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To maintain its dominant position in Maine's workers' compensation market, Maine Employers' Mutual Insurance Co. leverages IT to improve service for its agent customers.

The battles that Gary Baxter, SVP and CIO of Portland, Maine-based Maine Employers' Mutual Insurance Co. (MEMIC; $160 million in premium), faces on any given day may not be as dramatic as those in a Francis Ford Coppola movie, but the thrill of solving IT crises, Baxter says, gets him through the day. "There is a line in 'Apocalypse Now' -- 'I love the smell of napalm in the morning.' Well, I love the smell of new challenges," he relates. "In the insurance industry, business and technology issues are always blazing up, and I enjoy putting the fires out."

After serving in the Air Force for four years, Baxter began his pursuit of a career in insurance services and, 10 years later, he was hired by MEMIC in 1996 to shake up the carrier's IT department. "When I was hired, the IT function here was an internally focused technology provider," he says. "Now, we are a customer-focused service provider."

Since MEMIC is a workers' compensation carrier, Baxter's challenges and the meaning of "customer-focused" are somewhat unique. Like most insurers, MEMIC is facing an impending soft market in which independent agents are flocking to carriers with the most-efficient and convenient processes to submit new business. However, MEMIC's 1,000 independent agents are not selling directly to policyholders. Rather, MEMIC's agents distribute to employers that are looking for an insurance company with which it is easy to work, and the carrier's IT organization plays a major role in helping to retain those policyholders.

Technology facilitates the distribution of information among MEMIC, the agents, employers and the workers that are covered by the policies, according to Baxter. "IT is making a significant impact on retaining existing accounts and obtaining new customers by making it easier to do business with MEMIC," he says. "Agents are being given the tools to more-efficiently serve their clients and are, therefore, eager to keep their existing accounts with us and to give us a look at their promising new business prospects."

With a laundry list of IT projects for a staff of only 18, Baxter says his greatest challenge is maintaining his staff. "My biggest challenge at the moment is retaining my top people," he offers. "It is critical to the business to keep the people we have developed over the years here and happy."

With the help of those people, Baxter has managed to complete three large IT projects at the same time: building a real-time Web-based agent interface, creating an electronic document delivery system and revamping the Web-based claims reporting system to help the business become more customer friendly. "Ninety percent of the projects we work on are generated by the business units and prioritized by how they affect the customer," explains Baxter. "These projects are part of our ongoing process to improve our services through the alignment of business and IT."

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