One of my product managers recently returned from a conference on business process management (BPM). Among the many predictions he brought back was the notion that document and content management are headed for a convergence with BPM.Analyst firms such as Gartner have started examining the BPM components of content management suites, giving higher marks to those with "extended business process management functionality." (Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management, October 2006.)
And the past year has brought a flurry of merger and acquisition activity among ECM and BPM vendors.
At first glance, this might not seem relevant to insurers. BPM hasn't caught on here the way it has in some other industries. Yet a convergence of BMP and content management has profound implications for the document-intensive processes that lie at the heart of every insurer's operations.
Insurers have struggled to adapt horizontal ECM and BPM to their needs. Rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, insurers should meld specialized insurance understanding, tailored applications, and end-to-end document and process capabilities. With that combination, insurers can reap the same benefits from the ECM-BPM convergence that other industries have begun to realize.
Nearly everything insurers do involves documents-applications, policies, declarations, state filings, claims correspondence and more. Rather than looking at document and business processes as separate, insurance CIOs should start thinking about "document automation."
In that scenario, the information contained in vital documents-the lifeblood of any insurance company-flows automatically to the people and systems in need of it. Insurers who can speed up document-intensive processes will, by definition, improve business processes.
Document automation can improve new product development and customer service.
Customer expectations have shifted dramatically in the last two decades. Buyers now demand innovative products tailored to specific needs. Thus, using document automation to develop new products quickly can bolster a carrier's top-line revenue.
At the start of the product development process, document management systems can store the legal language for new product contracts. Carriers can use industry-specific software with built-in collaboration and workflow to draft new contracts, handle state and segment variations, and route contracts automatically to the proper people across functions for review and approvals.
Once approved, the contracts can be automatically routed to the product filing and compliance department. At that stage, carriers' processes need to incorporate a deep understanding of state-mandated filing procedures and requirements. Once the filing has been researched and assembled, SERFF (the National Association of Insurance Commissioner's System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing) lets insurers submit filings electronically to the various state Departments of Insurance. Extending process visibility and management out to the broader insurance ecosystem helps expedite regulatory approval, helping insurers bring new products to market more quickly.
At the other end of the business cycle, insurers must provide fast, efficient service in support of new, innovative products. With the advent of call centers and the Internet, consumers have come to expect service in real time.
Insurers can use document composition software to tailor customer communications. Process management software has a role to play here, ensuring compliance through streamlined exception-based review and approval workflows, including the potential for sampling a customer support representative's work. Electronic copies of customer communications can be sent to producers, saving them the hassle and delay of handling paper and letting them do business the way they prefer. Finally, copies can be stored in the ECM document repository, giving CSRs instant access to the information they need to provide fast, efficient and professional service.
In this picture, work flows automatically from one stage to the next. All of the data, including policy language, product status and customer information, flows with it. Documents are no longer discrete stores of information. They are dynamically integrated with every step of the business cycle.
It's an ambitious vision, and it won't happen overnight. Yet insurers are already taking steps in that direction. Companies such as Allstate Insurance Co., Northbrook, Ill., and Bituminous Insurance Cos., Rockford, Ill., have automated product development and compliance processes, helping them get new products to market faster. Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky., and The Hartford, Hartford, Conn., have increased the speed of their customer communications.
For each of those companies, speed has been a key business driver. The convergence of ECM and BPM provides an opportunity for forward-thinking insurers to improve document-intensive business processes. That, in turn, lets them improve the speed of their operations, respond quickly to consumer demands and grab market share from competitors.
Neil Betteridge is vice president of marketing at Whitehill Technologies Inc., Moncton, New Brunswick.
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