Two factors that define a customer's image of an insurance provider are the quality of the buying experience and the effectiveness of the underlying communication. That's why carriers find a comprehensive enterprise communications platform critical. What's needed in communications is consistent excellence.Insurance carriers are feverishly modernizing almost every other aspect of their business, from claims and policy administration systems to agent automation. Large and mid-sized carriers alike are engaged in sweeping projects to grow their businesses and streamline internal processes. In many cases, those efforts provide an opportunity to embrace new capabilities. Yet their approach to document generation has remained static.

But big changes are coming in document generation. New architectures and approaches are moving customer communications from a back office, batch-only production facility out to the front office as a real-time communications solution. Those systems provide opportunities to improve the speed and quality of communication with customers--when and how they need it most. To be effective, carriers must embrace real-time document generation and move away from their comfort zone of batch-oriented print-centricity.

Time to market has long been a key issue for insurance companies that want to differentiate their products from the competition. Standard insurance products are becoming price-driven commodities, and the only way to stay ahead of the field is to become consistently faster and more agile. To do that, insurers must streamline the process for creating new product communications.

IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY

In most organizations, business analysts schedule document development and implementation with IT, which can lead to long delays and lost business opportunities. Delays in creation, filing and approval of documents can cause delays in launching new products. That results in lost revenue.

To reduce time to market, carriers need to shorten document production cycles. That means taking the complexity out of content creation and management, while providing business analysts with easy-to-use document design tools. Moving the day-to-day creation and design of document content to business owners is three times as fast as the old-style model of an IT-managed process, and it consistently provides better quality, accuracy and compliance.

With an increase in new products and more competition, something called "time to action"—the time required to get a customer to take a requested action—is becoming a key driver of new business. Providing quotes, applications, agreements and other time-critical documents at the time they're needed reduces the chance that a prospective customer will shop around.

Customers are becoming more sophisticated and are increasing the demand for immediate information via the Web, agent, broker or customer call center. Maintaining content across all of those channels and making it available in any format (e-mail, fax, print, Web or SMS) and for any brand, requires a new approach. What's needed is architecture that simplifies creation and management of content while filling the need to service customers via their preferred channel.

At the same time, as the number of channels and communications formats increases, duplication of content and document templates raises compliance concerns and boosts maintenance costs. So insurers need to simplify the containment of risk as documents are generated for each format. Amid the complexity that multi-channel creates, insurance companies must find a way to produce timely, compliant, brand-aware documents that maintain consistency.

Today, with the adoption of new architectures, insurers can take the complexity out of document generation while meeting customers' new requirements for communication. So what would the new model for enterprise communications look like?

First, provide business users with control of document creation and management, to meet the demands for faster time to market.

Second, the new model must support multi-channel delivery and provide a framework for real-time communication across all channels and communications formats.

In the new model for document generation, communication is called upon as a service to the organization and as part of a service-oriented architecture (SOA). It needs robust, standards-based Web services interfaces to reduce the cost of integration with core systems and to provide out-of-the box connectivity to vendors of enterprise content management (ECM) and business process management (BPM).

To remain competitive, insurers should view having a single enterprise communications platform as a critical business improvement.

Carriers that adopt that model gain a significant edge. Both front and back office develop and deploy documents more quickly. Business users gain full control of the process, with a platform that supports industry standards as well as all delivery channels.

Neal Keene is vice president for industry solutions at Thunderhead Ltd., a Surrey, U.K.-based software company with offices in New York, California and around the world.

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