03 February 2005
There are numerous software packages out in the market providing very different functions and the choice can sometimes be baffling. Reviewing or implementing a whole new software system can be both time consuming and costly and so it is always important to consider why you are making the change and the impact it will have on your business.
In order to get a feel for the thoughts and processes that go into implementing a new software system Insurance Age spoke to David Pentleton, operations director, Giles Insurance Brokers, which has recently moved its commercial business across to Acturis.
Which system were you using previously?
Last year, as a result of acquisitions over the years, we were using CDL, Policymaster, Misys, Sirius, SSP and a proprietary system that came with the Ward Evans acquisition.
Why did you make the decision to change systems and what are you using now?
The problem was that because of the acquisitions made we had 'data islands' creating monitor and control difficulties, so we knew that we had to take a big step forward to harmonise the process. In addition, with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulation being implemented, we did not like to have too many varying systems. Now we use IBM Blade servers in a resilient SAN (Storage Area Network) environment based in a data centre operated by InTechnology. Our software runs on the centralised servers and staff access using thin client technology (Terminal Services) over dedicated broadband. In other words, the computer is in the data centre doing all the processing while staff see what is happening on a screen connected to the network via a Wyse terminal rather than a PC.
This means that staff can log into the network using any PC or terminal and work with access to all of the following, as appropriate: Acturis (commercial lines); CDL (personal lines); Swift (financial services); Sage; Microsoft products such as Word and Excel, plus email facilities.
The infrastructure, Acturis and Swift have all been installed over the last eight months and CDL and Sage have been enhanced. There has been a lot of 'joined up thinking' put into this and we have installed everything in a compressed time period - not to be recommended for the faint-hearted.
What considerations do you make when implementing a new technology system?
One of the most important considerations is that you have to feel comfortable working with your software provider. Most of the time you will be buying an 'off the shelf' package which means there will always be issues about the way in which you operate and the system operates. This means that it is very important to be able to work closely with the software house.
Software used to be driven by technology, then process and now it is business driven. Openness is also a key factor. Initially we went down to see Acturis with information on our existing system. We had our first meeting and a sales presentation, they also bought in people from the back office side which allowed us to speak to the specialists on their team, which was a very big plus for us. The meeting actually ran over by four hours and we missed our plane back to Scotland but it was well worth it.
What was the first step towards implementing the system - how did it proceed?
After negotiating the price and signing the contract, Acturis met with our internal implementation team. Then using project planning software and their experience of prior installations they were able to provide an implementation template with timetables for data migrations, configuration details and so on. It was fairly easy to follow. Everything else was old fashioned hard graft by both Giles and Acturis. We initially wanted one implementation date but this was not feasible with the number of users we had and so this was changed to a series of staggered roll outs. Then we simply followed the timeline through to completion.
What were the challenges that you came across along the way?
We have been very stretched and so have the staff. However, they have been great and have been giving us suggestions on how to enhance the use of the system as well as pushing for more training. The compressed time period of realisation also prevented us implementing proper change management practices but we have been fortunate that everyone has responded well in very difficult circumstances. One of the greatest challenges has been continuing with our normal every day work while training and learning to cope with a new system that was strange to every user.
We also identified that we wanted to build on the reports side of the business beyond what Acturis originally offered. However, this was not a problem as they were very helpful and this is why it is so important to be on the same wavelength as your software supplier. If you trust each other then you can move forward.
In addition we did not look on the implementation period as ending after the installation is complete. We anticipate an eighteen to twenty-four month period of ongoing implementation. Task management, for example, has not been implemented from outset. A pilot will be run shortly via our Financial Administration department covering the task management aspects of our premium finance plan operated by Singer & Friedlander and fully integrated into the Acturis software. Task management will then be run out across the rest of the commercial lines division. We also did not always allow enough time between migration of data but we did hit every target date.
What is the most common mistake that brokers make when implementing a new software system?
The main problem is that they put the system in and think that they have done it. I know of many brokers who have good systems but have not developed the document templates function for example. They simply haven't put the data on and have not progressed the system. Brokers should have business needs and value drivers for implementing a new system. It's not just about the technology, it's about reviewing and adjusting the business needs to the technology.
What advice would you give to other brokers who want to implement a new system?
Establish a short list of a maximum of three suppliers and then carry out due diligence to make sure it does what it says on the tin. Have staff input real cases into their software and check the outputs.
I do believe that technology on its own does not provide added value; it is the integration of technology with other functionalities of the company that provides this. It is therefore important for brokers to be very aware of the business need that is driving the decision to implement new technology. By installing Acturis and harmonising processes across Giles: staff can move easily from one branch to another; books of business can be moved from one branch to another or amalgamated from across the company into a niche unit; if a branch's communications fail or it burns down, calls can be redirected to other branches who can call up the client on screen and deal with the enquiry. We also find it easier to integrate with our suppliers: insurers, premium finance providers and other service providers.
Once the business need and the various value drivers have been identified the broker needs to identify software suppliers that he/she would be happy entering into a relationship with. One way of doing this is attending sales presentations at the software suppliers' premises and getting a feel for the people and the software. With Acturis there was a refreshing transparency and openness plus a business-oriented approach that fitted in with our cultural values. We knew then that we could establish a strong working relationship with them.
An important part of the Acturis offering was the provision of data input (fact find) templates and the existence of an integrated documentation structure. The latter was adapted comprehensively to suit our needs.
Not all systems provide this and the broker needs to tackle the creation of templates and integrated documents after the system has been implemented. Many brokers fail to do this.
Broker Name: Giles Insurance Brokers
Number of staff: Over 300
Size of business: £80m gross written premium
Since its launch the company has built a reputation for offering an informed and professional service to industrial, commercial and personal clients throughout the UK.
The company is expanding rapidly and is currently the largest independent broker in Scotland. Giles Insurance Brokers have combined experience in the insurance industry of 150 years stretching back three generations.
Customer satisfaction is key to its business and the knowledge and skills of its employees is an important asset. It works in a highly competitive environment and can only achieve the company's objectives through its staff, by ensuring that each individual works to the highest level of quality and efficiency possible.
Lines of business
Mainly commercial lines plus niche areas including motor trade and hotels.
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