Amica's Tech Strategy Drives Customer Service Excellence

J.D. Power recently announced that Amica Mutual Insurance Company has topped its Homeowners Insurance Customer Satisfaction rankings for the 15th consecutive year. To find out how the insurer’s technology strategy and investments contributed to this ongoing success Insurance Networking News spoke with Darlene Major VP for the corporate information systems (CIS) department for the Lincoln, Rhode Island-based insurer.

INN: Can you tell us a little about your background at Amica?

Darlene Major: I just marked my 30th anniversary with the company. I started right after college as a computer programmer. Like most young people, I thought I’d check it out and move on. Instead, our culture of collaboration and inclusivity drew me in, and I’m still here today.

INN: Does this collaborative culture extend to information services and inform the department’s role in customer satisfaction?

DM: Absolutely. There’s such a strong partnership between IS and the business. It’s been that way since I started. Throughout planning, solution delivery and operational support, IS and the business collaborate to design systems that enable our CSRs to focus on building customer relationships, rather than struggling with the technology they use to do their jobs. It’s the same with our digital channels, as we want to give our customers the same world-class service experiences in the channel of their choice.

INN: Can you be more specific about the meaning of IS and business “collaboration” at Amica?

DM: It’s baked into our corporate culture. Whenever we pursue a technology initiative, IS and business representatives work jointly to weigh the risks and benefits. Together, we decide the best approach for Amica as a whole, not just for either CIS or the business. Then, we jointly work toward our goals. This includes co-locating business representatives with us in CIS during technology projects, which has proven invaluable for the business to learn from us and for us to learn from them.

INN: So, is the business/technology collaboration limited to projects?

DM: No, it’s much deeper than that. Nothing is ever driven by either just the business or just technology. We’ve constructed a number of mechanisms to continuously bridge the gap between IS and the business, so I can honestly say we work in equal partnerships. Our approach is particularly apparent when we attend conferences or expos. We attend collectively – with a business person and a technologist paired up for the duration of the event – while other insurers may send their business and technology representatives separately. Another example is our company’s annual management conferences, where a business and a CIS representative have given technology presentations together.

INN: Switching gears, can you discuss some key historical technology investments that have supported high customer satisfaction?

DM: When we designed our legacy core system 30 years ago, we did so with the business. This enabled us to continue adding functionality for a long time. In 1998, we began addressing digital with as a static website, upgrading it in 2000 to include transactional content for auto and homeowners quoting. A few years later, we embarked on a core and enterprise systems modernization to move from paper to electronic workflows.

INN: Can you provide more details about the modernization?

DM: We began with claims, purchasing Guidewire’s ClaimCenter, and used agile methodology to deploy the first branch in March 2008. Concurrently, we converted to enterprise ECM. Given the remarkable efficiencies, we quickly deployed company-wide, significantly boosting our responsiveness during Hurricane Ike that September. Next, we evaluated PolicyCenter and began implementation when we felt it was mature enough. We also adopted BillingCenter. We’ve now rolled out PolicyCenter to 39 states for auto, with target completion across all lines in 2018. We’re also in the process of adopting a leading cloud-based enterprise CRM as a key solution in our multichannel infrastructure.

INN: How have these significant deployments impacted CIS and, by extension, business operations?

DM: To improve our 340-person department’s ability to work on such complex and concurrent projects, we undertook a DevOps initiative in 2012 to engineer repeatable and consistent processes for fully automating the builds and deployments of our distributed applications. It resulted in enhanced system stability, while also significantly reducing implementation timelines. This, in turn, enables us to deliver more innovation to our business users more rapidly.

INN: What about mobile, how are you addressing escalating expectations for self-service?

DM: Concurrent with our significant modernization initiative, we’ve worked to embrace mobile. We deployed our first app in November 2010 and introduced our mobile website in 2011. To ensure we can continue advancing mobility, while CIS is focused on completing the modernization, we recently hired an external technology partner to work with the business and CIS. They will help to determine what our customers expect – not just what our competitors are offering. That team is identifying gaps and developing a mobile strategy to ensure we not only offer the latest interaction experiences, but also introduce products to cover new customer behaviors, such as car sharing by millennials.

INN: Your marketing department just announced a partnership with Epsilon that includes a business-centric cloud-enabled solution. Many enterprise IT departments struggle with enabling the business to adopt cloud solutions that exist largely outside of IT. How does CIS navigate this issue?

DM: Just like any other technology initiative, we encourage business units to come to us with solution options, including cloud-enabled. We have a joint vetting process, to ensure the business gets what they need and a cloud solution is compliant. For example, when our legacy on-site human resources solution became unmanageable, CIS and our HR department investigated cloud-based options. It resulted in the adoption of Ultimate Software’s UltiPro, giving the business an appropriate tool and enabling CIS to redeploy valuable development resources.

INN: How does your technology strategy continue to support customer service going forward? With the increasingly rapid pace of technological change, and corresponding customer demands, how does Amica identify and leverage “the next big thing?”

DM: A few years ago, we created a cross-divisional leadership committee that discusses business needs and the technology investments required. In addition to this committee, various cross-divisional subgroups were created and tasked with constantly scanning the horizon. For example, our competitive intelligence group and our innovation group each meet regularly to identify evolutions in their respective areas and research ways to respond. All of the subgroups feed information and recommendations back to the leadership committee, and we report to the executive team. This structure not only uncovers opportunities early, but it also gives us the flexibility and agility to decide on how best to proceed for our company as a whole.

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