Why Process Matters When Implementing New Technology in Insurance Field Offices

The insurance industry is undergoing its own technological revolution — not just in the tools used but also in who, where and how those tools are used, says Alexander Koles, founder and CEO of Evolve Capital Partners.

Currently, 75 percent of insurance executives predict that within five years their internal and freelance workforces will blend together thanks to technologies that make it possible for workers to complete tasks from anywhere, says Cindy De Armond, Accenture P&C Practice Lead for North America.

Every change, no matter how cutting-edge, must consider the human workers who use that technology. “You’re preparing, equipping, and supporting team members, real people, to adopt the change,” says Peter Landau at ProjectManager.com. When those real people occupy field offices, the level of difficulty increases.

The line between technology and humans is becoming blurred — and nowhere is it more important to consider both sides of the equation than in implementing new technologies into field office operations. Here, we look at the importance of a clear, cohesive and well-considered process for implementing new tools.

Why Process Matters

“Digital transformation.” “Technological disruption.” Terms like these indicate the extent to which property and casualty insurance companies are reinventing themselves to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.

“Businesses have always had to disrupt themselves,” says Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta, “but now, in order to revolutionize their industries, they must infuse their business with technology – essentially becoming technology companies themselves.”

Insurance companies are feeling the pressure to change, too, and that pressure is coming from the customer side, says William Brower, vice president of product management and claims at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. “Insurance companies are working hard to understand which technology and what data and analytics to implement to meet or exceed customer expectations.”

It can be tempting to throw technology at a problem as a quick fix, but doing so can only make the problem worse. “Technology, no matter how new, will only succeed if it truly makes the lives of its users easier,” Bekah Witten of the University of South Florida’s Health Information Systems program says.

The same is true of the process by which the new technology is implemented. Implementation succeeds when staff understand how to use the tool and how it improves their work.

“People are usually cooperative when they receive advance notice of upcoming changes at work and are given time to adapt,” Lisa Jasper at Insperity writer. “But spring a big change on them without warning, and you’re likely to face resistance, complaints and poor results.”

The process of implementing a new tool isn’t the only process to consider, either. By looking at current processes in a field office, insurance companies can more effectively determine how to roll out the new tool to improve weak processes and encourage strong ones, explains Talent Function.

Why Process Matters When Implementing New Technology in Insurance Field Offices

Process and Communication: Twin Necessities

When considering new technologies that will affect field offices, communication is essential.

“What seems like a small change to you may be a very big change to somebody else,” says Karen Henry, principal consultant for the Consulting Services Organizational Agility group at Ricoh USA. “Without a change management program in place, those affected by this change will struggle — impacting productivity, efficiency and staff morale.”

Communication is especially important for field offices that may otherwise have little or no contact with a company’s central place of business or core administration. “Implementing a new software product can be challenging because it involves telling people who don’t report to you how to do their work and then analyzing and potentially changing their processes,” Purvi Bodawala at GovLoop writes. One of the best ways to reduce this challenge is to communicate well from the start.

Leadership coach Susanne Madsen emphasizes the communication demands at each step of the change management process, from communicating why the change is necessary now to sharing a vision for success, seeking information about obstacles, and gathering information about short-term wins and losses. Communication, Madsen says, must travel in all directions, not merely from the top down.

Choosing a single point of contact can help a field office stay organized and ensure it both sends and receives essential information, says Laura Baker, HR business partner at ClearCompany. The contact point may be a single person or a team, depending on the scope of the project. If a small team is chosen, it may include both staff from your insurance organization and an expert from your technology provider.

Seek to create a team that functions as “your employees’ solid resource to inquire from or troubleshoot with,” Baker recommends.

Finally, communicate consistently with departments that will be tasked with making the change, including IT staff in both central and field offices. Since IT staff are often responsible for handling day-to-day problems with new technological platforms and tools, they should be comfortable both with the technology and with talking to the tech’s provider for troubleshooting if needed, says Risto Rossar at Insly.

Why Process Matters When Implementing New Technology in Insurance Field Offices

Top Considerations When Implementing New Tech in Field Offices

Start by considering the most basic questions, recommends Dan Ruch, founder and CEO of Rocketrip:

  • What doesn’t currently work?
  • How will the tech tools you’re considering change the status quo?
  • How will you measure success?

Weigh your options in terms of these questions and also in terms of user compatibility. Tools your staff struggle to understand won’t help them perform more effectively.

When considering field offices, a key question to ask is how the new technology streamlines their work. “Collaboration, workflow, and documentation are some of the industry’s biggest challenges,” Christine Boyd writes at Upskill. In the field, these challenges can be as simple as having to save photos to a laptop, only to upload them to a database later — a redundant task that wastes time that could have been spent on analyzing claims or addressing customers’ needs.

Next, take a broad view of the departments, projects and tasks that will be affected by the implementation. One of the biggest challenges in past years for insurance companies seeking to implement significant changes, such as new SaaS platforms, is that the project becomes unwieldy, Rick Huckstep writes at The Digital Insurer.

While implementation drags on in the IT department, “the product and sales teams are frustrated … because they see customer opportunities and competitive threats in a constantly moving market and are powerless to respond.”

Often, P&C insurers seeking to implement changes in field offices have made, or at least are making, the switch within their central offices and workspaces, as well. A realistic, well-communicated timeline can relieve frustration while still allowing field office staff to respond to opportunities and threats in real time.

Don’t forget to look at how the technological change will allow field offices to put their full weight behind any competitive advantage sought from the new tools. “The big secret in insurance is that insurers are actually terrible at using their data,” Martha Notaras writes at TechCrunch. That weakness that leaves insurance companies open to competition not only from insurtech startups, but also from tech giants like Amazon and Google.

Tools that enable field office staff to use data effectively can be a game-changer, particularly if this approach is communicated in the overall project vision and taught to staff as a part of using the newly implemented technology.

Overall, planning is paramount. A fragmented SaaS implementation process can result in inaccessible data, inefficient workflows and clumsy user experiences. And these effects are likely to be magnified in field offices, which may face different challenges and greater communication hurdles than teams in central workspaces.

Finally, consider ways to make the most impact with the fewest changes. According to Strategy& senior partner DeAnne Aguirre, only 54 percent of company change plans actually succeed. The No. 1 reason why is staff struggle with too many changes occurring in too little time. Tools like a comprehensive SaaS platform, while they represent a large change, also allow staff to approach that change as a single event. When managed well, the switch can reduce rather than exacerbate change fatigue.

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