The best analogy for insurance technology solutions may be "trying to put a square peg in a round hole." And I suppose no matter which cliché you use, the meaning is the same: making an inappropriate object or solution fit where it doesn't really belong.With a plethora of similar technology solutions invading the insurance industry, determining which one really is "next-generation," "cutting-edge" or "the perfect fit" is often virtually impossible. For instance, the confusion surrounding one of today's most useful and functional technology solutions-enterprise content management (ECM)-has put more than one insurer in a tough spot.

"The paperless office continues to be an elusive goal for most insurance carriers, despite broad awareness of how much paper constrains business processes," says Craig Weber, a senior analyst in New York-based Celent LLC's insurance practice. "But electronic methods and tools are slowly penetrating the insurance vertical, under a variety of names. These tools have subtle differences, but they also overlap in that they all leverage the natural advantage of electronic information versus ink on paper."

As Weber states, the differences between document imaging, document management and enterprise content management are often subtle. Therefore, carriers often send out requests for proposal (RFP), and ultimately, use the solutions interchangeably.

Unfortunately, those subtle differences can have a considerable impact on an insurance company hoping for distinct results, and using these solutions interchangeably could be costly.

STATIC IN NATURE

"Document imaging is often the first step in transitioning from yesterday's paper to today's electronic processes," says Weber. "Paper documents are converted to digital files using scanning devices."

For most carriers, these newly created digital files are static and are stored in electronic archives. In a handful of cases, they are electronically routed for additional processing. But more often than not, digital documents are not linked to any additional processes or workflows.

"Document management refers to the process of composing electronic document templates and creating customized versions of documents based on variable data that is unique for each use," says Weber.

Most document management solutions enable companies to consolidate and manage multiple content types in a single repository, making them accessible through a single client interface.

However, even a feature-rich and scalable document management solution will not provide users with the ability to actually connect captured content to users, processes and applications in other departments.

Once an insurance company takes the step past document management and into enterprise content management, key employees are able to branch out from just managing image files to actually working with all the internal documents that the company uses on a daily basis.

ECM can do what more simplistic document imaging and document management solutions can do. It can standardize, digitize and automate processes just like document imaging and document management solutions do.

And, the benefits of ECM can be realized within multiple departments of an insurance company, including new business applications, underwriting, claims, financial management, customer service, forms management, agency management, human resources and risk management.

BROADER STRATEGIES

Unlike document imaging and document management solutions, ECM combines integrated document management, business process management and records management in a single application.

The workflow capabilities inherent to most ECM solutions enable true collaboration. ECM also provides features such as alternate routing logic, automatic criteria calculation, rendezvous, simultaneous notification, load balancing, reporting, ad hoc workflow, and application program interfaces for integration with core legacy systems.

Whether deployed as a hosted or in-house solution, ECM enables organizations to automate business processes, reduce the time and cost of performing important business functions, improve organizational efficiency, and address the need for governance, risk and compliance through the management and control of content from virtually any source. It also facilitates the sharing of digital content with employees, business partners, customers and other audiences.

Tim Tallaksen is industry manager, insurance, at Hyland Software, Westlake, Ohio. He can be reached at hyland@onbase.com.

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