Any insurance company trying to achieve the elusive goal of true enterprise content management (ECM) faces a rising tide of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data, as well as a wave of technology types and vendors offering ECM solutions. For an industry still trying to break free from siloed business processes and under increasing regulatory scrutiny, the challenge of integrating disparate data and systems is formidable. To ease the transition, experts suggest that companies navigating the depths of ECM study their own reflections in the water before diving in.
"When companies look at the complexity and scale of content management, they need to find the first level - the areas where they are most exposed - and begin by really knowing their own business processes, while keeping one eye looking toward the bigger picture," says John Mancini, president of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM International; Silver Spring, Md.). Companies no longer can afford to view data from an isolated perspective, he continues - thus the recent rise in popularity of ECM solutions. But, Mancini warns, the term "enterprise content management solution" does not mean that "there is a magic piece of software that will control content management" enterprisewide.
About three years ago, explains Andrew Warzecha, an analyst with META Group in Stamford, Conn., companies began trying to reduce the number of systems, vendors and storage architectures within their organizations to increase operational efficiencies. Now, regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA are intensifying the "dilemma that many organizations face: Legal departments are telling senior management that there is a larger set of data that needs to be managed than IT can afford to handle," says Warzecha. This forces senior management to conduct a cost-risk analysis. "As opposed to the usual questions related to content management technology - 'What are the business benefits, technical benefits and cost saving from those benefits?' - companies now have to ask, 'What is the cost and the risk to the organization not to do this?'" he relates.
Getting a Head Start
For some insurers, such as Ameritas Life Insurance (Lincoln, Neb.; $2.65 million in assets), gaining a full enterprisewide view of content is too large a project to slate for 2005, but getting a jump on content management with a trusted vendor is a strong step in the right direction. "We work with Dialogue by Exstream Software [Lexington, Ky.] to get everyone to come in through this one piece of software and achieve a consistency to our document distribution," relates Kirk Dietrich, document composition analyst, Ameritas Life.
Exstream's Dialogue application provides a coordinated communication environment across the enterprise's full spectrum of media channels by integrating with Ameritas' homegrown image and workflow system. This gives the carrier's lines of business the ability to create and maintain critical customer content.
The insurer runs Dialogue on a desktop platform as well as through a Web portal that allows in-house employees and captive agents to pull any form or document through a proprietary retrieval system. The platform accesses customized content via an indexing system created by the Dialogue software. "While we still organize our client files by divisions, a first step is getting all of our documents generated, managed and distributed in a harmonized way, which unifies our customer interaction and could lead us toward more consolidation," explains Dietrich.
This type of strategic approach to content services is recommended for companies such as Ameritas that may not have rigid needs for their content management systems, according to META Group's Warzecha, who believes that mid-market organizations should not have large-market product envy until targeted solutions have been exhausted via the necessary vetting process. "The vendors that have a hand in infrastructure already, such as IBM [Armonk, N.Y.] and EMC Documentum [Hopkinton, Mass.], will have a leg up on competition, and other traditional vendors such as Interwoven [Sunnyvale, Calif.] and FileNet [Costa Mesa, Calif.] will move in with targeted solutions," he says. Vendors that do not own infrastructure will continually differentiate themselves based on functionality, while vendors with a large customer base will concentrate on extending services horizontally to provide for customers that have services already bought and paid for, as well as to take advantage of "the trust card," according to Warzecha.
Getting It All Covered
Guardian Life Insurance (New York; $37.2 billion in assets) employs a more comprehensive method of capturing and managing content workflow for its 5,000 employees, whose access to content is divided into three seperate tiers of clearance. "We use the Stellent [Eden Prairie, Minn.] Content Management product to manage our content enterprisewide rather than silo by silo," relates Jaime Sguerra, second vice president, chief architect and senior business systems officer, corporate marketing, Guardian Life Insurance Information Technology Division.
Along with companies such as Open Text (Waterloo, Ontario) and Hummingbird (Toronto), Stellent is among the software vendors that have completely re-architected their environments to handle different content types and support multiple deployments, according to META Group's Warzecha.
"When we choose the solution, we put an emphasis on finding a structure for content management that could cover any profit center, subsidiary or potential acquisition the company could go through," says Sguerra. The Stellent product begins with a Web-based repository that works with Guardian's intranet and includes a Web portal for access across both J2EE and .NET architectures. According to Sguerra, being able to store and access metadata was the company's biggest worry and, so far, there have not been any problems. "Every company has different needs and every company envisions certain things in an ECM solution," he relates. "For instance, we do not include PDFs in the Stellent solution because we usually produce PDF files on the fly and don't consider them a part of our enterprisewide content management strategy," Sguerra continues.
So, while a mature set of technologies exists in the marketplace, insurers should be "choosing a vendor that has the ability to re-integrate many technologies, or can provide many established capabilities over one solution," according to AIIM's Mancini. Based on the pressures to formally manage increasing volumes of information and unique business requirements from enterprise to enterprise, insurers and other financial services companies are forcing vendors to address data management in any number of environments.
Microsoft's (Redmond, Wash.) SharePoint Portal ECM solution has been the "runaway train in document management capabilities," META Group's Warzecha asserts of the product's increasing popularity. But while SharePoint Portal offers the content management capabilities that many insurers may be looking for, companies should be wary of the way in which the product is installed, he says. "The problem is that this product is so easy to install that departmental workgroups are installing it all around an organization, causing management and risk difficulties," says Warzecha - exactly what companies are trying to get away from. "There is not a good way to administer 40 or 50 of a certain solution deployed across an organization in a common way," he adds.
In the case of State Auto Insurance (Columbus, Ohio; $1.84 billion in assets), the decision to invest in an ECM solution was driven by business continuity concerns, rather than to save money, control risk or speed operations. "We had an old microfiche film system, but it wasn't year 2K compliant, so we needed to be able to take any type of document - whether it is text, metacode or scanned documents - and be able to archive it into one system," says Allen Kadlec, business systems analyst, State Auto. In 1999, the insurer selected Mobius' (Rye N.Y.) Management Systems ViewDirect TCM (total content management) suite of products, which it now uses to manage all policy documents, applications, change requests, claims invoices, e-mail and online documents, affording State Auto a 99 percent paperless accounting department, according to Kadlec.
With a repository provided by Mobius, State Auto provides more than 3,400 independent agencies with access to customer files through the insurer's Web site (www.stateauto.com), providing a single view of customer data, regardless of the format in which it was created, and "increasing the ease of doing business with State Auto," says Kadlec.
"Before deciding on a solution, insurers should find a system that ties in with their existing processes," advises Kadlec. "If you have workflow systems, Web applications or e-mail applications, you need to make sure the repository and software can work well with these other processes," he explains. But even with these pieces in place, a firm must know exactly what is being archived and how it will be retrieved before implementing a solution. "The biggest thing is thinking through how people will need to retrieve the documents," says Kadlec. "You need to come up with index records that work for your company."
For example, State Auto uses Mobius for processing electronically received documents such as billing and documentation from body shops through its underwriting system to a final "resting place," where the documents can no longer be altered and are made available in customer files. "The final data is permanent and can be made available to multiple people at the same time through our Web portal," explains Kadlec.
Now, like so many insurance companies, State Auto is focusing its ECM efforts on compliance. Thanks to its existing ECM solution, State Auto has realized faster turnaround in its auditing department. "With electronic forms, the tendency is to take care of inquiries right away; we have reduced processing time in the audit department from two months to about five days," relates Kadlec. "So we are looking more closely at our compliance issues and further automating our systems in that direction."
Mobius, too, has an eye on compliance for its customers. "A lot of large companies have invested a lot of money in content living in many [disparate] repositories, due to having had each division go out and purchase its own technology," says Neil Weiss, director of insurance solutions, Mobius Management Systems. "Along comes a CIO who says, 'I need a clear picture of all of my customers across all lines of business,' when the Mobius repository won't speak directly to an IBM or an EMC Documentum repository," explains Weiss. So, Mobius has built a "bridge," called TCI, for total content integration. The bridge is a Web-services layer that sits above repositories and acts as a translator for different data repositories. "The end user doesn't have to know where that is," explains Weiss; the Web service will find the needed information, translate it and present it in the most appropriate format, based on that customer's indexing needs.
Mobius' TCI product is just one example of where the market may be headed: service-oriented architecture (SOA; see related article, page 40). "Over time, as organizations are going through a redesign of their architecture to support their core lines of business, these service or content applications as they exist today will move down the stack to become more composable objects, or services that will be embedded within the applications themselves," says META Group's Warzecha. This will lead end users to no longer think of vendors as product providers, but as trusted service partners. "So, you may end up using something like Interwoven's Web content management hooked to Veritas' [Mountain View, Calif.] search, hooked to IBM's record management service in your core line of business systems," explains Warcheza.
But before insurers embrace ECM providers as partners, they must become increasingly process aware to make sure they are embracing the right solutions. ECM is a necessary tool, but, like most technology solutions, it is not an end unto itself; insurance companies must align ECM with their businesses. "Insurers will need to extract their own best practices out of ECM solutions to make them leverageable and actionable for real-time communication and contextual relevancy," says Warzecha.