With its quacking duck stoking sales, Aflac ($59.8 billion in total assets) found itself in a quandary in late 2002. "To maintain our hallmark level of customer service we had to become more efficient," reflects David Turner, advanced technology VP for the Columbus, Ga.-based insurer's IT division. "We'd already digitized paper. But we needed a next-generation solution to support our double-digit growth."
Turner assembled a four-person project team and spent the next year developing a strategic business process management (BPM) plan. "Back then, enterprise-class business process management was just emerging," Turner explains.
During the first half of 2004, Turner's team researched available technologies, including recommendations by analyst firms Forrester Research (Cambridge, Mass.) and Gartner (Stamford, Conn.). Of a dozen identified vendors, six were invited on site. "We decided to have each of them build something meaningful," recounts Turner. "So we asked them to automate our incoming applications from new customers."
According to Turner, Teamworks from Lombardi Software (Austin, Texas) rose to the top. "Lombardi demonstrated the best comprehension of service-oriented architecture [SOA] and the concepts surrounding digital choreography," Turner asserts.
After closing a deal in December 2004, a pilot was designed to establish ownership of the project within Aflac. "We chose wellness claims, which we were digitizing via OCR [optical character recognition]," says Turner. "Since OCR always produces exceptions, Lombardi choreographed getting the exceptions to a human to reconcile and moving the results back into the digital processing stream."
With the OCR pilot completed in April 2005, payroll accounts reconciliation was chosen to serve as a model for an enterprisewide implementation strategy. "We had approximately 400,000 external account relationships billing on a biweekly or monthly cycle," reports Turner. "About 10 to 15 percent required human intervention at any given moment."
By March 2006 Teamworks was in use by 20 to 30 payroll reconciliation processors, according to Turner. In four subsequent waves, Teamworks' table-driven rollout capability converted Aflac's remaining 110,000-plus users. "By simply changing the table's attributes, Teamworks distributed the workload accordingly," Turner explains. "Teamworks coexisted with the established people/paper process to create redundancy and enhance adoption."
The rollout was completed by July 2006. "At each level we monitored performance and made adjustments," Turner says. "From an IT perspective, you really don't know how volume will impact infrastructure in advance. On the human side, it turned out that moving paper around was such a hassle that Teamworks' acceptance latency was imperceptible."
Since deployment, payroll reconciliation costs have plummeted by 10 percent to 12 percent, Turner notes. "Plus, customer feedback shows our quality has improved," he says, adding that the solution also enhanced employee satisfaction.
Turner says database management system issues caused some technical frustration but eventually were traced to the Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) LAN environment on which Aflac implemented Teamworks. Working with Lombardi, Aflac decided to redeploy Teamworks onto a Sun Microsystems (Santa Clara, Calif.) infrastructure.
Up next is policy services, with rollout set to start in May, Turner relates. "We definitely expect to implement Teamworks in all critical areas of our business," he says.
Aflac (Columbus, Ga.; $59.8 billion in total assets).
Lines of business
Lombardi Software's (Austin, Texas) Teamworks BPM software.
Automate manual processes to support double-digit growth.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio