Agencies that have not begun to embrace enterprise content management and workflow may have already missed the boat.

INN caught up with Don Elias, president of Conyers, Ga.-based ImageRight, who explains why carriers and agents need to be on the same page when it comes to enterprise content management.

INN: The benefits of enterprise content management (ECM) for carriers are pretty well known throughout the insurance industry, however, ROI for agencies seems less clear. What direct benefits can agencies expect to see from ECM?

DE: The ability of ECM and workflow to deliver speed-to-market is even more vital to agencies than it is to carriers, and the biggest benefit that speed-to-market delivers for agencies is the ability to survive and prosper in an increasingly competitive insurance marketplace. Drilling down slightly, the same ECM functionality carriers use to provide access to documents and information across the enterprise, enables agencies to deliver superior customer service and drive parallel processing.

However, it is important to note that like many other technologies today, ECM is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In an ideal world, an ECM solution will provide scalable benefits to agencies of all sizes, and will offer the ability for users to customize workflows to company, or more accurately, agency-specific situations. By utilizing an ECM solution to establish more refined workflows, agencies can lock submissions faster, double processing speeds, increase commission ratios, and grow their businesses without adding overhead.

INN: With that in mind, is it possible for carriers to drive this type of initiative down through their agency distribution channels? What would you recommend as the best way to get an agency on board with an ECM initiative?

DE: Carriers are certainly able to help drive the process of ECM adoption by making it easier for agencies to leverage their ECM investment. The Holy Grail for both of these groups is straight-through processing (STP). ECM and workflow are the keys to igniting the levels of vertical integration needed for STP.

INN: As a part of an ECM initiative, why are workflow and process automation important in any agency situation?

DE: ECM without workflow is pointless. ECM providers offering a purely paperless solution-simply scanning documents to a directory-are providing false hope. Paper has never existed independent of the tasks and processing associated with them. Workflow, by definition, is moving appropriate documents and data to appropriate individuals, so it is an inherently important part of getting true value from ECM.

Keep in mind, process analysis is a step that every agency and carrier should go through prior to purchasing and implementing any new technology. If you don't understand the ways in which your employees are conducting business before a solution is brought in, you won't be able to fully utilize the solution and achieve the goals you set. Delivering powerful ECM, and workflow, requires the alignment of technological advances with the needs and processes of insurance professionals.

INN: How can an integration ECM and workflow between carriers and agencies facilitate improvement to processes such as rating and quoting, claim handling, policy administration and even billing?

DE: The vital fact in understanding how ECM works in tightly integrated agency and carrier relationships is grasping the nature of the enterprise. Increasingly, the enterprise is not defined by agency or carrier. The new enterprise will require seamless straight-through processing-touching all areas of the insurance life cycle. Agencies and carriers mastering these new synergies will attain significant competitive advantages. ECM and workflow are the mechanisms that make this happen.

INN: Where do you believe agencies will be five years from now in terms of ECM?

DE: There will be two types of agencies: the quick and the dead. Many agencies do not realize that the industry has reached the tipping point. In five years, the agencies that have not begun to embrace ECM and workflow may have already missed the boat. Paper will be gone. Structured and non-structured data will flow freely from consumer to agent to carrier and back.

People are more accepting of this new digital life, free of printed forms and signed documents. Government, banking and legal organizations are embracing this new way of doing business, and agencies and carriers that wait will be hopelessly behind. ECM solutions that are open in architecture, committed to ongoing technological improvements, and built on a solid understanding of the business climate can provide a bridge to the future for agencies and carriers alike.

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