Changing an Agency Management System

By Michael Miller | January 28, 2013

When Brightway Insurance recently changed agency management systems, which took close to a year, it was one of the largest transitions of its kind in the insurance industry in terms of total users accessing a common hosted Web-based database. While our system change involved 600 people across the entire company in many geographic regions, it serves as a good case study for much smaller agencies considering such a transition.

In our case, the reason for the change was based on significant company growth; the old system would not scale to meet the demands of thousands of simultaneous users. We also considered expected growth in 2013 and beyond.

There are a number of potential reasons for agencies to switch, with better workflow and efficiency being chief among them. Whatever the reasons, a key aspect is keeping the customer in mind and making certain the result is not a money savings that compromises customer service. In Brightway’s case, we wanted to make certain a customer could enter any office in the country and receive the same experience.

Central to the consideration of changing agency management systems is an extensive and frank evaluation of key business operations. This decision can’t be made in a vacuum and it’s an important opportunity to determine all areas of your business that may require modification.

There are a number of reasons for agencies to switch agency management systems with better workflow and efficiency being chief among them.

Understand the cascading impact of an agency management system change on these and other operations:

  • Staffing Requirements. Will the same people be needed in the same functions post-transition, or are adjustments required? Review current staffing strengths and weaknesses to determine the best use of your team if you were to make the change.
  • Hosted vs. Unhosted IT Environment. What is your current arrangement and should it change under a new agency management system? If you use your own equipment and IT person, then consider the impact of this model under a new agency management system, and evaluate risks/benefits to decide whether an expert vendor should manage all aspects if you make a change.
  • Data Migration. How will your company handle data migration into the new system to use it most efficiently? There are thousands of fields of data that will need to be mapped to the correct locations in the new system. Consider paperless or non-paperless. If you are already paperless, this will just add one more level of complexity to the migration to make sure all attachments end up where they should and are correctly described. If you are not paperless, this might be a good time to start, as you will be making significant changes to your existing workflows already. Going paperless will be just one more change.

Clean House

It’s very important to clean up your existing data before you make the switch in agency management systems. An appropriate analogy is planning a move from one house to another. If your current house is disorganized with dishes stored in a cabinet in the living room, when you pack the boxes and move them to the new house, the dishes will still be in the living room and not in the kitchen where they belong after the move. In our case, we were literally scrubbing data until the last minute and making corrections to the old system minutes before we shut it down. This allowed us to migrate all the data correctly and required almost no cleanup in the new system post migration.

Vendor Expectations

Your expectations of the new system vendor are most important. It’s human nature to take what you did in the old system and replicate it in the new one. The new system will have different functionality, so take advantage of that. Every workflow needs to be looked at and possibly changed to use all the efficiencies the new system can bring. The vendor can be an instrumental, neutral third party to show you how to best design your new system and workflows. If you have ever played golf, you know how uncomfortable it can be to have a pro change your swing or grip, but it’s often necessary, and the improved outcome is what matters most.

Keys to Successful Move

One of the main reasons for Brightway’s successful completion of this complex endeavor was the attention to detail when it came to training employees on the new systems. Document and prepare all details of your training and quality process ahead of time. We worked across 110 locations in seven states. This included 10 full-time trainers (seven were trainers that the new vendor supplied), rental of additional physical space for training and rebuilding all operating manuals.

Another key reason for Brightway’s success was having the buy-in of our team across all levels. If you make the decision to change, be certain to provide concise explanations and a detailed timetable, including how it will help employees in the workplace and in their careers. Continue to communicate with them throughout the transition. To that end, Brightway named one person familiar with company operations to lead the transition and serve as a point-person. It’s important to have such a leader to oversee the change.

Plan and execute this change with the goal of limiting productivity problems during the transition, but realistically expect some loss of efficiency until the new system is up and running, and any “bugs” have been purged after a period of time.

Brightway did not notify customers of this change ahead of time or once it was in place. Our view is that customers don’t need the distraction, only good outcomes. However, another agency might decide to advise customers as a means of “tooting their horn” about positive steps being taken to help customers. If so, I suggest this should be done after the new system is in place and well-tested.

Our system change was on a large scale; however the lessons we learned would serve any size organization in the insurance industry considering such a transition.

About Michael Miller

Miller is vice chairman of Brightway Insurance. He co-founded the company in 2004 and previously served as the company's chief marketing officer and chief operations officer.

From This Issue

Insurance Journal West January 28, 2013
January 28, 2013
Insurance Journal West Magazine

Excess, Surplus & Specialty Markets Directory, Volume I

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