Not many adjusters would argue against technology as a means of easing their workload-certainly not the adjusters at Farmers Mutual of Nebraska. After all, the company's claims estimating system was efficiently processing information at the desktop. But that apparent blessing was actually part of the problem: the system processed data at the desktop and not in the field, where much of the real work takes place."Our adjusters would go out in the field and inspect the loss, noting the damage just on a piece of paper," says Jamie Fredrickson, director of Field Services. "Then they would go back to their district offices, sit down at their computers and manually re-enter all of this information to generate their estimates."

The Lincoln, Neb.-based home, farm and automobile insurer, which writes business in Nebraska and South Dakota, wanted a system or process that "provided a more seamless transition from assessing the damage to preparing the estimate and getting the estimate into the hands of a contractor or policyholder faster," says Fredrickson.

Fredrickson credits Farmers' vice president of information systems for introducing the carrier to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario-based Symbility Solutions Inc. The VP knew vendor from a previous relationship. "He brought it to our attention, and we contacted Symbility," says Fredrickson.

Farmers was pleased that mobile claims software is not licensed, not copy-protected and has no restrictions on where you can install it and use it. There is no upfront license purchase cost for the system. Users pay a per-claim fee for using the software.

Soon after the initial contact, Farmers began a pilot test of Symbility.NET and the mobile claims software with a few of its adjusters in November 2005 and decided to roll it out to all its field staff in February 2006.

THE HARDWARE

Farmers needed to make a few purchases in order to use the system. "At the time, all of our adjusters were just using desktop PCs, but we wanted to get into the arena of mobile devices," says Fredrickson. "So this gave us a reason to purchase [the devices]."

Farmers could have used its old mobile claims system via laptops but wanted to buy tablets. "[The old system] didn't really offer the same technologies [as Symbility] as far as being able to use it with a tablet PC and a stylus," says Fredrickson.

Fredrickson was impressed with Symbility's accessibility. "The adjusters would be able to upload information and then offer anyone with access to it a view of that estimate," he says. "So we would have the ability to mutually view information before the adjusters submitted it back to the home office for approval."

Symbility.NET is an Internet-based communications hub that offers a data warehouse and analytics engine. The mobile claims software piece is an extension of Symbility.NET, which enables adjusters to review claims, gather information, and create and edit estimates in the field (on a pen-based computer) offline or online. It can run on PCs that are five years old or newer, as well as a tablet, notebook or pocket PC.

Fredrickson researched his options and listened to suggestions from Symbility. "Symbility gave us some guidance as far as the hardware that would work best with their system," says Fredrickson.

Farmers narrowed the choice down to the motion tablets, and looked at offerings from Gateway Inc., Toshiba America Inc., Panasonic Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. In the end, Farmers decided on Fujitsu tablet PCs, which offered larger keyboards, enabling Farmers' adjusters to get rid of their desktops, and use the tablets in the field and in the office.

"We liked that they were convertible and had a nice big keyboard because our adjusters do spend a lot of time typing," says Fredrickson.

GETTING STARTED

The transition went well for Farmers' adjusters, according to Fredrickson, who believes the system is intuitive for adjusters who have experience with estimating software.

Farmers' adjusters received six hours of office training before using it in the field with Symbility supervision. After another few hours in the field, they were ready to operate on their own, says Fredrickson.

Farmers' adjusters now download all of their documents as templates so they can complete tasks out in the field, eliminating duplication.

Users can gather information and measurements using the handheld, Bluetooth-enabled Leica Disto A6 or Disto Plus laser rangefinders, electronic point-and-click tape measurers manufactured by Switzerland-based Leica Geosystems AG. A further click toward a Bluetooth-enabled Tablet PC or Pocket PC will upload the measurements. Symbility's software automatically adds up the measurements.

The software is engineered for use with slow wireless bandwidth, programmed for slower CPUs with memory and screen size restrictions, and designed for use with a stylus if the user does not want to use the keyboard.

Symbility has cut the time it takes to prepare catastrophic loss estimates (such as fire) in half, according to Fredrickson. "It's eliminated the duplication-adjusters coming back to the office and manually entering all of that information again," he says. "They're completing all that onsite, which is much faster." And it has saved time for other types of losses, such as wind, hail, water and vandalism.

Farmers is researching wireless options that function in the rural areas where they write business. Though they don't have wireless connectivity, they still save time by using the software offline and then going back to their offices, plugging in and logging in to Symbility.NET, where data in the site is accessed through a secure 128-bit SSL connection.

Fredrickson finds that adjusters appreciate having more time to spend adjusting losses rather than wasting time entering data or taking measurements. "It builds your estimates and requires less [time] measuring than other estimating programs, which is a great time saver for them," he says.

Farmers concentrates on customer service, and the technology helps there, too. "We've definitely seen an increase in customer satisfaction-getting claims closed with less contact with policyholders-limiting the need to come back and to look at the damage a second or a third time because we're able to gather all of the information this first time around," he says.

The accessibility that initially convinced Farmers to implement Symbility has proven itself, and Farmers highlights it with Symbility's photo annotation. "We let our agents who originally wrote the policies have access to the claims handling [of those policies]. We'll load pictures and photos into the Symbility.NET program just so they can get an idea or representation of what the damage looks like," he says.

Farmers uses Symbility's photo capabilities for that reason. But for photo storage, Farmers uses ImageRight (Advanced Solutions Inc., Conyers, Ga.) in conjunction with Symbility.

Symbility.NET is used on demand as a hosted solution and uploads a monthly feed of pricing information from National Renovation and Insurance Repair Estimator, with additional data from other estimation publications from Carlsbad, Calif.-based Craftsman Book Co., making it nearly self-sufficient, says Fredrickson. "You don't have to purchase the software and then maintain the software and upgrades on the database pricing; that's all done behind the scenes at Symbility," he says.

And through Farmers' adjusters' knowledge and experience with local rates, Fredrickson feels confident that Symbility provides an accurate unit cost for repairs.

"We knew that the estimates we were completing were very fair, based on the repair allowances they were figuring," he says. "Even though we were getting the enhancements for customer service, we weren't driving our overall claims payments higher."

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