Enterprise content management (ECM) systems can help carriers automate workflows to trim processing time, meet compliance requirements, enhance disaster recovery preparedness and facilitate straight-through processing. Yet, the systems are often difficult to implement on a enterprise-wide basis. Insurance Networking News asked Yasir Hussain, a senior architect with Farmington Hills, Mich.-based consulting firm X by 2, what carriers can do to ease ECM implementation.


INN: What are ECM's business benefits?

YH: ECM promises carriers a path to achieve the elusive goal of "going paperless," often viewed as a competitive advantage that will help cut costs and enable process efficiencies by streamlining workflows across the enterprise.

ECM is a set of tools and strategies that help capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content across the enterprise to employees, agents, policyholders and business partners.

With many business benefits at stake, IT departments are under a lot of pressure to implement content management tools and strategies that can cut across departmental lines while at the same time also support, scale and respond to evolving business needs.


INN: What is the first step toward a successful ECM initiative?

YH: A key steppingstone to creating an ECM strategy is to select the right solution architecture, which often revolves around the selection and integration of one or many ECM vendor solutions.

Prior to evaluating ECM vendor solutions, it's critical that carriers develop not only functional "business" requirements, but also create a conceptual solution architecture to drive non-functional "architectural" requirements. Identifying non-functional requirements will help evaluate a solution's staying power, total cost of ownership and integration fit into a carrier's existing solution landscape. In a market where vendors quickly achieve feature parity, underlying architecture often becomes the sole solution differentiator.


INN: With all of the requirements gathered, how does a carrier identify the right solution for its environment?

YH: It's a tough process. There are the internal departmental politics; business people just want a powerful tool and typically don't-and shouldn't-care much about a solution's underlying technology; and vendors make many promises about their solution's ability to meet a carrier's needs.

Identifying the right solution for a carrier requires an objective analysis of vendor solutions. This analysis includes the creation of a vendor evaluation process and an experienced team, both of which should be vendor-neutral and can rise beyond organizational politics. Carriers often turn to research firms, such as Forrester and Gartner, which can help differentiate the pretenders from the contenders. However, one needs to move past the "magic quadrant" and use the evaluation process to measure vendor solutions against a carrier's unique requirements.

Scalability, for example, can be a requirement that is unique between middle market and large carriers. Middle-market carriers should avoid overpaying for unnecessary solution scalability that, on the other hand, may be a necessity for a large carrier.


INN: Is business buy-in a necessity?

YH: The evaluation process needs to be transparent to all of the business and IT stakeholders, and must be seen as a joint effort between business and IT. The process should act as a framework that dictates key evaluation criteria that vendors should meet, and drives what information should be supplied.

A common pitfall is to allow the vendor solution to drive the evaluation criteria and the flow of information.

The team needs to have a balance of business domain experience as well as a strong architecture background. Business needs to come first; however, "architectural" needs such as performance, scalability and flexibility should not be overlooked. The team should be able to look under the hood and probe further when evaluating vendor solutions against technical and architectural requirements. Simply cataloging features and functional capabilities and doing demos alone won't cut it. Conversations must be held with product architects to truly establish fit. Asking the right questions requires expertise; evaluating the answers requires experience and judgment.

By executing the up-front objective analysis of vendor solutions, carriers will be able to create and support a successful ECM strategy. Without it, ECM initiatives will likely fail and result in time and money investments in solutions that do not perform, scale or integrate well within the enterprise.

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Corrected February 7, 2011 at 2:13PM: yes