Donegal Mutual Insurance Co. has reaped many benefits from its system integration efforts over the years. Executives with the Marietta, Pa.-based provider of personal, farm and commercial insurance admit that their strategy of implementing component-based technology would not be successful without a strong emphasis on systems integration.For example, Donegal's systems integration efforts helped immensely when the provider went scouting for a document imaging and workflow system in 2001.
Executives concluded that document imaging would better assist Donegal to quickly shift workflow around its home office, and also enable the carrier to route workflow to its branch offices.
Electronic imaging would also reduce paper churned out by its mainframe systems and enable its network of 1,500 independent agents to access customer policy data from the Web.
"We wanted to ease the pain with the transaction volume we experienced," says Chuck Ferraro, vice president of information systems for Donegal, a medium-sized mutual property-casualty insurer.
"We dealt with tons of paper and often this meant physically going from workstation to workstation to process transactions. We also lacked flexibility in that the home office was the only site that had access to the data."
In 2001, the company, with combined direct premiums of $305 million and 300,000 in-force policies, went shopping for a document imaging and workflow solution.
The solution Donegal executives sought had to be easily linked to its mainframes to support underwriting and policy administration. That's because when transaction volume spikes at Donegal's home office, it creates a burden on internal staff.
"We thought that if we could digitize policy documents it would be easier to enhance overall workflow," Ferraro says. "So if we're in a crunch, we could route processing in real-time to our Richmond, Va., branch office without skipping a beat. In the past, we would have to physically mail or overnight policies to Richmond for staff to start processing."
The right match
After an extensive search, Donegal selected Conyers, Ga.-based Advanced Solutions' ImageRight solution.
Inking the deal in September 2001, the ImageRight team came in to create a detailed workflow design and establish electronic file folders. The carrier went live with the system for personal lines in January 2002.
Donegal Mutual's commitment to systems integration has been a high priority over the years-not only to ensure operational efficiency, but to build connectivity between systems, which was also fueled by Donegal's acquisition history. The company in January closed deals on two smaller regional insurers.
But through acquisition, Donegal inherited system-integration issues-having the task of linking an acquired company's system with its own back-end infrastructure.
ImageRight's flexible architecture was appealing to Donegal Mutual because it enabled the carrier to engage other third-party vendors instrumental to an integration project-such as a middleware component.
The middleware component enables policy data residing in Donegal mainframes to be transferred to the imaging system without having to be scanned or printed.
From the start, the imaging system was intended to support Donegal's personal lines insurance, which accounts for 56% of its overall net premium.
After two years of reaping ROI on the personal side, Donegal in March is expected to go live with the imaging system on its commercial lines. Then, "the next logical step would be to have an imaging system to support claims processing," says Ferraro.
The ImageRight desktop module serves as a gateway to managing documents and images, giving users an ability to view and perform document workflow with the same speed or even more quickly than with a paper file.
"From the desktop, a supervisor can reassign work on the fly," says Ferraro. "If an underwriter is out of the office one day, a supervisor can look in that person's inbox and route the work to another underwriter for processing."
Adds Tim Smith, senior business analyst for Donegal: "Underwriter workflow is greatly enhanced. During the course of a day, this system can tell us the case load an underwriter has accumulated, and with this knowledge we can shift work around to other underwriters."
Independent agents, meanwhile, can go to Donegal's Web site to access imaged policy data. "They'll be looking at the exact policy data that an insured has in front of them. What this often does is saves a customer or an agent from having to pick up a phone to call a call center to get the right information."
The ImageRight solution not only is a benefit in improving workflow, but it helps Donegal substantially reduce the amount of paper its mainframe system once churned out.
"Typically, the system would create a printed version of a policy for the insured, the agent and a copy for the home office," explains Ferraro.
"Now, through the integration of the imaging system, we only have to print a hard copy of the insured's policy and mail it out. Agents access their copy on the Web site. Meanwhile, the home-office version is immediately captured and stored in the imaging system."
External affiliates of Donegal are also able to provide reports to the carrier much more quickly. "We created a direct interface to state department of motor vehicles databases, so when we order a report on an individual's driving record, the DMV transmits the record to us," says Mitch Walton, manager of database services at Donegal Mutual.
"In the past, we might have to print or scan the record. Now, the imaging system captures and stores the record straight to an underwriting system. This can all be completed in a matter of two hours," he says.
Donegal's internal IT department was instrumental in helping the project go off without a hitch. The staff consists of technicians and analysts that handle agency automation; a network services group, responsible for maintenance of the local area network and wide area network; a team that oversees Web integration; and programmers.
"With the ImageRight team, we pulled this off with a relatively small IT staff of about 50 people," says Ferraro. "The Donegal way has always emphasized balancing a lot of balls at once. We can accomplish a lot with modest resources."
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