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Insurers Gain Productivity, Improved Service and a Modern Work Environment Through Workforce Optimization Initiatives

Workforce optimization technologies provide insurance companies with business agility and transparency into their processes, powering greater efficiency and productivity as well as a more engaging work environment.

A workforce optimization initiative undertaken by Combined Insurance worked so well in 2009 that the Chicago-based insurer once again enlisted the help of its vendor, Melville, N.Y.-based Verint, in 2011 to upgrade its capabilities and unite them with the vendor's call recording application to create a unified workforce management (WFM) platform. Despite that success, Brian Coleman, VP of operational control and risk management at Combined (part of the Zurich-based ACE Group of Companies; $20.8 billion in gross written premium), declines to share concrete measures of improved staff productivity. The reason? By introducing WFM, he explains, the supplemental insurance carrier enjoyed a degree of transparency into its operations that could not be achieved with its original productivity monitoring techniques.

"With the WFM tools we were able to determine the effectiveness of a particular worker, but we also discovered that there were work activities on that person's desk that previously hadn't been accounted for," Coleman explains. "It made it look as if they were underperforming when in fact they were doing more work than we thought."

Combined began in November 2011 the initiative to integrate Verint's ULTRA call recording application, which it deployed two years earlier, with the latest version of the vendor's WFM capabilities, the Impact 360 Workforce Optimization suite. Set to go live in June 2012, the integrated capabilities will further increase managers' visibility into processes and additional coaching opportunities, according to Coleman, but they also will enable what he characterizes as "equitable discussions" that fully appreciate the personal contributions and concerns of employees.

The transparency enabled by workforce optimization (WFO) gives senior management a better feel of the pulse of the organization, providing them with the information needed to make decisions faster, on a more proactive basis, according to Nicole Nevulis, a senior consultant within Verint's back-office practice. "WFO provides tools such as process analytics, performance management and workforce management to create a more nimble organization to meet customers' needs," she comments.

Nevulis describes WFO as a process whose success depends on comprehensive up-front analysis of the status quo of business processes. "Before we introduce a solution we bring in a team to evaluate what needs to feed into WFM tools and to the up-front technology consultative part," she explains. "Without thorough analysis, they may not get the desired improvement -- it's very important that insurers understand that there's a maturity path on their WFO journey that needs to be well thought out."

A Competitive 'Secret Weapon'

WFO is often part of an insurer's larger strategic maturity path, insists Evan McDonnell, VP, solutions, at Appian, a Reston, Va.-based provider of business process management (BPM) solutions. He describes WFO as a "secret weapon" for carving out competitive advantage through greater efficiency and effectiveness.

"Our customers in insurance are saying our workforces are not optimized because we don't have control and visibility of the work. We don't know where things are, and we can't get in and escalate problems," McDonnell says. "WFO directs work to the most appropriate person, through a combination of process and rules, arming that person with all of the data needed to make the best decision in the moment."

WFO is obviously an efficiency play, but understanding its potential requires going past the obvious, suggests John Sarich, senior solution architect, NIIT Technologies (Noida, India). There is a danger for insurers to be focused on technology as the means to future-proof their organizations, when in fact the agile enterprise is defined by intelligent and efficient processes, he stresses. "Future-proofing isn't just about code; it's about business processes and rules inherent in systems," Sarich says. "It's about how you expose those rules and get people involved in the most efficient and high-value ways."

Sarich's idea of high-value contributions comprises not only efficiency and effectiveness but also positive engagement on the part of insurance professionals. An optimized work environment, he implies, not only relieves workers of drudgery, it also provides a stimulating environment for the exercise of their talents.

For example, insurers recognize a burgeoning revolution taking place in the workforce, and they are embracing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies and other tools that blend work and lifestyle, Sarich says. "One of the greatest challenges insurers face is being able to effectively map and analyze their existing workforce and processes while knowing that there's a next generation of workers that will be very different," he cautions.

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

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