Colonial Life is at the point of moving all employee benefits enrollment onto its new Harmony application, after initial rollout of the application last year and the incorporation of feedback from the carrier's 7,000-strong independent field force. According to the Columbia, S.C.-based insurer, in the first quarter of 2009, the Harmony platform will replace two separate systems — one for online and one for off-line enrollment — with a single, flexible platform designed to provide ease of use for all enrollment scenarios.
The Harmony initiative was undertaken to address changing needs in the marketplace, reports Stan Dowd, VP of IT for Colonial Life (more than $1 billion in 2007 in force premium). Employees tend to be uncomfortable with the benefits enrollment process, and communicating the value of benefits was growing increasingly important as benefits costs increased, he relates. Furthermore, companies' workforces are becoming more dispersed, adding the difficulty of enrolling remote employees.
"Harmony was built as a communication and enrollment tool that has the flexibility to enroll in an online environment through the Web, and if the Web is not available, the agent can enroll an employee offline one on one," Dowd says, adding that Harmony is connected to call center capabilities and supports co-browsing and self-enrollment for remote employees. "We like to be able to say we can enroll your employees anywhere, anytime, anyhow."
Among Harmony's key features are daily enrollment reporting that shows the number of employees enrolled, what products employees have chosen, product penetration, product mix, and enrollment by company location or classification and potentially other parameters. A mandatory opt-in/opt-out feature enables employers to track which employees have made benefit choices or waived them. Other features include an online benefits library, where employers can post documents such as enrollment instructions or lists of preferred providers.
Colonial Life's focus on agent ease of use is manifested in the embedding of business rules for both underwriting and compliance. "We have moved underwriting to the point of sale," says Tim Parsons, Colonial Life's assistant VP, enrollment technologies. "More than 70 percent of our business is never touched by human hands because of the integrated logic that we have put into the system at the point of sale, particularly around underwriting, so we know folks will be eligible for coverage when they apply."
According to Parsons, Colonial Life began building prototypes of the enrollment platform in late 2004 and assembled a team to build the final application in late 2005. Harmony's first production iteration went live in mid-2006. The carrier used Microsoft (Redmond, Wash) Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) to speed development of functionality, he notes.
"The richness of the [Microsoft] tools enabled us to illustrate the benefits of some of our products in a dynamic fashion," Parsons says. "We have several ridge or slider controls that allow an employee going through the enrollment process to control the level of premium they pay and see immediately what level of coverage they have, or vice versa, from coverage to premium."
Unlike Colonial Life's previous enrollment platforms, Harmony stores all enrollment information onto a single Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database, enabling the application's deep and robust reporting capabilities, according to Chip James, assistant VP, IT, Colonial Life. "That centralized database is extremely powerful, given the various ways we are collecting data," he says. Colonial Life manipulates that data with Radnor, Pa.-based QlikTech's QlikView solution to provide reporting capabilities to both agents and home office staff. "It's an analytic engine that allows us to draw from a data warehouse and develop in a cloud," James explains. "It enables you to drill down into some very rich reporting."
Colonial Life declines to comment on what it has invested in Harmony, but Dowd says it amounts to "one of the most significant investments Colonial Life has ever made." During the two years since the system's initial production rollout, Colonial Life has delivered seven releases, one during the summer that positioned Harmony to become the carrier's primary enrollment system, and a more recent one this fall that Dowd characterizes "our final major release." Dowd adds that, "our goal was to have field adoption of 80 percent by the end of 2008."
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio