INN: How has USI’s IT strategy changed?

Stewart Gibson: The things I was concerned about in 2006 were system stability and availability, infrastructure consolidation and applications rationalization. Today, the conversations we have with our business units are all about capabilities -- whether that's delivering workflow or analytics capabilities -- enablement in terms of tools, like the e-delivery tool, and competitive differentiation: what we do differently from other brokers, and how we deliver that using technology. Nine years ago , it was a very back-office-centric technology strategy; now it is very much a front-office and consumer-oriented strategy. Information security also is a major focus, with all of the data that we're custodians of.

INN: So, e-delivery is part of this whole front-end orientation. What's the goal there? Who are some of the key partners?

SG: I spent part of my career at Pitney Bowes working with companies in their mailrooms. Throughout the USI network, I saw a lot of paper mail. I kept thinking there's got to be a better way to deliver all of the correspondence that we're getting from carriers and do it electronically. And so understanding the amount of money that they were spending on opening, scanning and getting all that correspondence into some sort of workflow? It lent itself creative thinking and innovation. We spent quite a bit of time with some carrier partners --  Jim Rogers, AVP of e-Business for the Hartford, comes to mind -- identifying and working with the ACORD standards for delivery of documents electronically, and understanding that the carriers adhere to a single standard but each implement it a little differently.

We wanted to build and engineer a capability that allowed for some degree of variability, but also wouldn't have to be touched. We could identify enough information about the electronic documents we get from carriers that we could bring them directly into our systems and route them -- using workflow capabilities from Vertafore -- directly to the person who needed to use and work on them. It really was about freeing up our people, both in the mailroom and our account managers, from having to deal with the paper and giving them back some of that time for interacting with clients and prospects.

INN: Tell me about the business rules; how do they work? What are they?

SG: We capture the business rules associated with the nuances of each carriers’ different implementations, and we use them in what is essentially a clearinghouse that accepts documents and routes them. It does some database look-ups and identifies the account manager, and what type of document it is so that it can be appropriately routed to the individual or the team that's working with that client or document.

INN: How much time is this saving? How are you measuring its impact?

SG: We try to measure how much time it's freeing up. The use of the workflows and the ability to document everything electronically is certainly helping us from an exposure perspective. We don't have a lot of untracked effort going on. And then there's a pure cost benefit of not having to handle the paper. We've been able to free up the resources to be focused on other things.

INN: How many resources? What other things?

SG: It really wasn't ever a cost savings initiative. We really have been able to take our account managers and focus their efforts on retention and driving more interaction with clients and increasing our retention numbers.

INN: You recently won an award from Vertafore for the capabilities you built on the Work Smart platform, which you agreed to allow them to license to other partners. Take me one of the workflows that you reconfigured.

SG: We're seeing a shift in how carriers and brokers interact. And e-delivery is a capability that we can bring to the industry as a whole that helps to transform the way that the carriers and brokers exchange information. Let me give you a classic example: a policy audit that a carrier would send to our office would be received in the mailroom, either delivered by hand or scanned into an imaging system. Eventually it would make it to our account manager's desk; you need to respond to those audits within ten days of receipt. At the point at which it gets delivered to us, the clock is ticking, but we still don't have an awareness of the policy audit that's coming. We could be five days into the ten-day timeline, at which point we  have a very short time to work with a client to respond to the audit. With e-delivery, we can cut that timeline down to less than a day. So when the carrier issues an audit, we'll pick that up overnight. That will be taken in and routed directly to the account manager's desk. They now have the full nine or ten days to respond to the audit request. And that's difference-making when you have that additional time to respond. And it's meaningful dollars to the clients in many circumstances.

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