Vertafore's WorkSmart helps agencies reduce workflow steps, adding hours to the day
By Nancy Doucette
Since agencies first began automating their operations, improved efficiency has been the goal. The expected byproducts of those efforts have been increased productivity and a healthier bottom line.
As agencies have grown in size, both organically and through acquisition, efficiencies have become even more important, given that there are so many more "moving parts."
Stewart Gibson, senior vice president and CIO for USI Insurance Services, knows all too well about lots of moving parts. USI, headquartered in Briarcliff Manor, New York, has nearly 2,000 employees in its 50 retail offices around the country and 3,000 employees total. Several years ago, the organization set out to drive better efficiency throughout its retail operations. "We started out by measuring everything we could measure," he recalls with a chuckle.
In evaluating all the metrics, he says, USI discovered that some offices were performing better than others from an operational perspective. Those top-performing offices represented the standard that all the other offices were expected to match. "All the local management teams across all of our offices were tasked with trying to reach the metrics of those top-performing offices. We struggled a bit with that," he admits. "While we were working hard to reach the target metrics, we hadn't changed the underlying work that was being performed."
Gibson explains that some of USI's growth was accomplished through acquisition and the agencies it acquired continued to work as they always had. "It was an eye-opening experience to realize that, while all of our retail offices fundamentally do the same things, they weren't doing them all the same way or the most efficient way," he says.
Late in 2010, USI began implementing Vertafore's WorkSmart™, a workflow and content management solution. In doing so, Gibson says, USI has been able to take its best-performing offices and "institutionalize" their processes, using the WorkSmart software. "We began by refining the commercial lines workflows in our top performing offices and had them built into the WorkSmart software. Now we are changing the work across all of our offices so that they can reach our target levels of performance as well."
Initially, he says, "We had a notion of what the automated workflows would mean to us." But in practice it's been the little things that have really had the greatest impact. "What we're really focused on in implementing WorkSmart is time," Gibson continues. "Based on some early benchmarks, we are able to generate time so our account management teams can focus on retention and organic growth, which enhance the bottom line."
Case in point: diary notes. "Our account managers document all their activities," Gibson begins. "From an E&O perspective and to be sure they're getting everything right, they enter a lot of diary notes." So USI took a look at two months' worth of diary notes in the first two offices that had implemented WorkSmart—the Norfolk, Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, offices—to determine how many diary notes were captured in the Sagitta management system during that timeframe. Then they compared the same metric in the post-WorkSmart days.
Gibson says USI also created a control group to be sure the metrics were accurate. He explains that they took several offices that weren't on WorkSmart and measured their diary notes for the test period in 2010 and again in 2011.
"When we compared the WorkSmart offices with the non-WorkSmart offices," he says, "we found that the diary notes for 2010 to 2011 in the non-WorkSmart control group offices increased by 7%."
By comparison, "In the WorkSmart offices, the diary notes for the test periods decreased by 70%!" Gibson says excitedly. That was because much of the information that was captured in the diary notes was redundant. Gibson notes that information like "who's the client, what policy is being worked on, or what step in the process the individual is working on were already known because of where they were in the workflow, which means we don't have to manually key that data into the notes."
What does that mean in terms of adding time to people's day? Gibson estimates it takes about one minute to enter a diary note. Looking at how many diary notes are entered per year, and factoring in the impact that an automated workflow can have on that activity, USI projects that the organization will be able to create between four and five man-years' worth of time. "These activities don't take a lot of time, but because they're done so often, they really add up," Gibson observes.
Always room for improvement
For Bowen, Miclette & Britt (BMB), headquartered in Houston, Texas, its 220-person staff was firing on all cylinders, according to Donna Wilson, CIC, senior vice president. But she was intrigued by WorkSmart when she saw it demonstrated at the 2010 Network of Vertafore Users Conference (NetVU). She discussed it with Ed Britt, BMB's president and CEO, when she returned from the conference but they decided that given that the agency had been paperless since 2000 thanks to CBDdoc, there weren't going to be any significant efficiency gains there. That, coupled with a sluggish economy, led to the decision to table the WorkSmart discussion until the following year.
But WorkSmart's automated workflows kept the conversation going. By utilizing Vertafore's WorkSmart cost benefit tool, BMB discovered there were still efficiencies to be had, Wilson reports. After identifying some 25% of the steps in various commercial lines workflows that could be eliminated by implementing WorkSmart, BMB went live with the program in October 2010, never mind that the agency hadn't budgeted for the expenditure.
"There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes with WorkSmart," Wilson says. "We brought all the affected workers together and went through each workflow step by step to determine which steps could be combined, added or eliminated. To launch a product like WorkSmart in an agency, you need a core group of people involved in it. There's a lot to WorkSmart; it is a very robust system. This is one time where you need to look at the trees, and not the forest," she quips.
"Once your workflow is set up, WorkSmart automatically notifies the next person in the process that they can begin their task. You don't have to remember where you were before the phone rang," she explains.
Wilson says she appreciates WorkSmart's flexibility. "Our programmer can make changes to the workflows that Vertafore built into the program if they don't suit our processes," she points out.
She says since going live on WorkSmart, BMB has added workflows for the loss control department, BMBRisk, and claims. One of the automated workflows that helps BMBRisk involves contacting new accounts with loss control hours. Wilson explains that loss control needs to call on these accounts within a minimum of 45 days. She says that once an account is written, loss control is automatically notified that a call should be placed, thanks to the automated workflow BMB built into WorkSmart. "WorkSmart increases efficiency and consistency," she says.
"WorkSmart has some great reporting features which will be helpful in performance reviews," she continues. The reports reveal how long mail sits in each individual's queue. The reports also show how long it takes a processing CSR to check a policy—on average or by individual. "You have some benchmarking within your own company," Wilson notes. "You can also add service level agreements to find your bottlenecks. The business process reporting in WorkSmart provides more useable information than you can get from any system we have ever reviewed."
If it ain't broke
Roy Riley, CPCU, AAI, president of Peel & Holland Financial Group, headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, recalls being cornered at the 2010 NetVU Conference by several team members who had just attended a WorkSmart session. "They told me: 'We have to do this!'" he remembers with a smile.
Like USI and BMB, Peel & Holland already had a document management system in place. Although it wasn't an insurance-specific system, it suited the agency's needs well enough, Riley believed, despite the fact that it wasn't integrated with the agency's management system. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it was my initial reaction," Riley says. "But I listened to my team. They said WorkSmart would pay for itself." The 37-person agency went live on WorkSmart in December 2010.
"We've always had written workflows," he continues, "which people could choose to follow…or not. With the automated workflows in WorkSmart, you kick them off and they step you through the process."
Riley says Peel & Holland is constantly analyzing its revenue-per-employee goals and trying to figure out new ways of doing things that will drive efficiency. "We have a five-year vision of growing the agency by about 40%," he notes. "With the automated workflow components of WorkSmart as well as the integrated document management with our Sagitta Online, going with WorkSmart has made a lot of sense."
Riley says he keeps the Sagitta Online system open on one of his monitors, and WorkSmart on the other. "I can see e-mails, actual policy forms, language, and endorsements," he explains.
"There are so many sources of information coming into us these days—phone, e-mail, texts. However somebody chooses to communicate with us, we have to find a way to grab it and get it into a system to effectively get the job done. WorkSmart is helping us do that. It gets things into the workflow regardless of where they come from. It allows us to grab information and kick off the workflow quickly in a managed environment," he says.
As a testament to WorkSmart's ease of use, Riley recalls a recent sales meeting where one producer was giving another producer a hard time about not using WorkSmart. "Over 50% of the producers are in WorkSmart every day," he reports. "It's more intuitive than some of our other software programs. The producers are able to view images of policies and interactions because they're all documented in WorkSmart."
Core value propositions
Bill Bunker, president of agency markets for Vertafore, notes that these three agencies and others like them are benefiting from WorkSmart's core value propositions: efficiency gains and business insight.
"WorkSmart is all about creating a workflow through an organization to streamline processes that aren't standardized and eliminate manual processes that should be automated. Ultimately tasks will be done in the most efficient fashion that is most compliant with E&O considerations," Bunker says.
"Additionally, WorkSmart allows an agency to consolidate work to the right resource, meaning that routine paper processing can automatically be channeled to admin staff leaving customer-facing staff and producers to spend more time growing the business and servicing current clients," he explains.
Bunker points out that WorkSmart has some built-in best practices workflows that are the baseline for starting an implementation. But Vertafore recognizes that agencies work in unique ways, he says, so "we don't mandate a workflow for agencies but we'll provide a best practices template that helps accelerate the workflow creation process."
In terms of business insight, Bunker says WorkSmart provides "business process reporting so agency management can see where bottlenecks are, understand which steps in a process are taking too long, and determine which carriers expedite submissions the quickest and are most efficient to work with.
"Not only can an agency standardize and automate processes, its management can address issues in order to make the operation more efficient," he says. "WorkSmart can help management evaluate the agency's mix of business—perhaps it's low margin business and not the best thing for the agency to be devoting resources to. That leads to a healthier bottom line."
WorkSmart is integrated with both AMS 360 and Sagitta. "Agencies deal with both documents and data," Bunker observes, "so the integration between WorkSmart and these management systems eliminates any inefficient back-and-forth between two systems."
Later in 2011, Vertafore will release Engage, a secure, cloud-based collaboration portal. Bunker says that agency trading partners—carriers, MGAs, and insureds—can work together on information that is sitting in the cloud.
Bunker concludes: "WorkSmart and Engage in tandem are the cornerstone pieces of Vertafore's broader effort to tie together the independent insurance industry so it can be more efficient and more competitive to better serve customers."
For more information:
Web site: www.vertafore.com/all-products/worksmart