Insurance Enterprise Software Reverticalizes

Matthew Josefowicz

This week’s announcement of Accenture’s spin-off of Duck Creek Technologies to a joint venture with a private equity firm underscores a trend we’ve seen in the insurance enterprise software and services market — increased verticalization.

When we first started tracking M&A in this space nearly a decade ago, we focused significant attention on the tech giants like IBM, MSFT, ORCL, and SAP, pictured on the left of our 2015Q2 market view below, as well as the financial investors, pictured on the right.

InsSoftwareUpdate2015

Source: Insurance Software M&A Update 2015 Q2

While financial investors have gotten much more active in this space in the last five years (lured no doubt by the successful Guidewire and Majesco IPOs), the tech giants are no longer much of a factor. They seem to be focusing much more on their horizontal strengths like cloud and data analytics.

Why is this happening? Well, insurance enterprise technology is not like general enterprise technology. It has a distinctive and closely-connected customer community that values vertical expertise and relationships above all, it requires maintaining a network of partnerships or a comprehensive set of vertical services, and has a business rhythm and sales process that rarely aligns with that of horizontal enterprise technology companies.

Insurance technology companies have been most successful on their own, and frequently struggle to maintain relevance when they are swallowed up by larger companies with broader markets. Right now, most of the M&A activity in this space is taking place among the vertical insurance software providers themselves. We expect this to continue for the foreseeable future.

On the Internet, No One Knows You’re a Small Insurer

Tom Benton

Recently, Chuck, Thuy and I attended the IASA Boot Camp in Hilton Head Island, SC. The event was started a few years ago by IASA to provide vendors with education and training on the industry, as well as networking and discussing IASA’s events and opportunities. This year’s sessions focused on learning more about how to better engage insurers and understanding their processes for vendor selection and solution purchase decisions. I had the opportunity to speak to the attendees about the challenges facing small carrier technology leaders.

Smaller insurers, typically with less than 25 IT staff and with net premium in the low $100M’s, face the same challenges as their larger peers: modernizing aging core systems, improving customer experience and finding ways to better leverage analytics. These and other concerns are more difficult for smaller carriers since they have fewer resources to dedicate to solutions. As vendors have matured their products and implementations in recent years, they are looking for ways to better meet the needs of smaller insurers.

The Boot Camp also featured presentations on how carriers make purchasing decisions, and on the second day there were lively roundtable discussions on topics that included RFI (Request for Information) and POC (Proof of Concept) processes, and how to better approach the sales process, including demos. I was part of an interesting session that included consultants that have coordinated RFI and POC processes, including me at Novarica, and vendors who have been through various processes from carrier-led to consultant-led. The key takeaway was that frequent and focused communication plays a key role in the success of the process, in particular when the process is used to prepare both vendor and carrier for a partnering relationship.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work with smaller insurers, please feel free to contact me directly

Policy Admin, Corporate Governance, and Disrupted Distribution

Matthew Josefowicz

Policy administration system replacement and evaluation activity is at an all-time high across the industry. Across both life/annuity and property/casualty, policy administration systems vendors are offering suites that include not just traditional policy and rating functions, but billing, claims, portals, documents, and business intelligence capabilities.

Yesterday, we published our 2016 Novarica Market Navigator on P/C PAS solutions (complementing the LHA edition published last month). This report covers more than 50 vendor solutions, with individual profiles averaging more 10 pages, providing detailed information on the functionality of all of the sub-components on the system. These reports also include single-page executive summaries for each vendor.

Together, they provide more than 900 pages of research on these important vendors. Jeff Goldberg and Tom Benton will review and discuss this research in a webinar on Wednesday at noon.

Large strategic projects like policy administration system replacement highlight the importance of corporate governance when it comes to technology strategy. According to our recent research, 89% of insurer CIOs say their board members don’t know the right questions to ask about technology, and end up overfocusing on risks rather than opportunities. Frank Petersmark and I will discuss this on a webinar on March 28.

Life and retirement board members will have a lot to think about as the new DOL regulations take effect, requiring sellers of retirement products to act as buyer fiduciaries, and completely disrupting distribution in this marketplace. Several large insurers have cited this change as the reason for divesting their distribution arms, and more change is afoot. Rob McIsaac has been discussing this with our annuity and retirement Council members, and shares his thoughts in a new executive brief.

Consider the Future when Evaluating Today’s Insurance Systems

Chuck Ruzicka

Over the past few years, I’ve worked with many insurers on core policy administration vendor selection, and I’m excited to have joined a team with so much existing experience in this area.

While most selection processes focus heavily on features, configuration tools, architecture and implementation methodology, it is equally important to understand the vendor’s upgrade process and history. Since business needs and technology continue to change rapidly, a key selection factor for a vendor partner is their ability to evolve to support tomorrow’s needs, and not just today’s.

One predictor of the future is the vendor’s record for helping customers migrate to newer versions of their software. The decision to upgrade can be impacted by factors outside the control of the solution provider such as:

  • Business priorities like entering new states, deploying new products or an acquisition
  • Budget constraints due to poor underwriting results
  • Complexity of multi-year implementation of business transformation projects

Regardless of these external factors, upgrades are most likely to be dependent on the vendor itself. In Novarica’s most recent Property/Casualty PAS Market Navigator report, one key difference that emerged between solution providers was the percentage of current clients on versions of systems that were three years old or older. The reasons for these vendor solution differences should be investigated and assessed as part of the software evaluation process. Prospective clients should consider the following:

  1. Value of roadmap items. Does the vendor’s solution roadmap suggest enough new capabilities or improvements with each upgrade to warrant implementation? Well-architected and mature systems may have much of the desired functionality and integration capabilities such that upgrading becomes less important. Even if this is the case, this difference is still relevant due to changes in infrastructure components and the risk of technological obsolescence. Ease in upgrading is more critical if a vendor is catching up or building out new competitive capabilities.
  2. Solution provider release strategy. Some solution providers incorporate all minor releases into the scope of their implementation projects. Others hold back release updates until the system is fully implemented. What is the impact of delaying the incorporation of new functionality during the implementation? Competitors who have already implemented a new system may be leveraging those new roadmap features before you complete your initial implementation.
  3. Velocity of change. Frequent and material releases will drive a higher need for related regression testing capabilities and possible infrastructure upgrades. How will your organization respond to those demands? How will your QA organization manage release (regression) testing along with functionality testing?
  4. Upgrade accelerators. Does the solution provider offer adequate guidance regarding how to configure and manage the system to facilitate future upgrades? Do they have the tools and a proven methodology to make this process easier and less painful?
  5. Upgrade barriers. Potential clients should ask longer term clients either why they haven’t upgraded versions in several years or conversely, what did it take to implement the most recent upgrade. Project team size, duration, challenges and available assistance should be understood. While it is always useful to talk to new clients about methodology, new features and configuration tools, existing clients should also be contacted.
  6. Impact of configuration upgrades. If solution providers have improvements to their configuration tools in their roadmaps, be sure to ask if products implemented in prior versions will automatically roll forward or if a conversion effort is required. You may be surprised by the answer.
  7. Value of more frequent upgrades in a managed service agreement. An additional consideration is whether or not you will get earlier benefits realization from a managed service agreement. SaaS installations tend to be on more current versions of the software. If your organization does not have a disciplined program for upgrading software components, you may benefit from a SaaS implementation.
  8. Selection criteria weights. Given all that you learned by considering the prior seven items, should your selection criteria weighting be altered? Does it give enough weight to differences in upgradeability?

No one wants to be buying a system that will become out of date and require a large scale replacement project in the near future. One way to avoid this is to purchase a system from a solution provider that invests in the future and has a clear and cost effective methodology for managing software upgrades.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at cruzicka@novarica.com to learn more about our policy administration and other core system vendor selection services. You can also check out:

Advice to Vendors Preparing for IASA

Jeff Goldberg

With the IASA annual conference rapidly approaching, we’ve been getting a lot of questions from core systems vendors about how to best present themselves at big events like this. The advice is not the same for every vendor, but there are some points that are true for just about everyone.

1. Your sales team will not convince an insurer to purchase a core system if they aren’t already in the market for one. That means your primary goal is to make sure that you end up on an insurer’s long list when the time for replacement does come (on their schedule).

2. Event attendees will be seeing a lot of booths and meeting a lot of vendors. The majority of them will not remember the details or nuance of your pitch and they will not read every word of a 5 page brochure. At most they will take away two or three key facts. What do you want those three facts to be? Decide ahead of time, and make sure you work to highlight them in your conversations and in your marketing material. What are you selling, who is your target client-base, and what key features makes your system stand out?

3. It’s hard enough to convey the full scope of your system’s functionality in an hour meeting. It’s even more difficult to give demos in an event scenario. Instead of trying to walk someone through your normal demo script, you should have multiple parts of the system staged and ready to go. Don’t waste time keying in policy data or document text; instead, have several tabs open in a browser with pre-entered information, bring up the right tab based on your audience’s interest, and show the relevant parts of the system in action without having to step through lots of pages.

4. Positive quotes from referenceable clients are better than any marketing text you can write.

Making a Project Succeed with Users Who are Reluctant to Adopt a New System

Jeff Goldberg

When planning for change management or a core system replacement, we focus a lot on getting buy-in and sponsorship from leadership. But even though end-users may be required to go along, getting their support is critical to success. So how do you handle it when the users of a system are reluctant or even openly resistant to change?

1. Get input and review from key users before the project begins. Make them feel some ownership and buy-in, even if they aren’t part of the decision making process. Include them in updates as the project proceeds so that they have time to prepare and, hopefully, get excited. Remember that time spent in up front education not only helps get reluctant users involved, it also reduces training time at the end.

2. Plan for proper training that includes not just how to use the project, but also what the values of using it are. If you can’t articulate the values before the project begins then something is wrong.

3. Implement a plan to push still-reluctant users. Have dates for shutting off replaced systems, metrics to track how people are using it, and firm incentives (both positive and negative) for adopting the system.

4. Especially with data and Business Intelligence, never forget that usability and design matters when getting users to adopt a new system. Integrate the new system into the existing daily process. Make it easy to use. Design isn’t an afterthought, it’s a key component of driving adoption and avoiding support request and mistakes.

As always I welcome your feedback. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me a note at email.

Related Reports

Related Blogs

2015 Vendor Selection Best Practice for Insurance Carriers: Simplified vs Extensive RFI

Martina Conlon

In my last vendor selection blog post I highlighted a few best practices, one of which included using a simplified Request for Information (RFI) that was easy for the vendor to complete and for you to score. I’d like to delve into this topic more and explain why a simplified RFI can make or break the vendor selection process. A simplified RFI will get you through the vendor selection process much faster, and will help your selection team focus on what really matters – your unique requirements.

From a functionality perspective, don’t inventory the ordinary; instead focus on areas that are specific to your business. We know that any insurance application that is in production with several insurers will support basic transactions. For example, all policy systems have a new business, policy change and cancellation transactions so there is no need to spend time and focus on them. Instead, dig into features that matter to your business. Perhaps you need robust premium audit features to support your workers comp business, or you need advanced reinsurance capabilities to support your middle market commercial business. Ask questions in the areas where you may be stretching the capabilities of a vended solution.

Having been involved in over 50 vendor selection projects (rating, policy administration systems, claims, billing, agent portals, business intelligence, etc.), Novarica recommends that during the RFI phase the focus should be on discovering reasons not to consider a particular vendor (the “deal-killers”). Novarica’s experience has shown deal killers generally fall into one of four areas: Staff, Organization,Functionality, and Technology, easily remembered by the acronym SOFT.

Staff

  • Do the staff have the right skills and experience?
  • How well are they likely to understand your needs?
  • What resources are available for implementation and support?
  • What assurances will you have that the staff you meet during the sales process will really be the staff that you work with?

Organization

  • How stable is the organization?
  • Is it big enough for your company to do business with?
  • Is there a conflict in the company’s ownership (i.e., are they owned by a competitor)?
  • Who are their other clients?
  • How much of a role do clients have in product development?

Functionality

  • Does the solution support the lines of business, states, and high-level functionality that you need?
  • Which functions are actually live at reference clients?

Technology

  • Is the solution’s technical architecture compatible with your enterprise standards?
  • Does your IT staff have the skills to support it?

The typical Novarica RFI includes 100-150 questions. The typical response for 30-50 pages takes 2-4 hours to score. Your time is valuable – don’t waste days reading and scoring complex RFI responses full of information you probably already know. This simplified approach will typically allow you to narrow the range of potential suppliers in any particular solution category to 2-3 candidates much more quickly and effectively than with a large dense RFP.

For more information about vendor selection best practices, make sure to register for our upcoming Vendor Selection Best Practices webinar taking place Thursday, January 29th at 2 p.m. (ET) or send me a note at email.

2015 Vendor Selection Best Practices for Insurance Carriers

Martina Conlon

Over the last few years more and more insurance carriers have forgone custom software development projects and turned to the vendor marketplace to find solutions to their most pressing problems. While there are many advantages to leveraging vendor solutions, many insurance IT departments are not experienced in finding and evaluating solution providers to meet their needs.

The traditional methods used by insurance carriers for selecting vendors can limit success and take an inordinate amount of time, leading to challenges long before a project even begins. By focusing on asking the right questions and engaging business leaders and users early in the process, insurers can streamline the traditional process while providing far better results. Below I have highlighted a few vendor selection best practices, including:

  • Get business commitment to the process upfront.
  • Limit purchasing/sourcing departments control until the contract negotiation stage.
  • Focus on strategic needs rather than current practices.
  • Use a simplified RFI that is easy for the vendor to complete and for you to score.
  • Set the agenda of demos and evaluation meetings, rather than letting the vendor drive.
  • Focus on where your organizations is unique, don’t over analyze the ordinary.
  • Question vendor pricing models and negotiate for what you think is a fair partnership deal.

The best practices above are a sampling of the lessons learned during years of Novarica vendor selection projects and conversations with experienced CIOs. For more information about vendor selection best practices, register for our upcoming Vendor Selection Best Practices webinar taking place Thursday, January 29th at 2 P.M. (ET) or contact me via email.

Digital Failings

Rob McIsaac

We live in a brave new world now with digital devices and equipment surrounding us in a sea of capabilities that (generally) improve the quality of our experiences. They also allow us to extend ourselves in ways that would have been hard to contemplate until recently. While this has many great potential benefits, there are also some unintended consequences that we need to be mindful of, particularly as technologists. In a world that reflects the Internet of Things, smart buildings and self-driving cars are no longer future state fiction. They are modern realities that have real world implications associate with them when they work. And when they don’t!

I was reminded of this in a recent analog world event. After restoring my Dad’s 35 year old Moto-Guzzi motorcycle, I’ve come to enjoy quiet country road excursions. Not long ago, while on a pleasant cruise I felt a little “hitch in the giddyup”. Was it real or my imagination? What I found was an analog failure in the ignition system. It entertained me with a gradual failing through diminished capability but provided plenty of time to return to the shop and get a replacement part. The failure was gradual, graceful, moderately elegant and easily controlled. Good thing too, since there is no backup system. The only path forward is the happy one.

Which got me thinking about how different circumstances are in our digital world. Things work right up to the point when they don’t. One minute they can be fine and the next it is like someone flipped a switch. Lights out. One of my more exciting CIO moments was caused by such a failure. Our online portal was a composite of capabilities, some of which we owned and hosted, other served to us from trusted vendors. When it all worked, it was a thing of technical beauty. We had architected things on our end carefully too, with redundancy and failover capabilities embedded and tested.

It turned out, however, that some of our third party solutions had taken a less robust approach which we did not fully appreciate. And so, when they went down … they took us with them. Like running into a wall. To our customers trying to argue that we were up and it was actually a third party problem that was keeping them from reaching the functionality they wanted was a moot point. It was our site with our logo; don’t try and deflect! Own it, love it, fix it was really all that mattered.

All of which made us realize how important it is to plan a digital playbook that anticipates the non-happy path moments and can support nearly instantaneous cutover to a path less traveled. Digital advances are truly remarkable … but they require a different sort of planning when failure can be both instantaneous and catastrophic. A self-driving car that can fail like that would require some serious discussion about liability insurance and advanced training for an operator.

New capabilities and new opportunities require new planning and architectural paradigms that must evolve concurrently. A digital framework constructed around analog ideas of what failure will look like will, almost certainly, lead to unfortunate results.

As always I welcome your feedback. To send me a note or set up a complimentary 1 hour consultation, contact me via email.

Upcoming Webinar

Related Novarica Reports

Sometimes The Best Way to Speed Up … is to Slow Down

Rob McIsaac

I was recently reminded of this old adage while racing through A New York area airport. I had allowed a meeting to run a little long, which ate into my traveling “margin for error”, which had then caused me to get caught in rush hour traffic. One small event led to a much bigger one and now, bag in hand, I was rushing toward security. And then I hit a double whammy. The security line on a Friday night looked like a pre-release event for a new i-Phone … and my boarding pass didn’t include the magic words “TSA Pre check”. Spending the night at the airport now seemed a real possibility.

The temptation? Jump in line and hope for the best. The smart play? Go back to the ticket counter and get them to issue a new boarding pass that was my “Get Out of Jail Free Card”. Slow down even more, on the chance it would speed me up on the overall process.

At the counter the agent blamed the issue on a software bug (nice irony there) and dutifully printed the new pass. With no one in the Pr-check line I sailed through security and into a blissful repose at the back of a regional jet winging my way toward home. Victory was mine.

Which got me to thinking about some of the work we, at Novarica, do with carriers. Increasingly we see companies across all lines of business recognize that their existing core systems don’t have the ability to properly position them to deal with imminent competitive threats. Implementing new products takes too long and is too expensive. Supporting new channels presses existing technology past the breaking point and support for a 24×7 world creates an architectural model that only Rube Goldberg could love. With time to market pressure high and business leaders trained by Apple and Google to be dazzled by new features, the idea of slowing down to speed up may seem inane. On the other hand, pursuing the current course may ultimately be the world’s biggest game of “push the wet noodle”. Entertaining but hardly productive.

Which leads to the search for alternatives. A quick scan of many carrier IT organizations finds that they don’t have the institutional memory for knowing how to do an effective vendor selection. In many cases the process, unaided, can start to look like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. About the time it is done, you need to start over. Fundamental things have changed and what was once a good answer or approach may no longer be. Slowing down this much doesn’t speed anything up! It just leads to indecision.

A better alternative? Using a structured and repeatable process that allows a carrier to leverage industry expertise so that it can focus internal SME’s on the things that create real competitive advantage for the carrier itself. This can be where a process like Novarica’s can make a significant difference. A typical vendor selection can be done in 10-12 weeks, a pretty far cry from what many carriers experience when they “roll their own”. Armed with better process and tools can lead to a much faster end to end process.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that I was late to the airport in the first because we were wrapping up a carrier vendor selection effort … and enjoying a protracted discussion around how we’d met a self-imposed goal of selecting a new core system in ten weeks. All is well, it turns out, when it ends well!