The limitations of an existing hardware platform gave Indiana Farm Bureau's (IFB, Indianapolis, $400 million premium in force) automobile business' field services an opportunity to achieve greater gains than simply getting a more user-friendly laptop.
As recently as a year ago the carrier's 42 material damage appraisers, charged with writing estimate sheets, were using five-year-old Itronix (Spokane, WA) laptops as they appraised claimants' automobile damage throughout the state of Indiana. "They had a very small, monochromatic screen, a small keyboard and were very heavy," says Joe Marcum, field services manager, IFB. "They were slow and not very attuned to being upgraded."
After entering damage information into the Itronix unit, appraisers would synch the information at the end of the day, via landline, to ADP Claim Services (San Ramon, CA)the firm's ASP host for estimatingwhich would "massage" the information and push it back electronically. "My guys then had to print it, fax it and mail it," depending on who needed to get the information, Marcum says. "We do take digital photos, but we have had to physically send them to the file handlers."
As IFB Web-enabled its corporate systems in 2001, the old laptops had to go, since they couldn't support corporate software. "We had to drive to one of our county offices and get on dumb terminals in order to communicate with the back office," Marcum recalls. "I needed to access new features of ADP, get my staffhooked up to corporate, and it had to be with a ruggedized box that would withstand field use."
Having observed the products at a demonstration, Marcum selected a Panasonic semi-ruggedized Toughbook 72, combined with a touch-screen MDWD handheld display, connected to the main unit by 80211b wireless protocol. With the handheld, "my appraisers can 'walk' the vehicle in any weather, and while they're writing the estimate and doing damage entries, it's talking real-time back to the laptop," Marcum explains. ADP's PenPro 4.05 software calculates the estimate, allowing appraisers to cut checks on the spot.
IFB purchased the equipment this past May and began implementation in August. One immediate benefit is that the need to fax forms has been virtually eliminated, Marcum explains. "We can immediately send a completed estimate out electronically not only to the file handler, but whoever else may need to review it, without having to copy it and mail it out." Marcum is slowly rolling out the new functionality because "I don't want to flood file handlers with a new procedure they might resist," he says. "I would rather 'bleed' the functionality in to gain their acceptance."
One obstacle that Marcum faced in deploying the new hardware was that IFB was ramping up a Microsoft (Redmond, WA) NT platform throughout the firm and the Panasonic suite runs best on Windows 2000. "I convinced our IT department to let us stand alone," he says. The auto business continues to operate on the firm's legacy system and is able to access the mainframe by legacy emulation, using Citrix Systems (Fort Lauderdale, FL) software.
The next step is to fully utilize ADP's hosting capabilities by moving to its Claims Gateway, a Web-based platform that will allow anytime access to imported claims information by any permitted party, says Marcum. "ADP will store the estimates, digital photos and total loss evaluations."
Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, Indianapolis, $400 million premium in force.
LINES OF BUSINESS:
Multi-line property and casualty, life and annuities.
Panasonic (Secaucus, NJ) Toughbook 72 laptop,MDWD handheld display; ADP Claims Services (San Ramon, CA) PenPro 4.05 software.
Connect field appraisers to back-office systems.
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