There is a strong likelihood that at least a few IT projects have been cancelled at your company this year. These are projects that you were counting on to deliver operational improvements to your department. Some research firms suggested that, while mutual insurers were more immune to postponements and cancellations, they were still pulling back and stock companies were making more aggressive pull-backs and delaying more decisions. On the list of delays are the major systems-replacement projects for policy and claims enterprise systems—ones that no doubt took many hours to get to the decision point, and would take many more before installation even began.
The original business case for these projects usually includes IT benefits from retirement of legacy systems, reduction of outdated skill sets, and improvement in interoperability and reliability. Corresponding business benefits often focus on increasing competitive advantage, improving operating efficiency, improving service and reducing costs.
It is typically around these broad improvement categories that most of the project justification and ROI is derived, so delays can be a real limitation on operational performance. But there are some tactics you can use to achieve improvements amidst an unexpected delay. Let’s focus on the business area: Where do you go from here? What is possible?
Beginning with the work already done to develop the RFP; it very likely focused on processes and needs related to information presentation, decisions, effort duplication, visibility and getting closer to a straight-through processing(STP) state. In some cases, you really do need that new system to deliver the full result, but from my experience in many settings, very impactful improvements in the key areas mentioned above can be achieved in a short period. In some cases, this can be done with very little IT impact.
In other cases, it is possible to leverage existing solutions developed by other areas of the company, but perhaps in a totally different way. These changes typically will not be the high-profile types of changes associated with new systems, but rather changes at the point of work to help deliver targeted performance improvement. While effective, there are some basic pitfalls to be aware of in this approach.
Waste, even a small amount, cuts the benefits and payback times of organizational changes, so care in planning and execution is extremely important to mitigate risk exposure. This means avoiding pure throw-aways unless you can justify an ROI in a short timeframe, and it means supporting long-term process and performance behaviors and goals. Also, don’t invest undue time and energy improving low-volume/low-value sub-processes that do not yield significant benefits.
By far the biggest risk is the staff change factor: Is the new design easy? Is it consistent with the behaviors and the values you are trying to establish over the long run? Does it add measureable value in the short run? Will the staff embrace the change? Do they see the value in it?
Are there such opportunities for actionable change in your processes? Let’s look again at those criteria I suggested: information presentation, decisions, effort duplication, visibility and STP. In fact, all of these can be impacted in an incremental manner. The opportunities and solution can be found in redirecting the current process, focusing on the end results for which you are striving, and looking at what is currently in the enterprise toolkit that can be used in a new way with minimal extra effort. It could mean better handling of billing disputes, making improved risk decisions, managing paper flows, applying existing technologies such as BPM to new areas, controlling follow-ups or analyzing past service encounters with an eye toward refinement in order to satisfy future callers on the first call. All of these and more can usually be improved greatly in the short term before a major new system arrives. The key benefits of this approach are getting a head start on achieving your preferred way of doing business, and having valuable process insights when you do begin major systems implementation work.
Clay Ricord is a senior consultant for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.
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