Catch the Bullet Train with Social Media and BPM for Insurance

Tammy Erickson wrote a great blog post a few weeks ago on the Harvard Business Review’s website titled, “Why We Use Social Media in Our Personal Lives — But Not for Work.”  One phrase in particular really grabbed me.  “The use of collaborative technology for work will continue to grow over the years ahead because when it’s used properly, social technology enables a very different level of performance. Your competition will shift the playing field in your industry by integrating this technology into how work gets done if you don’t. This train is leaving the station.

I couldn’t agree more.  Tammy’s blog is one more drumbeat that insurance leaders need to heed.  Insurers must break the cycle of legacy application maintenance eating their budgets so they can invest in new technologies and get ahead of the competition.  Yes, I know.  That last statement is a platitude.  Before you click your mouse to move on because you think this blog post will add nothing new, consider what’s not a platitude.  The smartest insurance companies are already investing in capabilities to rapidly create their own custom tailored applications with social media and mobile capabilities already fully integrated.  Not only is the train leaving the station, it’s a bullet train.

Why isn’t social media seeing rapid adoption in work environments?  There’s not enough benefit from general “enterprise social” platforms to overcome the cost of changing the way people work.  Users ask themselves what a stand-alone social communication tool gets them that they don’t already get through e-mail.  The answer with most of today’s business social platforms is frequently “nothing.”  It’s bad enough that stand-alone social technology doesn’t add anything to e-mail, but it is worse that we consider e-mail the benchmark for good enterprise communication.

Why is that bad?  E-mail by itself is a very efficient tool.  The problem comes from the reasons why people are e-mailing.  In insurance companies they are often e-mailing process information because their core applications don’t allow better communication flow.  Often those e-mails come with spreadsheets attached, a further sign of “information fracturing,” which is an increasing problem.

The 2011 Weiser Mazars Insurance Financial Leadership Study found that 87% of insurance companies rely on Excel in their planning, budgeting, and other performance management processes.  The report notes, “Teams rely heavily on Excel to compensate for shortcomings in the information flow.  Most leaders we questioned do not have plans to change this process.”  It’s not just performance management processes that suffer from poor information flow.  Information problems abound with the problems showing up in “claims leakage,” “underwriting leakage,” and poor service to independent agents just to name a few areas.

Aging and inflexible IT systems are the direct cause of information fracturing at insurance companies.  Spreadsheets and e-mails aid and abet the crime as workers have a natural tendency to hoard enterprise information because they perceive it as a way to protect their paychecks.  What they don’t recognize is that this behavior, en masse, actually threatens their livelihoods because it makes their companies less competitive.  Leaders who want high performing organizations know that they need to make information flow freely so they and their management teams are not insulated.  Some take dramatic steps.  I’m reminded of one CEO I know who placed himself on every group e-mail distribution list just to be sure he knew the details of what was happening in his company.  Work teams revolted at this intrusion by typing out multiple names individually on e-mails or setting up private distribution lists.

Social technology has tremendous potential to address the problems cited above, but current solutions have a fatal flaw.  Joe Moran posted a comment to Tammy’s blog which summed this up perfectly.  “I believe the bottom line for widespread adoption of enterprise social lies in how effectively it is married to ‘in-the-flow’ business processes.  Every day, people use systems and technologies in the workplace that present horrendous user experiences, wasting untold hours of production from our collective work weeks.  Why?  Because these systems, for better or worse, are part of the critical business flow of the organization.  Their use is mandated not by executive decree or via viral adoption, but rather the required day-to-day operations and survival of the business.

What if there was a technology that provided a great user experience for applications in the critical flow of business AND had social and mobile technologies built in?  There is.  It’s Appian’s BPM suite and it’s available today.  A number of insurance companies are becoming the bullet trains of their industry by using Appian’s BPM platform with social BPM and mobile BPM already integrated.  The combination of all these technologies give social communication the context it needs to drive dramatically improved work place communication.  The example shown below, pulled from Appian’s BPM for Insurance demonstration, highlights what I mean (click the image to see a larger view).

This is Appian’s social activity feed where communication and collaboration around process events happens.  All processes created in the BPM platform, or integrated to it, can directly post notices to the social feed.  In the first section, an existing point solution for new agent on-boarding has triggered an automatic alert of a new agency contract.  Two employees who chose to get this feed are collaborating about the event in real time.  The second section shows a process built in Appian has created an alert that the time allowed for legal review has passed, potentially putting this new business at risk.  The final section shows this company’s Guidewire claim system has sent the user an alert for a claim submission that’s over a set threshold amount.  Users can drill down for “more info” related to any event notification without leaving the Appian interface. Appian will pull and present relevant data from the system of record. Users can also subscribe to all events of a given type, personalizing the interface to a user’s role.

Social media technology, when combined with business process management, stands ready to be the great unifier for insurance companies who are fractured by broken process applications.  Appian’s social feed, integrated with Appian’s BPM platform, is a breakthrough that will naturally pull users into a better way to work.  We see that happening across our insurance customer base. 

To learn more about Appian’s social and mobile capabilities, please download Appian’s whitepaper titled, “BPM Just Got Better: Mobile, Cloud, Social, and the Future of Business Process Management.”  To learn more about Appian BPM for insurance, please download my whitepaper titled “BPM for Insurance:  Four Paths to Outdistancing Your Competition.”  You’ll also want to view the insurance webinar we hosted last week titled “Fueling Insurance Provider Success with BPM” which featured Ellen Carney from Forrester Research.

Evan McDonnell

Vice President of Solutions