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Richard Medina and Christine O'Connor, Doculabs
Richard Medina and Christine O'Connor, Doculabs
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Effective Agent Enablement

Providing the people who sell policies with tools that enhance their effectiveness is essential to carriers' success. And because these improvements make possible a higher level of customer service, they can also help to ensure increased customer retention and loyalty.

Traditionally, insurance companies have been conservative in adopting new technology. However, increasing pressure from both management and competitors is driving carriers to embrace technology solutions that will help them gain efficiencies and grow their businesses. Technology can help insurers strengthen customer relationships and retention, reduce processing time, improve interactions with agents and business partners, achieve operating efficiencies, and meet IT objectives such as consolidation and cost reduction.

Agent enablement solutions are a high priority for insurance firms. Providing the people who sell policies with tools that enhance their effectiveness is essential to carriers' success. The insurance sales process is typically inefficient, cumbersome, and paper-intensive, and technology that allows carriers to distribute information and communicate with agents better is becoming a necessity. Carriers rely heavily on the agent sales channel to drive revenue, and technological enhancements that allow agents to service policyholders better, faster, and more cost-effectively can have a direct effect on an insurance company's bottom line. And because these improvements make possible a higher level of customer service, they can also help to ensure increased customer retention and loyalty.

Agent enablement solutions typically combine portal server, content management, and business process management functionality with insurance application modules that can be configured to create agent-broker portals. Key areas of functionality from these technologies include:

  • Collaboration tools
  • Single view of multiple applications
  • Ability to handle transactions
  • Value network that enables internal, broker, agent and customer self-service
  • Customer-facing functions such as marketing, sales and service via all touch points: in person, by phone, by mail, and over the Internet
  • Strong integration with back-end systems
  • Ability to develop and adapt business processes, interview, forms and content

Essentially, agent enablement functionality can be classified into three key categories.

Information Access

  • Universal access
  • Content management/Aggregation
  • Content repository
  • Search and Categorization
  • Personalization

Application integration

  • Single view of multiple applications and ability to handle transactions
  • Vertical application integration
  • Application Exposed to External Users
  • Application Server
  • Application Development tools

Process management

  • Portals for multiple constituents
  • Process Integration
  • Context Personalization
  • Collaboration tools

The reality, though, is that few such solutions are actually in production. This is due largely to the lack of commercially available solutions with sufficient breadth and depth of capabilities (e.g. breadth of services provided by portal, content management, and business process management technology, and depth of capabilities specifically designed for insurance applications and agents). In addition, insurers are taking a more strategic, "inside-out" approach to IT resources - that is, they are focusing first on consolidating and centralizing their information management before moving to a distributed environment. The insurance industry is actually in a good position relative to other "early adopting" sectors within financial services that moved very quickly using an outside-in strategy and are now often stuck with a nest of systems and stalled agent automation deployments.

Many organizations have tried to acquire at least some of the essential agent enablement capabilities by deploying portals, vertical insurance applications, CRM solutions, or ECM solutions, or by building insurance-specific portal and ECM functionality on top of other technologies to come up with agent enablement-like solutions.

Portals allow firms to publish content and integrate with third-party syndicators, but have not done a good job of providing a single view of multiple applications and handling transactions, or of enabling internal, partner, and customer self-service, or of integrating across built, bought and heavily customized applications. And while a horizontal portal will allow connectivity with applications and content, it will not provide insurance-specific features-like insurance transactions, claims, or agent learning.

Insurance applications have good integration with their own product back ends and back-office environments, and good mid-range and mainframe integration. Because these solutions are designed for the insurance industry, they are more likely to be compatible with internal systems and the processes of executing transactions, as well as with some of the industry standards (e.g. ACORD XML). However, they are less good at integrating with multiple front and back ends from multiple vendors, using a proven production integration layer. Most insurers utilize insurance-specific applications for claims processing, enrollment, sales and customer service.

CRM products provide generic operational, analytic, or collaborative features with some vertical templates, and can help to consolidate customer information for a complete view of interactions with the company. But they require much effort to fully customize and integrate with back-end systems, and will not fulfill other portal requirements related to business intelligence, documents, content or transactions.

ECM products provide good access and management to relevant content and documents, along with good collaborative and process management capabilities, but frequently lack the single view into multiple applications or the vertical customization without significant effort. They also cannot provide insurance-specific features like insurance transactions, claims or agent learning.

All of these approaches are therefore partial, and the challenge is to identify what capabilities you need and implement them in a way that won't lead to a train wreck.

Reference Model for Agent Enablement

Having a reference model in place can help insurance carriers identify the components they already have in place as well as the technology gaps they need to address in order to meet the requirements for true agent enablement. This model is similar to a blueprint, and serves as a way of ensuring that the agent enablement solution fits within the carrier's overall enterprise architecture. The modern reference model is service-oriented, event-driven, and aligned with life-cycle-support processes. It also supports assembly and integration and encompasses the need to leverage existing applications and infrastructure.

Using this approach, companies can save money by truly reusing existing applications and building new services that can be leveraged throughout the business. There are significant top-line benefits, too: the ability to react faster to changing conditions, faster than was possible in the past and faster than the competition, and at the same time let users be closely involved with -- and even own -- changes in business processes. These business processes can be used to assemble applications rather than requiring programming and can reduce the time spent developing custom code and complex applications. This can produce significant cost savings over time, as more of a company's existing investments in technology and systems are leveraged rather than replaced.

At a high level, the architecture components that are needed for agent enablement include:

  • Portal services
  • Repository services
  • Workflow/process management services
  • Collaboration services
  • Rules engine
  • Forms
  • Data collection

The following figure illustrates a sample reference architecture for agent enablement for a large insurance firm with a significant number of captive and independent agents.

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