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Timely service, wireless access expedite success in the insurance industry

Time is crucial in the insurance industry--crucial for customers and crucial for corporate competitiveness. One way to speed the delivery of information to insurance companies, to agents and, of course, to customers is through knowledge management systems technology and applications. When insurance sales agents and adjusters need information on the fly, for instance, KM is helping to pull together the data from a variety of sources while they're on the road serving customers and investigating claims.

The data insurance users need to access comes in many forms. They might need to look at the original insurance application ... or the digital images of a car wreck ... or perhaps a police report with a diagram of the accident that has been scanned into the system. Independent insurance agents have the additional burden of having to answer questions on a variety of policies from an assortment of insurance companies. Having centralized, easily accessible knowledge about their product offerings and customers is essential. One prevailing trend is wireless. Companies are looking for applications that employees, as well as consumers, can access via the Web on personal digital assistants (PDA) and cell phones.

The ability to provide access to insurance documents has added benefits for consumers as well. Many routine questions--such as "Has my payment been processed?" and "What is my deductible?"--can be made available online. When a question arises that is out of the ordinary, KM systems can provide customer service representatives with access to a host of data from a wide variety of sources to help sort out a difficult problem.

"The bottom line is that most people pick an insurance company based on the service they can provide," says Bubba Mullen, manager of insurance solutions for SolCom. "That means being able to respond in a variety of ways--including voice response and even wireless access to the insurance company's data."

Venetica is developing applications for wireless access to insurance data. It offers Web portal applications through which customers and business partners can access information. The portal provides a single point of access to documents, images, reports, product diagrams, audio, video and other content.

"We've got a few wireless scenarios related to the insurance industry that we're demonstrating," says Marc Andrews, Venetica's director of product marketing. "One big issue in the insurance industry is delays in the sales cycle. Those delays can be caused by not having information readily available. What we're working on is enabling the salesperson to pull out a Palm Pilot or even a WAP-enabled (wireless application protocol) cell phone.”

Another area where wireless access to data is providing a competitive advantage is communication with adjusters in the field. "A single point of access to any type of document--a digital image, a claim--is key," says Andrews.

The need to access data from a number of different sources is also driving insurance applications, says Stuart Levinson, Venetica's CEO. "Insurance companies are looking to make unstructured content more relevant. They're integrating across divisions and across companies. They need to access bits and pieces of information from servers across the country a if it were stored in one system," he says. "When e-business became a competitive driver for insurance companies and they developed relationships with business partners online, they needed real-time access to content. That content resides in repositories that are accessed through different protocols and methodologies. The trend is to provide seamless access to that data over the Web.”.

One application in which real-time access to insurance data is essential is in the customer service department. The average person calls his or her health plan provider four times a year, and some of those calls could be significantly shortened or even eliminated with a Web-based knowledge management system accessible to customers and agents, says Gary McNeil, director of marketing and sales operations with Authoria.

"A Web-based system would make it easier to provide customers with an accurate, personalized answer based on the rules," he says.

Member self-service is already a reality, according to McNeil, who says that most insurers give members the ability to look up provider or doctor information on the Web site. But few--only 15%--verify benefit information on the Web, he adds, even though industry research indicates that some customers would pay a fee of $5 per month to have the ability to verify information online.

W.R. Berkley is looking to technology to communicate more effectively with its customers and independent agents.

"There are so many pieces associated with an insurance application," says Harry Berkley, VP of information technology for W.R. Berkley. "With knowledge management and Web technology, we anticipate that our subsidiaries will save both money and development time in connecting to various imaging and storage systems."

W.R. Berkley's independent agents need to access a wide variety of information that is currently stored in different imaging systems, document management applications and databases. A Web-based knowledge management system, using tools from Venetica, will provide its agents with a single interface to access, collaborate and share information through its new Web portal application. The system, which is being rolled out now, will enable agents to retrieve images, photos, documents, policy forms and correspondence, even when it is stored in multiple physical locations.

"[We] anticipate that our subsidiaries will save both money and development time in connecting to various imaging and storage systems," Berkley says. "Our programmers no longer have to write code to connect to each of the multiple databases, imaging applications and legacy systems that we use." The company uses a FileNet imaging application

The knowledge management system will eliminate the need for agents to have to call the insurance company's corporate offices when a customer has a question. "People call their agent if they've lost a statement, don't know how much they owe. They ask, 'What's my deducible?' It has been difficult to provide them access to our data because it is all on different servers. The plan is to have one Web server to provide a simplified picture," Berkley explains. In addition to storing tradition documents such as copies of policies and claim forms, the KM system can be used to store files such as spreadsheets.

"This is particularly important for commercial policies,” Berkley says. “They often require the creation of a spreadsheet to determine the cost of the policy. It is helpful to be able to store this information along with the other documentation if an agent has a question about how they came up with the number being charged for the policy. And it is great that we won't have to make significant changes to the Web site to be able to add access to those kinds of documents."

The insurance firm expects to significantly reduce printing and mailing costs using the knowledge management system. "We spend millions of dollars sending copies of policies to agents. Every time a policy is updated we had to send out a new copy. With some of our commercial policies, they can literally be updated daily,” he explains.

Staying informed

Keeping policies updated is certainly a challenge constantly facing insurance providers. Another is staying abreast of regulatory changes.

Home Security of America, a business unit of CNA, offers home warranty policies that cover appliances and other items. In some states, home warranties such as those offered by HSA are considered a form of insurance and must adhere to state-mandated guidelines.

"If a state makes a change that may impact our business, we can make the changes and have those incorporated into our contract without delay," says Amy Bergholz, HSA's VP of marketing. The company plans to roll out a its Web-based KM system in March, which uses technology from Proforma Corporation. Customer relationship management is a key component of the system.

Says Daniel Brown, HSA's chief financial officer, "The core of the system is that it keeps track of the information crucial to serving our customers as well as our national marketing partners. They can gain access to the information. In the case of our marketing partners, they can be better informed about what they are selling; and in the case of our customers, they can be better informed about what they are buying."

The processing of applications is expected to be reduced from days to hours, Brown says. Instead of a paper application having to be filled out and then rekeyed, the applications will be filled out and submitted online. Brown expects that settlement of claims will take place online eventually. The ultimate benefit of the KM system, he says, is providing consistent information to customers and marketing partners.

"When a question arises,” Brown says, “customer service representatives can call up a list of scripts with just one button to look at some standard replies that may apply to a particular situation."

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 609-448-7509, e-mail kimzimmermann@home.com

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