The technologies that enable companies to electronically manage documents and other unstructured content that relates to business processesimaging, character recognition, workflow, etc.have done yeoman's service in minimizing the task of dealing with huge quantities of information. But these technologies have their limits in an industry like insurance, which tends to "silo" its information, and where there has historically been no efficient, universal means of reaching in and among those silos to get at that information.
"The challenges we face are massive amounts of content, things that have to go through various levels of approval, stuff that varies by state and dated material that needs to be made current," says Mike Mandelbaum, vice president, information systems, Prudential Financial (Newark, NJ, $371 billion in assets). Document management (DM) products have helped greatly, Mandelbaum adds, "but we'd like them to help more."
Web technologies already have begun to enable document management technologies to provide that extra help. The work of Web content management (WCM) vendors in solving the problems of online content has suggested the Web-enhanced possibilities of traditional document management technologies. Vendors at both ends of a DM-WCM continuum have begun leveraging traditional strengths to offer enterprise content management solutions ECM, which unite the various technologies involved in creating, capturing, managing and delivering content to business users across the enterprise. Enterprise software companies, including IBM (Armonk, NY), Oracle (Redwood Shores, CA), and Microsoft (Redmond, WA)with expertise in tying it all togetherround out the roster of players in the ECM market.
Defining content as "business information formatted for human consumption," David Capps, insurance vertical market specialist at enterprise content solutions firm, Gauss (Irvine, CA) says, "the idea of enterprise content management is bringing Web content management and document management together and taking the view that it doesn't matter whether it's on the Web or your back officeit's all content, it's all business information that people need to look at and interact with. So why have separate tools to do that? Why not bring it all together into one integrated suite?"
Today insurance companies store all of their online content in WCM systems, their paper-related files on document management systems, and, for those equipped to handle them, their rich mediasuch as audio and video filesin digital asset management systems, according to Nick Wilkoff, an analyst at Forrester Research (Cambridge, MA). This creates logistical challenges. "It's very difficult for them to reuse content across those three systems, and the user dealing with three separate tools and three different types of infrastructure encounters a lot of inefficiencies," he says.
Within companies employing ECM solutions, systems administrators could avoid duplication of maintenance tasks, and end users would enjoy a common experience for contributing content. Also, the content itself would be easier to find and reuse, Wilkoff says. Ideally, an ECM solution would comprise a single platform, he adds.
Cost cutting is a strong driver toward adopting ECM solutions, says Andy Warzecha, senior vice president, e-business strategies, META Group (Stamford, CT). A potential source of those savings is reducing the redundancies inherent in the multiple content management systems often found at insurance companies. Warzecha recounts the experience of a large insurer that inventoried all its software packages in the course of an architectural standardization process. "What they found was that they had over 26 packages for dealing with unstructured content," and fundamentally doing similar things, he says.
The problem for such an organization, where often applications are purchased by a line of business and then "thrown over the fence" for IT support, or have been accumulated through M&A activity, is that often "there's no recognition that they're paying annual maintenance fees to 26 different vendors. Or that they've got dedicated administration people checking the logs on a daily basis, or that when a business unit wants an additional feature, they've got to pay developers trained in the API set for each of the products," according to Warzecha.
Now, for the first time, products are beginning to appear that are capable of scaling to support enterprise-wide requirements, from both a technology and cost-model perspective, Warzecha says. "There isn't enough overlap in the offerings to get down to one solution, but it's highly probable that you can reduce what you're using," he adds.
There are two ways people are talking about ECM, according to Dave Calibey, vice president, corporate and finance applications, The Hartford (Hartford, $167 billion in assets). "One is providing a capability, a service for the whole enterprise," which is a feasible ambition that's already made progress, he says. "The other, which is far more ambitious, is trying to organize all the content across the company, creating a kind of corporate taxonomy," Calibey says.
Most vendors are conspicuously either WCMor DMoriented, and rely on alliance and partner relationships to provide more comprehensive offerings. For the most part, however, besides the current unavailability of a single-platform solution, the impetus to move in that direction is hampered by the costs involved. "A lot of companies have already invested in multiple content management systems, and in some cases it's not realistic" to look for simpler solutions, based on cost/benefit analysis, Wilkoff says.
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