Hello, Newman.

The U.S. Postal Service is in dire financial straits and, like many businesses, in danger of shutting down completely if it doesn’t cut costs.

By now, most carriers have been conducting business with their policyholders and agents offering electronic delivery of everything from applications to renewal notices. But there are those that still require some transactions to be conducted by “snail mail.” If the U.S. Postal Service were to shut down as early as this year, what would they do?  Would the burden of these transactions then be rest with the agents, and if so, how would they react?  Would those carriers be the carrier of choice when they’re not so easy to do business with because of these manually necessary steps.

Obviously, the first step for most carriers is delivering policy documentation leveraging a modern document generation tool, very quickly followed by a method to accept premium payments online and set up automated account withdrawals. Both of those are fairly straightforward projects that can be done relatively quickly and easily.  But the more complicated transactions of policy amendments and audit reporting are where many carriers lag behind. That’s where the postal shut down would really hurt. Policies like Worker’s Comp or General Liability that require businesses to report remuneration and sales figures on a regular basis rely on communication, and if that cannot be done electronically, it will become much more complicated and a longer process if paper documents have to be sent around.

You don’t want your agents to become your Underwriting Assistants and bill collectors.  You want them to stay out there pushing your products and generating business.  You want to be the carrier that’s easy to do business with and the independent agent’s carrier of choice.  If not, you may find that you’ll need to start a postal department to handle all those deliveries to policyholders.

He said, She Said” – An excellent Dating game perhaps but not a strategy for Policy Admin Replacement

Yes I realize it may actually not be the best dating game concept; while it does provide some hilarious moments the last thing we need is a repeat of some 70’s concept that shows us how some couples know so little about each other. However, all too often it seems that the “relationship” between Carrier and Vendor can fall quickly into this mold.

More than any other question, I am asked:

“Why have so many of these complex projects have failed, and what are the main reasons to plan against?”

Most people have the industry standard answers but let’s cut through that and get to the nub of it – relationship.

Now do not get me wrong, fabulous planning and clear well defined requirements are a must but without a doubt, in a multi-year project it is the relationship that buys us more value.

So, what does that make me right about now? I guess I could be the “Hitch” of the Insurance world; just here to try and assist in the art of keeping a relationship healthy – okay so we may not see wedding bells but we will see success stories abound with future reference clients and projects coming in on time.

Let’s talk frankly about what I mean; it is about expectations and reactions to the bumps in the road that inevitably WILL occur. There is no way to avoid them and anyone saying they have a proven turn-key solution should be shown the door. For some reason most vendors refuse to discuss the reality of the situation – my take, let’s set out with the knowledge we will hit issues and work out how we will manage them, not just via a Change Control process or clear management but through good communication channels and openness.

Communication is so critical and both Carrier and Vendor are guilty of “hiding” the truths – for example, Vendors behind on delivery seem to wait until the last second when there is no mitigation approach to raise the hand to the issue. Why would anyone think that is the right approach? It is because over the years we have all shot the messenger. The reaction to such a delay or issue should be one of resolution and joint effort, asking the question “Can we find a way to not increase costs and timeline? Is there a creative solution?” Putting the shoe on the other foot we so often see Carriers resources get pulled in several directions, with current production issues or indeed new product development that trumps the project but more often than not, the resource constraints are not adequately communicated to the vendor. This can cause the vendor to hit hold ups and delivery constraints which circle back around to the first point until there is the cataclysmic “He said, She Said” blame game.

Every issue has a resolution, and if raised early we can normally find a creative method of shifting work phases, re-prioritizing deliverable or targeting additional resource allocation in the short-term – whatever it may be there are ways to solve most of the hurdles we will face if we do not stand there throwing the wedding china around.

Just like any relationship it is all about give and take; everyone has to be willing to bend and “eat a little” – when an issue arises, do not shoot the messenger, work together and find the best way to resolve it. No one and I mean no one wins the war, if you try to “win” the battle.

So next time you hit that point, instead of wondering how to bury it or how to find an “out”, think what “hitch” would advise you to do……and communicate.

Is your IT department the last to know?

Remember the last time you needed a real person to give you directions?  Some people provided milestones and markers, making it easy to find your way.  Others were a lot more vague and in the end, not very helpful.  How often did you end up completely on the other side of town, nowhere near where you wanted to be, and you had to go back and retrace your steps trying to figure out where you went wrong?  This only resulted in increasing your stress level and causing you to be late.  Such was was life before the wonderful technological advancement of auto GPS systems.

You’ve spent a lot of time selecting a vacation spot on the beach you’ve never been to before.  Your flight has arrived and you’ve picked up your rental car.  Now what?  How do you get to your final destination?  Do you just drive until you hit the coast and start searching?  No – you were also smart enough to plan and have a GPS to help you find your way.  Your final destination has been input and the course plotted.

crazy intersectionWith proper preparation, your IT department  can be like the GPS in your car — planning the best route to your destination, avoiding slowdowns and getting you to the beach by lunch.  However, if IT doesn’t have all the information to plot your company’s course, or is not given the information in a timely manner,  you can end up bogged down in traffic or taking the scenic route instead of the interstate, ruining your trip with frustration and disappointment.

Carrier IT departments need to have a firm understanding of where the business wants to go so they can design their target architecture in order to plan the best route to get there.  As you know from adjusting your car navigation system, the best route to your destination isn’t always the most direct, or the fastest.  Traffic jams of requirements documentation, technology learning ‘S’ curves, and poorly timed stop lights can make the most direct routes take the longest.

Management should not decide to venture into a new line of business, issue a policy, and drop the policy off with IT to enter into a non-existent system.  The result can only be chaos in a poorly planned and hurried repository saturated with wasted money and time. Without proper notification and planning, a carrier’s IT department becomes reactive instead of proactive, definitely limiting their capability to support the business and help the organization grow.  This dramatically increases the difficulty to introduce new lines of business and does not  improve your company’s ease of doing business for your agents and customers, pushing them further away.  Even the most strategic, brilliant, masterful business plan fails if you don’t have the technical infrastructure to support it.

By keeping IT part of the business planning process, they can help plot the best course and work with you to build a platform for the future that can support your growing organization.