You’ve been there before. Somehow convinced you needed insurance, you agreed to meet with an insurance agent at your home. As you sat at the dining room table, the agent pored over complex insurance rate tables, feverishly customizing your coverage and formulating your premium with a calculator and pen. Of course the visit was longer than promised. And of course there were the follow-up calls to collect overlooked tidbits of information. This, in turn, led to a recalculation of the coverage and resultant premium. It was all done by hand and you wondered: Isn’t there a better way to do this?
Guaranty Senior Assurance (GSA) asked that same question. Founded in September 2001, GSA serves the rapidly growing senior citizen sector with Medicare, professional care and long-term living care products. GSA — a division of Dallas-based insurance and financial services company UICI — wanted to gain a competitive advantage over its competitors by providing its field agents with a better way to accurately calculate premiums for prospective clients.
Using an Innovative Application in an Innovative Way
CEO Jim Jones was convinced the task could be automated but realized his own IT department was too preoccupied with existing projects to develop this application. Jones turned to CompuCom Systems, Inc.
A provider of IT outsourcing and systems integration services, Dallas-based CompuCom not only possessed the technology and help-desk support necessary to solidify an outsourcing partnership, but it also delivered the hand-held solution within the 30- to 45-day rollout period Jones desired.
“We searched for a company that had a track record in developing applications for PalmÆ devices,” Jim Jones says. “CompuCom has a lot of experience in this area.”
GSA sorely needed that experience, because Jones proposed to tread where no insurance company (as far as he knew) had tread before — rather than saddling each field agent with the more conventional laptop computer, he wanted to equip them with hand-held devices. These personal digital assistants (PDAs) would be capable of running an application that could do all the calculations necessary to quote a rate with just a few pokes of a stylus. He also reasoned that they could be much more cost-effective than laptop computers.
Daniel Elliott, CompuCom’s vice president-Mobile Business Solutions, says his company built its software on the PalmÆ OS platform because of its prevalence in the workplace. “We took those insurance tables and created an electronic form which has a drop-down electronic process on a PalmÆ,” he explains. “Everything was completely automated to where it said, ‘Give me a quote.’ It literally took GSA’s quote process from 30 minutes down to less than a minute.”
A Smooth Transition with Instant Results
GSA’s IT people also played an important role in implementing the hand-held solution by testing the product for accuracy. Next, GSA field-tested the hand-held rate engines in the very heart of seniordom: Florida. Thirty sales reps fanned out into the senior market, no longer hampered by rate charts, insurance forms, calculators and other clumsy sales paraphernalia. Variables like multiple products, riders and payment schedules were now easily stored and managed on the PalmsÆ.
There are tangible signs of the positive impact of Jim Jones’s vision and CompuCom’s know-how. Though he says it’s too early to discuss return on investment (ROI), Jones already sees the benefits. “I’m not able to say anything about the ROI, as it’s been less than a year,” he says cautiously. However, he says the company will realize savings from more accurate premium calculations.
Indeed, the Palm-based application literally eliminates the rate-quote errors that used to accompany any changes in product or customer data and were a source of lost revenue and good will. With the PDAs, agents merely make the appropriate changes, hit the quote button, and out comes an accurate quote. This eliminates the need for multiple visits to the client. According to a press release from CompuCom, sales in the Florida target market have increased by 65 percent since November of 2001.
Lest you think this was a totally error-free enterprise, Jones does report one minor misstep. The only glitch was an error in calculating a premium for a direct billing instead of a monthly draft and missed the 10 percent difference,” says Jones wryly.
Evolving Product Needs Require Open-Ended Agreement
According to CompuCom’s Elliott, the agreement between his company and GSA is not a typical contract with a specific length but, rather, an “ongoing statement of work (SOW) that has covered the different applications and creations that we have done.” The nature of the products they deliver to GSA-forms applications on three different products that have periodically changing formulas in their tables-perpetuates GSA’s need to rely on CompuCom for IT services. “We signed a master agreement that covers the basics of our service agreements relatingto product delivery and that type of thing,” Elliott says. “Then what we do from there is add specific SOWs to cover add-on services” He adds that the SOWs guarantee that each party is held accountable for its aspect of the business and, as the business grows, they will increase the SOW accordingly.
Daniel Elliott believes GSA’s use of hand-held devices to automate the arduous tasks of quoting insurance rates runs counter to the general attitude about their usefulness. “Folks in key positions continue to look at them as pen tools, and they don’t look at the value they can deliver through the efficiencies of automating opportunities like an insurance quote process that’s done manually.”
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing some IT functions can be a practical way to obtain new technologies while keeping in-house IT on task.
- In many instances, outsourcing produces speed of implementation, as well as cost efficiencies.
- In IT outsourcing, effective service level agreements (or, in this case, statements-of-work) must allow for the ever-changing nature of technology and reflect each company’s commitment to the partnership.