Shelter Insurance, a P&C insurer serving the mid-western United States, was able to cut its budget cycle in half after recently implementing Tidemark, a cloud-based budgeting, forecasting, planning and analytics platform, and Workday, an on-demand financial management package. Insurance Networking News spoke with Tina Workman, VP of accounting and assistant treasurer at Shelter, about the benefits presented by moving to the cloud from a green screen system, the challenge of reengineering business processes with long-time staff, and the benefits that accrued after the project was completed.

INN: What was the project, and what was your role?

Workman: My role was to come up with a replacement for our accounting, budgeting, forecasting and planning systems. We made the decision in October 2013 to go with Tidemark and Workday, and we went live Sept. 1, 2014. We were in the planning stage from October through December, and we hit the ground running about the middle of January this year. It was a very fast implementation.

INN: What was driving the project?

TM: We were using Huon, a very antiquated accounting system that I inherited. It was just a mainframe DB2 system with a green screen. It didn't have any drill-down functionalities. So if you wanted to look at something, you had to first look at the journal, or go to another screen and look up the journal number. Then you had to go to the accountant's desk, and open up their file folder to see why they did the journal entry. From the budgeting side, we were using Excel spreadsheets; all of our forecasting and the whole budget process was all done through spreadsheets outside of any system, housed all across the organization and different network folders. Everything was very manually intensive and investigating any sort of problem was very difficult.

INN: You went from a green screen application to cloud in one leap. Tell me about that.

TW: It was a really big for Shelter to go to the cloud. Shelter is a very traditional, mainframe kind of shop. We looked at traditional 'housed at your home office' and cloud solutions. You need to make sure you feel very comfortable with the cloud security. I love that we can access the whole accounting function from home, from a vacation or from a business meeting. I can approve travel expense reports or purchase orders or anything from anywhere. I don't have to be tied to my desk. We had a big snowstorm yesterday, and some of the folks were able to stay home and finish their job. 

INN: How many people worked on the implementation? What would you do differently?

TW: We had eight information services people and seven accounting personnel. I wish I would have waited maybe two weeks before it went live, but that's not too bad. I didn't allow myself enough time for training. Some of the users weren't quite ready to use the system when we went live, so there was a little struggle there.

INN: In what way were they not ready? Were they not on board for the change?

TW: Some people are used to doing it the same way and they've been in their jobs for thirty years; Shelter has some very long-tenured employees. It was a big change because we went from this very static mainframe system to a very dynamic cloud solution. It's a pretty different way of thinking. With the mainframe system, you couldn't use a mouse, for example. It's just a really different user experience. One of requirements for both systems that we got color and commas! [laughs] I know that sounds really simple, but that's how old the Huon system was.

INN: So there was no workflow management?

TW: I'm using Workday for that; we are able to have the user submit the supplier invoice themselves. So we don't have any clerks typing that in. There's a business process that allows authorization to go through. The original person who submitted the request attaches the invoice; so we can see all of that electronically. There's no more paper going around anywhere. The only paper that might get put out, if it's not an automated clearinghouse, is a printed check. From the supplier invoice side, there’s significant benefit because I don't need as many clerks sitting there typing all of these invoices in.

INN: What surprised you most about the roll out?

TW: I thought Workday was going to be a really easy-to-use interface and that people would struggle with the Tidemark budgeting. And it was actually the opposite. And I know it's because I used the lessons I learned from training on Workday to make it better in Tidemark. But I was surprised at the adoption rate for the Tidemark solution. Perhaps I didn't spend enough time on the training for the Workday side. Some people are still trying to get used to it. Some people are really good at playing with the system and figuring it out. And there's others that stick their hands up and say, "I don't get it.”

INN: How has the average day changed for the people who are using these systems?

TW: They had to learn different business processes. Before, you just took your piece of paper and walked over to a person's desk, and you could have instant service. Today it goes into your inbox in Workday, and then you have to take action on it. Sometimes people are used to that immediate action of getting a check, for example.

INN: It seems like workflow re-engineering was a big part of the project.

TW: Definitely. And we spent quite a bit of time on that when we were developing the system. The core group got in a room and we had consulting help. Our main goal was to not let the new system be the same as the old system. We tried to optimize these new systems as best we can.

INN: In terms of reconfiguring those processes, what are the things that you're not doing anymore?     

TW: We used to spend an enormous amount of time just doing the salary budget. Shelter has a very unique salary structure. We went through a lot of manual processes to get that done. With the new Tidemark system, the user or department head went in and made the changes and it was all stored in one place.

INN: How much time does this save?

TW: We used to start the planning process in July; this past year we started it in September. Normally it would last from July to December, which is very painful when you're busy on the accounting side from January-April. So being able to move that more than two months forward was an enormous benefit.

INN: What's the most important thing for someone to know or think about or remember after they read this story?

TW: Communication. I thought we had done a great job communicating expectations. But they weren't reading it. I would say do your best at change management and don't assume people are going to read everything. Constantly preach about what's changing. You know, things like brown bag lunch seminars, or whatever works at your organization. Don't underestimate that piece.

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