Connecting the dots
Vertafore reorganization promises improved integration of
products, development and support
By Nancy Doucette
There has been no shortage of merger and acquisition activity in the agency ranks over the last decade. There has been equally brisk M&A activity among tech vendors serving the agency market, much of it involving Vertafore, Inc. Based in Bothell, Washington, Vertafore provides software, services, and information to independent agents, brokers, MGAs, carriers, and reinsurers.
The vendor offers a range of solutions that are well-established in the industry—AMS 360, Sagitta®, SilverPlume, BenefitPoint, CBDDoc, ImageRight, TransactNOW, AIM/CIS, and Sircon, to name a few. Delivery of the products became siloed, Vertafore executives acknowledge. That resulted in customers piecing together products to create a complete technology solution.
Tim Casey is one such customer. He is vice president and CIO for Conner Strong, a 300-person, multi-location insurance brokerage and employee benefits consulting firm headquartered in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Casey notes that the agency has been a Sagitta user for more than 10 years. He says the firm also uses TransactNOW, Sage/SilverPlume, CBDDoc, and Sircon Producer Manager.
Outside the agency, Casey is involved in The AMS Users’ Group. He was recently named to the board of directors for the users group, and for the past eight years he’s participated in the Mega Users Group—a loosely formed group of the largest agencies using Vertafore agency management systems. “The Mega Users Group has no official charter,” he explains. “It’s an advisory group made up of Vertafore’s largest agencies. An agency that has hundreds of users has different technology needs than an agency that has dozens of users.
“Part of what the Mega Users Group has talked about with Vertafore for the last number of years is its ongoing strategy relative to integrating all the enterprises that it has acquired. If it could integrate all the products and behave as ‘One Vertafore,’ that would have long-term benefits for all parties involved,” Casey maintains.
Time to regroup
Based on input from customers of all sizes, Vertafore announced its reorganization and rebranding initiative in late February 2009. According to Vertafore executives, the vendor is “shifting from an organizational design focused on individual products to one of market-responsiveness.”
The result is the creation of several market segments: agencies, carriers and MGAs, and compliance and licensing. Formally, the segments are known as Vertafore Agency Markets, Vertafore Carrier & MGA Markets, and Sircon, A Vertafore Business.
Vertafore’s new logo symbolizes the vendor’s connected solutions and the ability to connect all the segments of the insurance distribution chain. “Vertafore connects the dots by offering a family of integrated technology and information solutions to agencies, carriers and MGAs,” a spokesperson for the vendor observes.
Vertafore Agency Markets
Bill Bunker is president of Vertafore Agency Markets. He joined what was AMS Services in 2005 as senior vice president of product management and marketing. While in that role, his responsibilities expanded to include oversight of product development. He explains that Vertafore Agency Markets is “an amalgamation of all the Vertafore businesses that serve agents.” (Visit www.vertafore.com for a complete list of products offered by Vertafore Agency Markets.)
In addition to Bunker, the Vertafore Agency Markets team includes a number of experienced individuals. Ed Roshitsh will be responsible for sales activity and account management. Matt Jackson will oversee support. Brian Burg will head up the professional services team. Steven Finch will be responsible for workflow and content management solutions. Kathe Donlan will manage Vertafore Agency Markets’ relationship with The AMS Users’ Group.
Bunker emphasizes that Vertafore Agency Markets and the other two divisions are not simply a renamed AMS. “These are customer-facing units that deal with segments of the market. We’ve restructured so we can fundamentally deliver a better value proposition to our customers—a value proposition that will make them more efficient and enable them to better grow their business because they’ll have fewer technology challenges to deal with.
“What’s more, customers will have a single organization they can turn to whenever they think about the technology applications they need to run their insurance distribution business. Vertafore will be able to offer an extremely broad solution set with the services on top of it and a single point of contact around that,” he adds.
The process of integrating the products depends to a large extent on creating a single product development team. Bunker explains that this aggregated development organization will be building products “with an eye toward deep integration between the products to deliver better workflow to our customers. By bringing development teams together we will take the best practices and the extensive knowledge that exists in each of the teams and we’ll share that across the teams.
“In addition, we’ll eliminate redundant activity. That enables us to refocus resources on innovation.” Bunker points to ACORD forms as an example. “Across the Vertafore organization, we probably have seven to nine different teams that deal with ACORD forms. That’s not efficient. With our aggregated development organization, we will create one center of excellence to improve ACORD forms, while also freeing up resources to direct toward innovations for our customers.”
Doing away with product silos will have an impact on support as well, Bunker notes. Rather than small support teams for individual products, Vertafore Agency Markets will have an integrated support team that will draw on the best practices across the division. “Through the reorganization we will be combining support teams to create a single, larger and more effective support organization serving the agency community,” he states. “Our customers will not only benefit from a single point of contact, but they will see us taking our execution to a whole new level,” he says.
Bunker asserts that by centralizing product management, product development and support, Vertafore in general and Vertafore Agency Markets in particular will be able to leverage the collective knowledge that previously was spread across the organization. “We have people throughout the company who are interacting with customers on a daily basis about their issues,” he points out.
“These individuals understand the issues related to the distinct market they serve—whether it’s the enterprise customer, the mid-market customer, the small agency customer or a benefits operation,” he notes. “Bringing all that expertise together will allow us to think about problems in a different way and attack those problems in a different way to fundamentally get to the root of what agencies are trying to accomplish.
“So customers will have a single point of contact. They’re going to have an integrated experience, an integrated product set, and they’re going to see an organization that can deliver much more effectively to their needs,” Bunker declares.
Casey is hopeful that the “One Vertafore” strategy will spur the vendor’s internal federated password management efforts amongst their own systems. Doing so, he says, would enable Vertafore to then concentrate on building single interfaces to the hundreds of carrier platforms.
At Conner Strong, he says, some areas of the agency use TransactNOW more than others. The stumbling block is the password management piece. “When the passwords in TransactNOW become stale, users tell me they find it easier to go to the carrier Web site to complete their activity. Password management is probably the biggest barrier to truly achieving penetration for real time transactions,” he asserts.
Vertafore is close to introducing a collaboration platform for large commercial accounts. The platform, in development since early 2008, will enable agents, brokers, and carriers in conjunction with their clients to share information in an online environment. “It’s a great innovation,” Bunker proclaims, “and it’s not a component of any existing product. It’s something our customers said they wanted.”
Casey was pleased with the news that the platform for large commercial accounts would soon be available. “This is going to bring multiple parties together in one place not only to handle transactions back and forth but also to provide a single view of multiple systems within the agency and the carrier.
“We’ll be better able to handle the exchange of structured and unstructured data between the client, the agency and the carrier,” Casey continues. “Until now it’s been pretty convoluted. At renewal, for instance, clients send us spreadsheets. We either repackage those spreadsheets and import them into the agency management system or send them directly to the carriers. The carriers then look at them, they have questions, they come back to the agency, etc.”
Bunker adds, “This portal focuses on workflow. Instead of going through e-mails and voice mails and lots of inefficient processes around underwriting large commercial risks, organizations will be able to use the online environment to share documents.”
Going forward, Bunker says he anticipates more initiatives like the collaboration platform. “They will be happening more quickly and more frequently, thanks to our new structure,” he says.
“With the ‘One Vertafore’ approach, they’ll be more nimble about responding,” Casey maintains. “They’ve made the right moves in the past, but they could have made them quicker. With the reorganization, that will happen.”
Bunker concludes, “When you have a new vision and a reorganization, you want people to believe in it. As we’ve talked with employees and customers about this, the feedback—direct and indirect—is that people believe this will be great for customers and for Vertafore.”
For more information:
Web site: www.vertafore.com