Like any other Industry, Insurance Industry too is hard pressed to keep coming up with innovative customer centric products and delivering the services at world-class quality. Large volume of data keeps on getting generated in our day-to-day life, which we have to capture or ignore depending on what we want to do with them. These captured data are stored, retrieved and analyzed to convert to useful information that may lead to better products in service industry. Not only this, best practices need to be adopted, the workflow needs to be automated, intelligent features need to be built and all these need to be implemented smartly to the delight of the customers. Under these circumstances, no organization can overtake in terms of performance a strategically automated organization without a more strategically correct automation.
Automation project passes through certain phases starting from feeling the need of automation to reaping the benefits of automation. Normally in huge organizations, there are implementation partners in such projects. For the Insurance companies, such automation projects are their lifeline. A poor implementation in major project may result in big operational troubles, huge business loss and even closure of operations. While for the implementation partner, it is just another project. If the implementation partner is well-reputed one in the industry, they can easily manage with one failure. The present scenario raises bigger concern due to the fact that many of the implementation partners are able to do reasonably good business even after multiple failures. So, more is on stake for the insurance companies than their technology implementation partners. Operations staff has important role to play in each of the phases of automation project to insure their organization against failure. The importance of their role can be better understood by using the following analogy of house construction.
If we decide to get our house constructed, we have to first determine our requirements, which we want our house to meet. We can have two approaches. In one we can think like what is there in determining the requirements for a house. Just look at the family distribution, size of the land and decide something like 3 BHK or 4 BHK, and assume that the builder knows rest of the things. So, why to take pain of putting more thoughts on requirements? The other approach may be that we talk to each of the users of the house. Take their expectations and then workout the requirements. Each of the users is expert of his area. It’s he only who knows the difficulty he faces while walking from his bed to the toilet in night. He should recall all such difficulties and also the improvements that he desires at the time of requirement determination stage itself. Remember that shifting a wall by even an inch after it has been constructed will cost heavily and in many cases it may not be possible. In most of the cases it is these few inches here and there which forces one to shift the bed before opening the wardrobe or climb on the study table to open the window etc. Just think about the operational difficulties an Insurance company will face for similar mishaps in requirement determination of automation projects. It will become pain in the neck forever.
After we have our wish list ready in the house construction project, we approach an Architect who is expert in giving design to meet such requirements. He helps us out in correcting our expectations, which can go both ways – increase or decrease. Finally he prepares a design, which is accepted by the user for future construction. Civil Engineers who give the detail of foundation, beams, columns etc then convert this design to detailed design. Till this stage, if we change our requirement it can probably be included but it will be an irritant to the designer. Obviously, it will have impact on the project cost and time too. Also, we the users should check that the design meets the finalized expectations before accepting it. It’s not a casual task of overlooking at the design and saying that yah! It looks like a house design that I want, so go ahead.
In automation project too, once the requirements are finalized, we either approach a software company if we want customized software to be developed, or approach some software vendors who we expect to have software meeting our requirements. Initially, these software vendors will be mapping our requirements in their software solution and presenting that to us. This is an activity similar to considering various layouts given by the Architect in house construction project. If in the claim settlement process, searching and finding the policy document has been a problem area very frequently, then the solution provider will be coming up with some ECM product. If claim intimation or communication to surveyor or submission of survey reports are trouble areas then one will look towards better communication modes and work-flow automation. Various solutions need to be evaluated very carefully and checked against the requirements outlined. It is also the role of the IT vendor at this stage to correct the expectations of the users.
Coming back to the house construction project, the construction starts after finalization of the design. Users can relax now if they have been able to communicate clearly about their requirements and the construction work is in able hands. One can think that if the work is in able hands then the users can relax earlier too. But it is not so. Experts can take care of the construction part completely, but in determining requirements they can at the most assist. During this phase users can visit the site at critical stages and get some fine adjustments done if the need be. In the automation project too, once the IT solution is selected, it’s time of customization. Or, if new software is to be developed, the development starts after finalization of design. Users may relax. At the most, they can have occasional inspection to check that project is moving as per the schedule.
In automation projects, there is another very important phase of users testing to get sure that they are getting what they wanted. In many projects, operations staffs now attain the desired level of seriousness and start coming up with new ideas. It is well understood that they have to be part of such project in addition to their regular activities. So, in earlier phases they feel that project completion time is far ahead. And do not pay enough attention to the requirement determination etc. But when the time of testing and acceptance comes, they become serious. Virtually, they convert this testing phase to requirement determination phase. On the other side the implementation partner has already completed the task of development/ configuration as per the requirement documented earlier. They would like to be tested against those requirements only. Such situations are harmful to the project. Criticality of the new requirements identified at this stage decides the fate of the project.
It’s the time of implementation now. Once the house is constructed and accepted by the user, it’s the time to shift. One can live in the new house in better way if the garbage of the previous house is disposed of there itself. Also, this offers an opportunity to get better organized. One may feel some inconvenience because of certain changes. For some days one may consider it too troublesome if he has to walk longer to reach to the washbasin. But he will also realize that now his sleep will not get disturbed if there is any leakage or someone opens the tap. Soon the users get used to the facilities of the new house and then start living happily thereafter. Similarly in automation project too, it brings certain changes in working style. General Manager of the company may be used to seeing the hard copy of the daily reports submitted to him. May be that he will have to see it online after implementation of new system. It may look inconvenient to him to generate such reports online, but then he may realize that it gives updated information all the time.
Then comes the regular maintenance and change management as and when need be. Thus, automation projects pass through phases like requirement determination, system study, analysis, design, development, testing, implementation, operation, maintenance, change management etc. In fact it’s the same with every kind of project and in every industry whether it is Insurance, Banking, Telecom or Manufacturing or anything else. The cost of error in various phases may vary depending on project and industry.
Automation projects do not aim at simply automating the data capture, storage, retrieval, analysis, workflow etc., but it also aim at integrating different systems at different levels, adoption of best practices, business intelligence and so on. It’s useful to recall once again that such projects are lifeline for the business organization but for an IT implementation partner it is just another project. Business organization has to play their role very carefully and take the best from the IT implementation partner also ensuring that they get all the benefits for which the project was initiated.
Author is an IT professional working in Insurance sector. His detailed profile can be viewed at http://niapune.com