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Innovating in a Down Market: BCBS of Florida Leverages Brainshark

Budget constraints may shrink carriers' appetites for large-scale investment in R&D, but more bite-size solutions can help insurers innovate on a smaller scale.

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With all that has happened over the past several months, it is easy to forget that, figuratively at least, risk is not a four-letter word. This economy has reminded insurers of the importance of strong enterprise risk management practices, but, unfortunately, carrier culture has grown even more risk averse as a result. Consequently, in many cases this has stifled innovation. After all, with belt-tightening rampant across the industry, it can be very difficult to justify large-scale investment in R&D projects that have no imminent business case.

In response, insurers could pursue smaller-scale innovations -- with smaller price tags and, of course, less risk. For example, in 2001 (around the same time the U.S. economy last found itself in recession) Jacksonville-based Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida (BCBSF; $8.34 billion in 2007 annual revenue) began leveraging Brainshark Standard Edition, a solution that allows users to upload and disseminate audio-enhanced slide presentations to clients via the Web.

BCBSF director of sales communication Jep Larkin calls the small-but-significant Brainshark innovation an easy win for CIOs and IT teams. "We didn't need to have torturous sessions of business-IT requirements," he recalls. "[IT] didn't have to code or design -- this is turn-key. To the extent that CIOs can add this to their portfolios of solutions, it's a fairly easy win with minimum resource impact and maximum value as compared to some other applications that require some development and maintenance."

The eponymous solution from Waltham, Mass.-based Brainshark is Web-based and, BCBSF sources say, has helped the carrier improve internal efficiency and create a value-added service for its group employer clients. It wasn't a large investment, but, since BCBSF began using Brainshark, Larkin suggests, the carrier has consistently enjoyed a strong market position with regard to customer communication. "Brainshark fits a very practical, simple niche," he says. "It's meeting a need within the portfolio of communication mediums. It is working out great because it's simple, affordable and effective."

BCBSF sales coordinators, strategic account executives and sales directors develop Powerpoint presentations using Pragmatech (now known as Lowell, Mass.-based Kadient) Presentation Express and then upload those presentations to the Web via the Brainshark tool, according to Marcia Elder, manager of sales solutions at BCBSF. The tool then provides a phone connection over which users can record audio to accompany the slide presentation. The presentations are then made available to selected BCBSF clients and members via e-mail and the Web. The Brainshark tool, Elder says, allows the carrier to make and distribute both generic and specific communications to employer group customers during the sales process and to potential members during the open enrollment process.

Larkin adds, "You might just have one or two slides that are complex and really need to be explained. Rather than force [customers] to read speaker notes or a long [explanation], you can just upload the slides to Brainshark and just talk into the phone. [Clients then] have a rich media experience when they open your e-mail -- they hear you talking and explaining things to them."

In addition, the solution has helped BCBSF sales people better connect with employer group decision makers. "It's so hard for a lot of our sales people to get a hold of decision makers. They go back and forth with e-mail and voicemail," Larkin relates. "But this is a little bit different media experience. It seems pretty popular."

Cost Savings Too

BCBSF has also realized significant savings from the Brainshark tool, most notably by cutting down on travel required to present to its employer group customers' employees during the open enrollment process, according to Larkin, who notes that previously the carrier had to fly employees to each of those office locations to present to a relatively small number of people. "We may send out people to do the annual open enrollment season. [This] can take the place of that, instead of flying to those [remote office] locations and incurring airline, lodging, rental car and all those expenses. We estimated that last year we saved close to $400,000 on travel. That's a pretty compelling return on investment," says Larkin, who adds that the company's printing budget has also been reduced as Brainshark usage increased.

Tracking features built into the system helped the carrier's employer group customers accept a new way of doing things, after some had initially expressed concern regarding a reduction in face-to-face presentations. "We activate the tracking feature where they actually see if their employees viewed the presentation, because they have to log-in," Larkin explains.

Since the insurer first implemented the Brainshark solution, many others have followed suit, indicating that the capability an innovation such as Brainshark provides -- at one time just a nice-to-have -- could become a must-have. "When we've provided this to employer groups in the past, the next year it becomes an expectation," Elder says.

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