Like many carriers, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, identified the need to transform its core systems in order to infuse its commercial lines with agility and flexibility in preparation for a digital future. But soon after rollout, it hit a snag: West Bend had chosen an on-premise deployment of Duck Creek Technologies' core platform. However, that quickly proved more complex to sustain than anticipated.

“For example, it was a struggle to keep ISO templates updated,” explains Murali Natarajan, SVP and CIO for the West Bend, Wisconsin-based, insurer. “Over time, this resulted in being unable to leverage some of the ISO changes.”

So just a few short months after completing the project, West Bend decided to move quickly to get out of the on-premise model and migrate to Duck Creek’s cloud-based OnDemand core solution. At the time, some other insurers had undertaken greenfield OnDemand deployments, but West Bend was the first to migrate its approximately $800 million book of commercial business, including nearly 30 terabytes of data across all of its environments.

With the OnDemand deployment already underway, Natarajan took the IT reigns at the commercial, personal, workers’ comp and specialty insurer as the CIO in May of 2017. “Although I believed in the destination, the initiative was running into various hurdles,” he recalls. “For the most part, this was caused by an unreasonable belief that simply moving to the cloud would solve all of the issues experienced on-prem.”

To clarify the business advantages and ensure appropriate resources for completing the migration, Natarajan evaluated West Bend’s circumstances and established four goals:

  • Stay away from managing infrastructure
  • Stop handling day-to-day triage
  • Offload template/platform upgrades
  • Improve our speed time to market

According to Natarajan, this eventually led to some “teething issues” due to platform immaturity for handling such large data volumes.

“In addition to performance issues, there were some controls and compliance capabilities that needed to be built along the way,” he says, which Duck Creek addressed quickly: “We sat down with Duck Creek to devise a plan for ensuring we could reach our goals.”

The focus not only helped West Bend prioritize deployment tasks, but also enter new markets within a quarter. “We went live with OnDemand in October 2017 and then launched our products in a new state by the first quarter of this year,” Natarajan says. “This helped us break the perception of IT being the bottleneck.”

What’s more, OnDemand is enabling West Bend to focus on a wide range of other cloud-enabled options. “For example, the platform’s integration with Verisk helps us leverage third party data and potentially reduce data entry,” Natarajan says. “Also, Duck Creek’s new Underwriting Workbench and granular data insights are just a few of the capabilities we’d otherwise lack.”

On the agency side, Duck Creek’s partnership with IVANS offers the opportunity to simplify and streamline data transfer into agency management systems. “We’re evaluating how the IVANS partnership can eliminate the months-long process of mapping our data to an ACORD format and then attempting to integrate with agency management systems,” says Natarajan, “With OnDemand we could potentially provide Duck Creek with our proprietary mapping and the platform would continuously handle the rest.”

Today, West Bend’s OnDemand deployment is facilitating various digital initiatives. “A significant project is our commercial lines user experience layer,” says Natarajan. “This includes removing some of the OnDemand customizations we completed early-on and transferring the related functions to the digital experience platform.”

“To integrate the layers, we’re utilizing the APIs Duck Creek offers,” he continues. “Communication between the two solutions, OnDemand and our experience layer, is enhanced by the fact that both platforms reside on the Microsoft Azure cloud.”

Moving forward, West Bend will use OnDemand as a springboard for integrating various emerging technologies. “For example, we’re experimenting with AI-enabled claims handling,” Natarajan says.

Meanwhile, the positive partnership built with Duck Creek is resulting in West Bend adopting OnDemand for its personal lines. “For this initiative, we’re migrating directly from our legacy mainframe,” says Natarajan. “Given our accumulated knowledge we’re pursuing a more disciplined approach, such as thinking through customizations before altering the base product. Thus, we’re targeting Q3 of 2019 for completion.”

Despite the initial core transformation hurdles, Natarajan views the association with Duck Creek as a resounding success. “Although we’d schedule the adoption to allow for more maturity in OnDemand, conceptually I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” he says. “The company has followed through on its promises, making it a valuable partner.”

Most importantly, West Bend is poised for whatever comes next. “Now, we’re concentrating on the core and not the chore,” says Natarajan.

“As a result of adopting OnDemand, we have positioned ourselves to launch new products and new territories quickly,” he continues. “Overall, we can tackle the projects that make a difference for the business whether it’s efficiency or growth.”

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