Information technology now touches every aspect of the insurance business, and, as a result, files and data can be made available anywhere, anytime, and, at the touch of a button. At least, that's the way it's supposed to be. But while end-users may expect to have what they need almost instantaneously, it often doesn't work out that way. Picture the immensity of the growing volumes of images and graphics files associated with claims transactions and marketing efforts. Some are stored within individual workstations or systems, some are maintained within departmental servers, and some are maintained within centralized enterprise repositories. When it comes to securing a particular file, many end users simply don't know where to begin to look-if they are even aware that there is something to look for.

In the long run it makes sense, for both preservation and efficiency purposes, to maintain graphics files within a centralized location and directory that is intuitive and accessible to end users. But within many insurance organizations, IT departments are still wrestling with big jobs-managing legacy systems and rolling out new claims processing, policy administration and analytics systems. The task of better managing graphics files remains on a back burner, and may at some point be addressed through options such as enterprise content management systems.

Many within the insurance industry can't afford to wait for some type of centralized solution to arrive on the scene. They need better ways to manage and find their files now. As a way to fill this gap, some end-user departments are turning to a new breed of lightweight, flexible solutions called Digital Asset Management (DAM). DAM solutions don't attempt to boil the ocean by handling every type of file that exists with a company. Rather, they focus on dealing with the issues of handling various media files, from photos to brochures to video, that are critical to operations.

Such is the case at American Modern Insurance Group, an Amelia, Ohio provider of specialty insurance for items such as mobile homes and recreational vehicles. To provide more support to its network of agents and dealers who require corporate images for their own marketing collateral, America Modern's marketing department implemented a DAM system to manage its stock of images and graphics.

ONE-STOP-SHOP

With American Modern's DAM implementation, "I can send 10 to 20 images to an agent that they can just download, versus sending 10 separate emails," says Krista Winters, marketing communications manager. "We now have kind of a one-stop shop for them to be able to download their photo requests." In addition, the library is maintained by an online service, versus being resident on American Modern's premises.

The DAM solution, ActiveMedia Essentials from ClearStory Systems Inc., Westborough, Mass., provides an online library of stock photo CDs, historical images, and other marketing graphics. Winters and her 30-member marketing team have shared access to the library, avoiding issues that arise when creative content is lost and needed to be repurchased or re-created.

The concern about lost content is justified: InfoTrends, an analyst firm based in Weymouth, Mass., estimates that up to 70% of all useful content in organizations is unnecessarily recreated. In addition, according to InfoTrends, between 25% and 50% of knowledge workers' time is wasted searching for content, generally due to inefficient search capabilities, and these workers fail to find their content as often as 40% of the time, and as a result, users are forced to re-create a substantial amount of their content "at exorbitant costs."

American Modern's marketing department supplies its agents and dealers with product brochures, campaign materials, and other collateral. In addition, they provide brand elements and photography to agents who want to create materials of their own. American Modern has a multi-channel operation, and Winters knew the complexity and geographic diversity of these channels created response-time challenges for her team.

"Filling the channel with these materials and providing them with photography and logos on a timely basis was a big challenge," explains Winters, "Files are too big to e-mail; fulfilling requests for multiple rendition formats was time consuming."

American Modern originally relied on file servers and FTP sites to fulfill agent and distributor requests. However, these approaches were taxing the company's IT resources, Winters says. "We have so many images, I don't think our IT people would have allowed us to have that many of that size image out on our server," she explains. "We actually tried to recreate it in-house with IT. But they suggested that going with a third-party hosted solution would be the quickest and most efficient way, because it would take too long to wait for IT resources to free up."

Plus, the marketing team would need to concern itself with managing access rights, remembering to remove outdated materials, maintaining versions, and organizing materials.

Rather than wait for an enterprise answer to these challenges, Winters employed the DAM service to provide for faster fulfillment of graphics and photo requests. Ultimately, she intends to integrate this capability into American Modern's goal of an enterprise data management system.

DAM systems have much of the same functionality as enterprise content management systems, but since they tend to be more focused on marketing functions, they are less complex and are offered at a much lower price point, says Joshua Duhl, analyst with IDC (Framingham, Mass.), in a market analysis of DAM offerings. "The core function of a DAM system is the same as for a content management or a document management system, with the distinction that it concentrates its functionality for specific content types-generally final form video, audio and images," he says. "Designers and photographers typically create such files, and then they are used within a marketing department or creative services workflow."

FLEXIBLE, EASY DISTRIBUTION

As a matter of fact, "DAM works because it is many things enterprise content management is not-targeted, flexible, and affordable," Duhl observes. He notes "DAM is becoming a backbone system for connecting associated collaborative marketing functions and content across partners, channels, distributors and field employees."

Currently, Winters says, American Modern's DAM system stores hundreds of images, amounting to several gigabytes' worth of files. Her department handles requests every week from agents. "Whenever we get a request for material, we'll go in and shoot something out from the system," she says. The large files that were once a burden to deliver are now rapidly distributed. What once took hours per month to manage, is today handled in minutes.

"Our dealers would have to wait for their photos, which delayed their marketing programs. Now with just a few clicks, we can respond and they have just what they need," says Winters. "If a dealer needs an image of a motorcycle for their Web site or for an ad, they can request that image from us, and go out to ActiveMedia to get what they need. There are no time constraints involved in trying to find an image and e-mailing that out, and struggling with system restrictions on file sizes."

Winters hopes to expand the system, which currently is used for brand imagery and photos, to manage projects, documents, and final PDFs.

Joe McKendrick is an author and consultant specializing in information technology, based in Doylestown, Pa. 


(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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