In Focus: Best-of-Breed Prevails at Farmers Insurance - InformationWeek

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8/29/2005
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In Focus: Best-of-Breed Prevails at Farmers Insurance

Surely everyone who's shopping content management software must know by now that enterprise content management (ECM) suites are aimed at handling all facets of unstructured information management. Yet many companies still pick and choose vendors for specific applications, seemingly oblivious to the claimed advantages of vendor consolidation and "leveraging a single, unified platform."

Surely everyone who's shopping content management software must know by now that enterprise content management (ECM) suites are aimed at handling all facets of unstructured information management. Yet many companies still pick and choose vendors for specific applications, seemingly oblivious to the claimed advantages of vendor consolidation and "leveraging a single, unified platform."

Take Farmers Insurance, the nation's third-largest personal property and casualty insurance group. Farmers has been through a number of content-related projects over the last four years--as ECM suites have emerged--yet the company is relying on IBM exclusively for its portal, on FileNet exclusively for imaging applications and on Mobius Management Systems for its most recent project, a money-saving electronic report delivery app that's serving 30,000 users.

Farmers made its first attempt at rationalizing reporting three years ago, when it cut back from 5,000 types of reports across the enterprise to 3,900. Yet the company was still spending $1.1 million each year printing and mailing reports, with the single largest recipient group being the company's 15,000 captive and 1,700 independent insurance agents.

Farmers took another stab at the problem last summer, polling the company's strategic business units on ideas for consolidating redundant and overlapping reports. At the same time, Farmers conducted a review of products from four vendors that could help it deliver reports through the Farmers Agency Dashboard, an internal portal relaunched on IBM WebSphere two-and-a-half years ago.

"All the vendors we spoke to say they're ECM, but we were looking exclusively at the combination of report handling and scalability, and the goal was real-time delivery of management information to our agents and employees," says Riko Metzroth, Farmers' vice president of e-Business.

In September 2004, the company settled on Mobius' ViewDirect TCM (Total Content Management), an update of software Farmers had been using for six years to capture and share internal, green-screen reports (Metzroth declined to name the other vendors reviewed). Like IBM and FileNet, Mobius offers a broad ECM suite, but Farmers' deployment, which took five months, focused exclusively on reporting.

The reports themselves are generated primarily by the company's Unix-based CICS insurance platform and by the SAP-based accounting application, but ViewDirect now captures, archives and makes the reports available online the minute they're available in the host applications. ViewDirect is integrated with the portal, tapping its single sign-on feature and LDAP to ensure secure access to reports.

While the business review cut the number of reports to 2,500, what's really saving money is the move to electronic delivery. More than 95 percent of reports are now delivered through the portal, eliminating $600,000 in printing and mailing costs. Equally important (though less measurable in terms of ROI), reporting delays of anywhere from two to eight weeks have been eliminated, enabling employees to react to problems much more quickly.

"Say there are commercial customers with lots of (workers' compensation) claims or other losses," Metzroth says. "The sooner you can get that information into the hands of the agent, the sooner they can react and work with their customer, the business owner, to find ways to make improvements in the safety of their operations."

The system is currently accessed 80,000 times per day across the company, and that figure is expected to climb to 150,000 per day by the end of the year. The ViewDirect archive has been growing since the system was rolled out in May, and it will eventually store two years' worth of reports. These reports are easily searched, and they also can be formatted and downloaded into Excel so agents can slice and dice reports and explore what-if scenarios.

Metzroth says Farmers' best-of-breed approach stems from its "due diligence culture," in which the company not only tests products but also reviews applications in production with other customers. "Mobius was found to be the best in distributing management reports," he says, adding that, "it's not uncommon for vendors to collaborate to provide the best experience available for the corporate customer." Underscoring that point, he notes that the storage system behind Mobius' report archive is EMC's Centera information lifecycle storage technology.

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