Applied Systems affirms its commitment to the Canadian market
By Nancy Doucette
We're all familiar with the saying: "Two heads are better than one." Formalizing that concept by way of a merger or acquisition is one way of taking two good things and creating something even better.
Executives of Applied Systems, Inc., based in University Park, Illinois, and Compu-Quote, Inc., headquartered in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, say that's their expectation following Applied's acquisition of Compu-Quote in early June.
Reid French, CEO of Applied Systems, provided a high-level view of the acquisition and its impact on the Canadian market space in the August issue of Rough Notes. This month, we're expanding that view by including the comments of several other individuals whose jobs include blending the organizations and their products. They will discuss how their efforts will benefit brokers, insurers, and even consumers.
We'll hear from Ontario native Jeff Purdy, who was recently named senior vice president and general manager of Applied Systems Canada. Purdy joined Applied's Canadian operation in 1989 and relocated to University Park in 2002 to lead the North American sales organization. He's now sharing time between Applied's offices in Toronto and Windsor. During his tenure as senior vice president of sales, Purdy oversaw the 2008 launch of Epic® in the U.S. market. He says this management system has been test-driven by some pretty demanding customers and as a result, when it is released into the Canadian market in 2013, he expects brokers will say it's been worth the wait.
We'll also hear from James Nickelo, senior vice president for Compu-Quote, who is now a member of the Applied Systems senior management team. He reports that over 80% of the Canadian brokerages that use a comparative rater use Compu-Quote—that translates to about 2,300 brokers. He points out that Compu-Quote and Applied Systems have been partners in the Canadian market space for about 20 years and that the acquisition, among other things, will bring about a tighter integration between the Applied's management systems and Compu-Quote's products.
And we'll hear from Kathleen J. Cox, AAI, vice president of product management for Applied Systems. Based in University Park, she leads the teams that design all Applied Systems product offerings. She says the merger of these long-time partners is an opportunity to improve on what's in place today and expand out the offerings.
A bit of background
Applied Systems provides software to the property/casualty industry, with customer agencies located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hong Kong, Jamaica, and the Virgin Islands. It released its first product, The Agency Manager (TAM), in 1983 in the United States, and in 1985 in Canada. In the U.S., Applied has been consistently honored for its interface activities with carriers, improving workflows for agents by reducing keystrokes.
Applied Systems Canada now has offices in Mississauga, Ontario; Windsor, Ontario; and Montréal, Québec. Purdy notes that Applied's Canadian footprint is one of numerous illustrations of the organization's commitment to the Canadian marketplace. "We're helping to support the families of our 160-plus employees," he says. "We have a Canadian executive team, a Canadian go-to-market strategy, and the decisions for this business are being made in Canada."
For its part, Compu-Quote provides comparative rating services, business rules automation, and analysis tools to the Canadian insurance market. It distributes suites of products to brokers and insurers. It also offers consumer-facing products—quoting tools for broker, carrier and other commercial Web sites. Compu-Quote started in 1983 with personal lines comparative rating products and over the years has added tools for quoting various lines of business including commercial and miscellaneous vehicles—motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, etc., Nickelo says. Along the way, Compu-Quote has also added a number of ancillary products which boost function and effectiveness for its clients. A full description of Compu-Quote's product set is available at its Web site. (www.compu-quote.com).
Nickelo says Compu-Quote has relationships with almost all of the carriers in the Canadian market—which means the organization has access to a lot of rating plans for a lot of lines of business coast to coast. Compu-Quote builds solutions based on the needs of the carrier and the broker, then distributes them to its clients. He says wherever possible, Compu-Quote works with its carrier partners to develop and deploy products and services to its brokers at no charge to the broker.
He says Compu-Quote also provides information services—industry intelligence—to carriers. Using data and information gathered from its comparative rating tools and the participating carriers, Compu-Quote is able to provide tools to show carriers how they stack up against their competitors. "The carriers are very interested in this kind of information," he points out. "It looks at trends. It gives them competitive intelligence. Some of the information can help carriers decide whether to expand into a territory and appoint new brokers.
"We get around 500,000 new quotes per month through our services," Nickelo states. "Over a year that is six or seven million quotes. That's a lot of information."
Data, data everywhere
Purdy observes that data and access to data is of increasing importance to agents and brokers as well. He explains that one of Compu-Quote's ancillary products, PreFill, calls out to third-party data sources—with the consumer's permission—to obtain information that brokers need to complete quote screens. The number of questions the broker needs to ask is greatly reduced—saving time and keystrokes—because screens pre-populate with data collected from public records.
"Accessing data and incorporating that data into an agent's or broker's workflow is one of the many things Compu-Quote does effectively," Purdy says. "That's technology that can be used in any of the markets Applied Systems serves."
Kathleen Cox notes: "As two companies come together, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the knowledge and the skill sets on both sides and pull them together to provide a tighter integration—streamlining ease of access."
For users of Applied Systems' TAM and Compu-Quote, Cox says the product management team is focused on completing "workflow round outs"—with the goal being "eliminating those manual steps that are necessary to finish out a task or to integrate data.
"We are concentrating on ease of use, tighter integration, streamlined workflows, and more automation," she adds. "There's work that needs to be done in all products in order to deliver that tighter integration. Now that we're one company, Applied Systems and Compu-Quote can plan together and focus our efforts on deliverables, balancing the timing."
Additionally, she says: "We're looking at the technology that's available and thinking about what the other applications for that technology might be. We need to look at where the market is going and 'roadmap' beyond what the immediate needs are. That's the true job of product management."
According to Purdy, "Insurance brokers have three sets of needs. One is servicing and selling a consumer; two is the day-to-day operation of their business; and three relates to connecting the broker management system to carriers. The Compu-Quote acquisition extends Applied's offerings in all three of those areas.
"Last year we acquired CSR24 to allow for customer self-service for our agency and brokerage customers," he continues. (See "The logical next step" in the May 2011 issue of Rough Notes.) "Through the Compu-Quote acquisition, we are extending our consumer-facing offerings to include Web-based quoting capabilities. So now brokers' Web sites can offer their customers self-service and prospective customers self-service for those coming to the site for a quote.
"Consumer expectations are changing, so brokers need to be able to deal with more self-directed kinds of consumers," Purdy points out.
As Applied Systems CEO Reid French explained in the August issue, the Compu-Quote acquisition is part of a multi-pronged strategy for the Canadian market space. Other key elements include the introduction of the Epic management system in 2013 and the opening of a data center in the greater Toronto area in the third quarter of 2012.
In terms of the timeline, Purdy explains: "We wanted to achieve success with Epic in the U.S. before extending the product into another market. In the U.S. market there are now over 500 agencies and 18,000 users on Epic—that includes big agencies and brokerages like Willis and Gallagher as well as 50- to 60-employee organizations.
"Epic 7 will go into controlled release in the first quarter of 2013, with general release following in the second quarter. This version will include all the Canadian nuances around province-unique forms, interface, accounting, and language, " he says.
Purdy says there have already been numerous Epic "roadshows" in major Canadian cities and there are still more to come. "We're putting on the sessions in conjunction with ASCnet (Applied Systems Client Network), but we're inviting all our customers—not just members of ASCnet—to attend," he notes.
Both Nickelo and Purdy agree that the data center will benefit the Canadian market space. Nickelo commends the facility's security, redundancy, and backup. "Compu-Quote had its own data center," he notes, "but in a smaller fashion. We'll be able to provide better, more consistent service to our broker and carrier clients with the new data center. We've always done a pretty good job with this but now we can take it to the next level."
Purdy says the new data center will improve the performance of Applied's cloud-based products—TAMOnline®, CSR24®, Compu-Quote's consumer-facing products and Web services, and eventually EpicOnline®. Additionally, based on the facility's million-dollar price tag, "it's another proof point that we're committed to the Canadian marketplace. It proves we're here to stay."
For more information:
Applied Systems, Inc.
Web site: www.appliedsystems.com