A new architecture and associated document management solution is streamlining enrollment at Unum Group.

Kevin McCarthy, president of U.S. Unum, was happy to share $13.7 million in bonuses with its Chattanooga, Tenn., workforce as part of a $44.5 million companywide dole out in March. “All of this activity around pricing, discipline, underwriting disciplines and business mix management has led to some fairly dramatic improvements in our loss ratios,” McCarthy told attendees at a recent Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst meeting in Naples, Fla.

But if you ask John Harris, one of Unum’s systems consultants, he’d tell you he’d like to think that it may have had something to do with an enterprise-wide initiative called “Simply Unum.” The Simply Unum project is delivering the technology possible to streamline enrollment for its 100,000 customers, and offering 28,000 product options and services with self-service components.

Marking its 160th year in business, U.S. Unum is part of Unum Group, a $10.5 billion company that employs 10,000 in the United States and U.K., and provides disability, long term care, life and voluntary insurance to more than 21 million individuals and their families.

Competing with the likes of Aetna, Mutual of Omaha, Wachovia and even U.S. Bank, Unum has been on a fast track since 2003, launching new products and services in all of its businesses.

As part of that growth initiative, Unum’s IT team was already tasked with devising a new architectural strategy when the directive came to devise a way to give its administrators, benefit managers and human resource professionals what they need to better engage, retain and maintain their business.

“We sat with the business unit heads and came up with the Simply Unum tag line to describe what we hoped to accomplish, a new approach that makes it easier to do business with us,” Harris says.

Leveraging its service-oriented architecture (SOA) foundation, the enterprisewide approach started with a review of the company’s some 100 disparate systems.

“We experienced a lot of merger and acquisition (M&A) activities over the years, and the systems in place reflected a variety of document generation systems, some developed in house, some developed for the mainframe,” Harris says. “None of them were as flexible as they could be.”

And because Unum’s data was at the mercy of its many systems, the challenge, adds Harris, was to find a solution that would work with logical data models not just for the Simply Unum project, but throughout the enterprise.


The Unum meeting between IT and its business brought to light the desire to focus on document-related processes that could improve employee productivity and create a positive customer experience. Further, the goal was to find a solution that could provide a single technology platform that would comprise an automated path—from personalized benefit package designs, to quoting, to enrollment, to ongoing billing and administration.

Unum is not alone in its quest to streamline the customer experience. According to an Insurance Networking News’ reader focus group held in November, 2007, finding the right mix of personalized communications and focusing on leveraging technologies that will positively impact the front office were among participants’ significant interests.

“Buying insurance is a complex business, and we needed to keep our eye on the mission—to make it easier for our customers to do business with us,” Harris says. “We were initially concerned with finding a solution that had the capability to consolidate all our different siloed systems in order to meet the project’s blueprint for consistent, clear communications.”

For Harris and his team, it meant finding a way to consolidate treatment of a variety of those communications, such as EFI applications, which allows Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-approved organizations to submit National Provider Identifiers application information on behalf of providers associated with them, confirmation letters, booklets, correspondence, forms, proposals and corporate and individual contracts.

Experts agree that documents are pervasive throughout an insurance organization. A large percentage of an insurer’s business processes companywide involve the creation of a document to enable a process or conclude an event. In Unum’s case, creating a path from back office processing to front office presentation, and back again for transaction completion, made sense. And as Unum began looking at options, it sought technology that would support XML data.

The company ultimately chose Dialogue, a platform for building and deploying all high-volume, on-demand and interactive document applications across the enterprise from Exstream Software, a Lexington, Ky., provider of enterprise document management solutions.


Harris explains that from the point at which a customer submits a request to the point at which they view a policy, for example, the request is passed through various workflows and then reaches Dialogue. Dialogue responds by creating the document in real time, and then passes it back to the customer in PDF form. Real-time technology supports online claim filing, and provides both the employer and employee with continuous access to the status of the claim. Real-time also is used to allow human resources personnel to take advantage of convenient real-time plan administration.

“From a technical perspective, SOA allows us to serve up Dialogue’s capabilities,” Harris says. “It hides the internal detail of Dialogue from the rest of the world, so the business side can design their documents, and deploy for reuse in the enterprise. As our customers access Simply Unum and go through the workflow, at some point a document needs to be generated. That document will take the latest version of what that the business person designed...the business side is responsible for keeping the design current.”

The system also “respects” legislative regulation, i.e. generating from the workflow piece a request for the most current version of the document.

Harris adds that drawing upon data from different sources, such as the mainframe, the company chose the distributed version of Dialogue (Windows-based).

“That doesn’t mean we can’t service other platforms,” Harris says. “We can get the data and work it through the system.”

To date, Simply Unum’s tie to Dialogue has been successful in batch-processing documents for up to 500 employees.

“We are starting to expand our product to accommodate higher volume transactions, and we just did a prototype of 100,000 for a group,” Harris says. “Our goal is to automate this behind a service.”


Unlike the technology platform in place during Unum’s various M&A activities, the company can readily expand to meet future needs now that the new architecture is in place, Harris says. “Our initial use of Dialogue was controlled and specific to Simply Unum—now we are building on the same model, and IT is working hand in hand with the larger enterprise to add support for more high-volume types of documents.”

Ironically, during Unum’s Dialogue implementation, Exstream experienced M&A activities of its own, as it was purchased by HP.

“HP buying Exstream was something of a concern for us,” admits Harris. “But working with them, it was never just one person listening — their entire team has been open to our suggestions and has provided solid support, and we hope that positive working relationship continues.”

The executives at Exstream, now having experienced what Unum experienced over the years, recognize the value of maintaining a stable presence.

“We understand that with any type of change comes a certain level of insecurity,” says Lynn Busing, Exstream’s executive VP & GM, Americas Sales and Services. “However, we are very committed to working with our customers to ensure they continue to receive the world-class products and levels of service and support they’ve come to expect.”

As the teams work together to see the Simply Unum project to fruition, the insurer plans to formally measure its return on that investment.

The company also is considering the use of ACORD standards as a component to Simply Unum’s expansion efforts.

“We know ACORD standards are effective, and that’s not being ruled out,” says Harris. “We are in discussions internally, and we have the flexibility to do that. Whether we want to lean on any one standard or not, as we grow and as our scope grows — we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Harris and his team are busy trying to manage expectations of its internal users not attached to the Simply Unum project who are asking for the ability to streamline communications.

See more on this topic by searching “Legislation Altering the Insurance Landscape” at www.insurancenetworking.com.

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Keep An Eye on the Big Picture

It’s no secret that one of the primary challenges faced by the insurance industry is the continued reliance on paper-based communication and documentation. Companies continue to generate paper for a variety of internal policy issuance processes as well as for external customer communications, and they continue to accept paper from external partners and distributors that ultimately requires imaging and archival.

But increased regulation, the need for improved auditability, the trickle-down effects of business expansion efforts and an eye on improving the customer experience are but a few of the many issues nudging insurers ever forward toward adoption of policies that better manage paper.

“The problem, however, goes beyond an insufficient management of paper and documents,” says Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, research VP with Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn., research firm.

Harris-Ferrante maintains that insurers must embrace new forms of content, including e-forms, HTML, chat records and interactive forms, as well as have effective strategies targeted at enterprise content management (ECM) to meet new business objectives. As important is how they implement their document management strategies.

“The use of ECM solutions that are centralized across all line-of-business and departmental functions and accessible by all sales and service channels is essential,” she says.

In a Gartner report entitled “Insurers Turn to ECM for Business Improvement” published late last year, Harris-Ferrante offers the following tips to carriers taking steps to leverage the benefits of ECM:

  • Quantify and qualify the risks of ineffective and siloed document and content management.
  • Document the content needs of core business processes, and ensure that content is available to employees for their job roles.
  • Avoid redundancy in the use of ECM solutions—consolidate systems as appropriate so that different systems aren’t used for the same function in each line of business or department.
  • Ensure that line-of-business or departmental projects integrate or will support enterprise requirements of the future.
  • Integrate ECM and BPM projects and strategies. As companies focus on streamlining and automating core processes, such as claims or underwriting, it is key that required documents and content be included in that process.
  • Ensure ECM is a core component of the multi-channel integration strategy, and that investments are made at the enterprise level, rather than by line of business or department.

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access