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Great American, GuideOne Win Innovation Awards from SMA

Effective leveraging of next-generation technologies was key to the companies being recognized.

Insurance companies are going a long way to prove that they aren't as resistant to innovation as once thought. The winners of this year's SMA Innovation in Action Awards, awarded during the consultancy's annual summit this year, demonstrated adept integration of next-generation technologies.

Big data is continually in the news, and insurers don't want to just hear the buzzword -- they want tangible results from it. That's why GuideOne Insurance (West Des Moines, Iowa, 2011 net income of $22.6 million) won for an analytics project that enabled the standardization and socialization of information, reporting, and metrics across the enterprise. Using the iPartners Insurance Scorecard business intelligence solution, the niche insurer of churches, schools, colleges and senior-living communities has created an environment for effective decision-making – empowering executives to guide the business by analysis. Tom Fischer, SVP and CIO at GuideOne Insurance, tells I&T, "Today, executives, actuarial, claims, underwriting, sales and marketing, and finance have immediate access to current data, reports, and dashboards for informed analysis and improved decision making."

This was a significant change from GuideOne's legacy environment, which was characterized by fragmented, inconsistent information coming from a variety of sources, Fischer reports. In 2002 the company began efforts to build a Microsoft SQL Server-based data warehouse. As the effort progressed, however, "we had all this data, but couldn't figure out how to make the best use of it," Fischer recalls, adding that among the questions the carrier had to resolve were, "What do people want to see, what's important from a dashboard perspective for senior management to look at, what information do underwriters need to be able to manage their books, and for sales folks to manage their books?"

When GuideOne began to implement the iPartners BI solution about three years ago, it was able to take advantage of the Atlanta-based vendor's insurance industry experience and gain demonstrable benefits relatively quickly, Fischer reports. "We were able to hit ground running," he says. "This enabled us to [complete] an effort that would have been multi-year, in a matter of months instead. Because we already had a data warehouse, the data already was there. So it was just matter of extracting and formatting data, using [iPartners'] existing infrastructure and reports. It made the process so much simpler and quicker."

[Read SMA founder Deb Smallwood's 4 types of insurance innovators.]

A desire to develop top-notch mobile applications also flexes insurers' innovative muscle. Cincinnati-based Great American Insurance Company (a division of American Financial Group, Q2 2012 net earnings of $99 million) which writes specialty lines, knew it wanted to break into the mobile realm -- but needed just the right entry point.

"We started with our equine division," says AVP of IT services Dan Pollack. "We saw with all the work we had done there starting in 2006, with all the new systems and the the service-oriented architecture, we had the ability to do these things."

The app -- and a later one for trucking customers -- was integrated with the company's core systems of Guidewire ClaimCenter and BillingCenter so that policyholders in those lines could access claims and billing processes, lists of approved service providers, and coverage verification.

"While this is something that Great American is starting to be recognized for as a leader, it's really a testament to everything and everyone involved to get us here," adds David Dalton, another AVP of IT services for the company. "We wouldn't be able to do this without the back-end systems to support it or the architecture."

SMA also awards one software vendor with an Innovation in Action award. This year's winner was SAS for its SAS Fraud Framework for Insurance.

"The quantity and quality of submissions in both the insurer and solution provider categories were indeed remarkable," SMA partner Karen Furtado comments. "This confirms that real innovation is occurring in the insurance industry, and much of that innovation is possible because insurers are actively leveraging next-generation technologies."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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