The AXA Advisor Web site (www.axaonline.com) managed by the AXA Client Solutions unit of AXA Financial ($483 billion assets under management, New York) was convenient to navigate, but there was room for improvement. Customers and advisors seeking information from the site found what they were looking for, but their paths could have been more direct and not so roundabout.
The site lacked a search capability, so visitors seeking information either had to rely on the site map, or navigate themselves to their intended destination. Adding a search capability would not only improve the site's quality from a prospective and current policyholders' standpoint, but it would also improve customer/advisor relations because better advisor access to information would help advisors dispense advice to these customers.
Responding to Customer Requests
Also, requests for a search capability for the site came up frequently during customer and advisor focus group discussions, according to Dave Wollin, managing director of emerging technology, AXA Financial. "That proved what we already knew," relates Wollin. So, as part of its 1999/2000 e-business initiative, AXA decided to add a search engine.
In mid-2000, a team of emerging technology and IT architecture professionals, plus a business project manager, began the request-for-information process. The group consulted with Gartner (Stamford, CT) and Forrester (Cambridge, MA), as well as AXA's employee users of the site, to get an idea of which vendors offered the best search-capability products.
The project team looked for a product that would be effective in key-word searches and that also was able to use meta tagsHTML tags that identify the contents of a Web page and contain general descriptions of the page and key words, according to Wollin. The team also evaluated vendors based on their maturity, track record, suitability of environment and cost-effectiveness. Compatibility with AXA's Sun Microsystems (Palo Alto, CA) Solaris servers was also important, according to Wollin.
It was very important, emphasizes Wollin, to find a product suitable for the intended task. "You don't want a cannon when you only need a flyswatter," he explains. "We needed something that was suitable for basic and easy searching of our Web site."
Ultimately, Verity's (Sunnyvale, CA) Intelligent Classifier and Portal SE were chosen. Along with installing the Verity software, the site's content needed to be indexed so that the right information would be picked up by a search. AXA business staffers who were responsible for creating and editing the site's content performed this task, which was completed in two months. The task is ongoing because new content must be indexed as it is added to AXA's site.
In late 2000 the system was internally piloted and tested for user acceptance. AXA has two testing labs, reports Wollin. "One is an integration lab where we bring all of the elements for our Internet offering together in one place, because they are fairly broad-based and pieces must be tested together," he explains. "Also, we have a user-acceptance testing facility with PCs of different configurations. The end-users do the testing to make sure things work." The user acceptance facility contains customized Microsoft (Redmond, WA) Windows workstations for advisor testing.
AXA also conducts usability testing to make sure that people can find information. Such testing also ensures that people are comfortable with the navigation of the site. "We give people a list of things to do, like find information about retirement, to see if they can find the place where the search engine is and understand to type in the word 'retirement,'" says Wollin.
After testing was complete, the system went live in January 2001. Looking back on the search engine's implementation, Wollin relates that everything went smoothly. "It works as predicted and Verity continues to be cost-effective. The performance is pretty good. They Verity did an excellent job," he says.
"People want good advice," Wollin emphasizes, and because of the search engine, that is now easier for AXA to provide. Verity's Intelligent Classifier and Portal SE have also enabled AXA to reach its original goals of attracting prospective customers and helping advisors do their jobs, says Wollin.
Case Study Closeup
COMPANY: AXA Client Solutions, unit of AXA Financial, New York, $483 billion in assets under management.
LINES OF BUSINESS: Life, annuities, financial planning
VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: Verity (Sunnyvale, CA) Intelligent Classifier; Sun Microsystems' (Palo Alto, CA) Solaris servers.
CHALLENGE: Add search capabilitiy to the AXA Advisor Web site.