Physical records are cumbersome to circulate, but it was their vulnerability to destruction that motivated Manhattan, Kan.-based Farm Bureau Mutual (FBM, $150 million premium in force, 2002) in 1997 to replace its paper and microfiche archival system. "We had no disaster recovery program," says Shawna Oliver, business quality administrator, FBM, and imaging administrator at the time. "If there were a fire in the basement, the records were all gone."
But the inefficiency of FBM's document management systems was also an important driver for change. According to Oliver, customer service suffered due to the time required to produce documents. "It was extremely hard to get the old data in a timely manner; it usually took from four to six hours to retrieve a fiche," she says. Delays for archived paper documents could take from three to 14 days. "But we felt that we would achieve our main savings by going to imaging and COLD (computer output to laser disc) rather than printing out all this stuff," Oliver says.
After a three-month requirements gathering process, FBM performed a search that yielded 40 vendors. After reducing the field to five contestants, Optical Image Technology's (OIT) Docfinity software suite stood out. "The OIT product was the only one that met all of our requirements without having to make major modifications," Oliver says. "Also, the Docfinity solution was very competitively priced."
After signing a contract in June 1998, FBM began a four-stage implementation with OIT, including front-end, report management, workflow and imaging. After review of hardware needs and mapping of workflow, Docfinity was piloted November 1998 in FBM's assigned risk department, which had only two employees. "We wanted to start small," Oliver says.
The system worked well, leading to installation in FBM's fast-track claims area in March 1999, with about 10 employees online. Trouble arose in January 2000, however, when the system was rolled out to personal lines auto, with 65 employees in dispersed locations. "The system began to crash eight to 10 times a day" over a three-week period, Oliver recalls. "Our SQL database had a lot of connect/disconnect problems."
The crashes-and the resulting overtime work-were ill-received by the systems end-users, most of whom had previously worked only on dumb terminals. "At the same time we were training them for imaging, we had to train them for the system's Windows front end," Oliver says. When two OIT programmers arrived to address the crashes they "solved the problem immediately," she adds. "Now the users love the system."
Docfinity gained other fans by reducing printing costs 50 percent upon moving to COLD, says Oliver. And, in fact, the entire cost of the solution is equivalent to about a year's worth of printing and microfiche supplies. "But we really found most of our savings in the workflow part of it because users could tell exactly where a piece of business was," she says. FBM was also able to reduce its records department staff from 26 to 13 users through attrition.
Document retrieval now only takes about five seconds, and images come online about four hours after paper is received. Documents now stored in a 1.2-terabyte magnetic (RAID) storage box and a 5.2-GB, 156-slot optical jukebox, rather than in a 5,000-square-feet storage area. FMB introduced a storage area network in 2002, but other improvements on the Docfinity-based system were put on hold due to a merger with two other Farm Bureau affiliates in Nebraska and Iowa, which got rolling in May 2003, according to Oliver. Possible future directions will include extending some system functionality to both field affiliates and customers.
CASE STUDY CLOSEUP
COMPANY: Farm Bureau Mutual, Manhattan, Kan., $150 million premium in force (2002).
LINES OF BUSINESS: Life, annuities, assigned risk and personal and commercial lines.
VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: Optical Image Technology, Inc. (State College, Pa.), Docfinity software suite.
CHALLENGE: Replace inefficient and vulnerable physical document archiving 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