategy, CAMICO's IT department of 10 staff members - which makes up 12.5 percent of the company's headcount - stays synchronized with the business' five-year growth plan through the use of well-structured one-year planning cycles. "IT is good about appropriately adapting its five-year growth plan," Webber says. "IT personnel are very careful so that we don't bite off more than we can chew." Also helping the process are CAMICO's one-year incentive goals at the corporate, departmental and individual employee levels. "At year-end, the results are consolidated to assess how we are tracking in accordance with the five-year plan so that we can make any necessary adjustments to the next year's goals," Webber explains.
In this endeavor, the carrier's IT department is assisted by its executive steering committee, which meets monthly. "If there is a large project that needs consideration, we will push it to the executive committee," explains Webber. "If a project is worth spending on and [it's] not too distracting of business resources, then we will implement it."
Not the Be-All and End-All
Although return on investment is an important part of CAMICO's planning stage, it is not the be-all and end-all factor, contends Webber. Instead, the executive steering committee places a lot of emphasis on the customer service improvements and growth opportunities that technical projects will provide. A recent IT project that was pushed through because of its customer service merits involved the enhancement of the system from which quotes can be accessed via CAMICO's extranet. Webber relates that the enhanced functionality has expedited the quote retrieval process.
He explains that the transaction originates on CAMICO's Web server outside of the carrier's firewall. After a quote request has been received by the system, an XML data stream is sent to CAMICO's rating engine. After an actual rate is attained, a Microsoft Word document is automatically created. Next, the document is e-mailed to an internal sales representative, who is given the ability to tweak the document if he or she wishes.
So far, the enhancement has proven to be a success. "The use of this technology has cut about 20 minutes off of the old rating process," Webber relates. "Now, our customers get a much quicker return on what they've requested." But CAMICO's return on investment with this project doesn't end there. "Although we didn't initially embark on this project to cut costs, that is a nice benefit that we've realized," Webber explains.
Part of CAMICO's return on investment success is due in part to the technology vendors to which it awards contracts. Webber explains that although, ultimately, the right choice of technology vendor depends on its skills in handling challenges presented by a particular project, the underwriter usually chooses to do business with second-tier leading regional vendors - especially when it comes to choosing software.
"We try to get the best vendor in its space, and we usually end up using smaller vendors," Webber says. "We don't choose third-tier vendors, but we also don't choose the larger first-tier companies, like IBM."
Currently, the carrier is utilizing tools from Infinity Systems Consulting for project management and customer service. According to Webber, the 100 percent Microsoft shop also does some business with Dell (Round Rock, Texas) for hardware-related services.