Technology In-Depth Series (Part 1): Rewriting the Rules of Conduct
By PATRICIA VOWINKEL, who has worked for national media outlets for more than 20 years
It wasn't that long ago when Brent Anderson would have to wait months to change a business rule in his risk management information system (RMIS).
He depended on the vendor's programmers to write new code or for the vendor to release a software update.
Now when Anderson, the controller of the risk management division at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, wants his system to implement a new business rule, he can write it himself and it's running in no time.
That's just one small example of some of the ways new RMIS technology is transforming risk management business processes for risk managers at companies of all sizes. Some of the new systems are allowing users to write their own business rules and are automating many routine processes to improve workflow. These systems also are allowing users to obtain information and reports faster than ever and eliminate tedious repetitive tasks.
"It's fast enough and easy enough that there's a fundamental shift in how people use these products," said Bob Morrell, chief executive of Marietta, Ga.-based Riskonnect Inc., which provides, writes and sells risk management software applications for the corporate market. Users go from using their RMIS in a tactical way for a specific task to using it for everything they do on a daily basis.
"It's fast enough and easy enough and simple enough that they can use it and they can get other departments using it," Morrell said.
One of the main reasons for these improved capabilities is that new vendors are building their RMIS systems on to a public cloud-computing platform. Riskonnect and competitor Chicago-based Origami Risk, for instance, are making use of this platform for their RMIS systems.
"Everything is being pushed out to the risk manager more and more, giving them more power over what kind of metrics and what kind of dashboards and what kind of reports they want to see," said David Tweedy, practice leader in risk information at Albert Risk Management Consultants in Needham, Mass.
"As the platforms change, the ability of non-IT people to be able to do a lot more IT-type things without having to go to school to learn it is really increasing," he said.
Riskonnect and Origami Risk are new entrants in a market in which barriers to entry are high and the existing players have been established for some time. Some of the main competitors in the "unbundled RMIS" market, where applications like billing, claims and policy administration can be sold separately include CS Stars, Aon eSolutions, CSC Riskmaster, Risk Sciences Group, DAVID Corp. and Inform Applications. These vendors offer Web-based systems operating on what they describe as the private cloud, which consists of their own servers.
Insurers such at Travelers and Liberty Mutual offer "bundled" RMIS systems of their own, but users can use these systems only for claims that are covered under policies underwritten by those carriers. Bundled systems offer all the risk management functions--claims, billing, policy administration in one place.
Companies use a RMIS to help them organize information about claims and loss trends, which can be scattered in spreadsheets and with third-party administrators. With a RMIS, risk managers can gather information about claims--usually workers' compensation, general liability and automobile accidents--so that they can better manage the total cost of risk.
In the early days of RMIS, the technology was so limited that users might run reports once a month. With each successive advance, more information has become available, and in shorter time frames.
A report that once took a month on an old RMIS might later only take a week. And then with a new advance, that week might be cut down to days, and so on, until the technology has advanced to the point in which actions that once took hours and minutes on a RMIS are now being performed in mere seconds.
New RMIS technology is helping to: improve ease of use; speed workflow; analyze data more rapidly; and give companies the ability to easily scale up the system if and when the company grows or buys a competitor.
EASE OF USE
One of the key features with the new Riskonnect RMIS system is that it is easy for ordinary users to write new business rules and configure them for their own specialized use.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for instance, is an international organization that works with 175 different currencies.
Ron Carlson, RMIS product manager for the church, was able to set up an object on the new RMIS that would allow claims personnel to enter into the system the local amount that they paid on property losses. The system would then convert the amount into dollars automatically in the RMIS to maintain consistency.
In addition, when headquarters reimburses the local area office, it automatically sends the area controller an e-mail with information about the reimbursement.
In the past, Carlson would have had to get assistance from a vendor's programmer to write code for such a task, a process that would have taken months.
What impressed Carlson was "the ability for someone who is not a programmer to go in and define business processes, work flow rules, to create tasks or diaries," he said. "To be able to do 80 percent of what you need and you don't need to go to IT or even the vendor," he said. The new system provides more of a "self-service" environment.
This was an important feature as well for Willis, which is reselling Riskonnect's RMIS as Willis DataWize.
"We can very quickly and efficiently and cost effectively customize our technology very specifically for clients and have it bring fairly immediate value without the long duration of traditional customization where you have to write code and re-write code," said Dorien Smithson, executive vice president in the Willis Strategic Outcomes Practice.
Smithson said that it can take weeks or months to customize a RMIS system as programmers write code to meet the requirements of the user. "With the configuration, it could take minutes," she said.
Ease of use is also a feature with the Origami Risk system.
"We have focused our efforts on making the features that every single client uses work much more effectively," said Bob Petrie, CEO of Origami Risk.
Origami, for instance, has built innovative technology around getting claims data from third-party administrators and insurance companies into its system much more effectively.
While it can take competitors three days to update a window, "we literally can have our updates done in 20 or 30 minutes," Petrie said. He has done it by employing straight-through-processing technology to completely automate updating claims data, he said.
"The idea is to focus on features that everybody uses but where there has not been much innovation by industry leaders in a long time," Petrie said.
New advances are also helping to improve workflow by automating certain processes and pushing reports and e-mails out to executives so that they have the information quickly.
Kinetic Concepts Inc.'s new Riskonnect system has "a much better capability of work flow," said Jerry Ferris, vice president of enterprise risk management. "The system can be set up in such a way that it makes decisions and pushes information to the right place at the right time."
The company is now working on a system to make investigating occupational injuries easier for supervisors. In the past, those reports were completed on paper. Now, the supervisors get an e-mail alert saying that a new incident has occurred. The supervisor can then open an electronic incident report and add the relevant information into the appropriate sections of the report.
Another change is that instead of calling in an incident over the phone, incidents are now reported electronically. An employee or manager keys in an employee identification number and a form is automatically generated that is already populated with certain basic information. The incident report now takes five minutes to complete compared with 15 to 20 minutes in the past.
Employer risk management departments rely on data to be able to understand their exposures and recognize potentially troubling trends. The faster they can get their hands on data, the more they can do to manage risk.
In years gone by, it would take hours to get certain reports off RMIS systems. They are, however, getting better and faster all the time.
New systems can pull information and turn reports around with amazing speed.
"We're amazed by the performance and the speed," Carlson said. "We can search in less than a second three million records. It's that fast. It's amazing."
"I've taken a timer out and tried to time it and by the time I can start it I get the result back," he said.
All of the major RMIS systems have invested in developing dashboards and other analytic tools.
"Data analytics has gotten much better in terms of making it easier for a normal person like you and me to run a report," Tweedy said. "You don't have to have a Ph.D. in computer programming to run a report like in the old days."
It is also easy and inexpensive to host and manage software on the new RMIS systems, Petrie said. In the past, to add more computing power to reflect increased demand from users, the data center manager would need to buy additional equipment, wait for it to arrive, install it, configure it, test it and then deploy it. This process could take weeks. With the new systems, processing power can be increased in mere minutes.
Because some of these systems are so adaptable and flexible, it is also easy for risk management departments to add new users.
At Kinetic Concepts, for instance, the risk management department began using its new RMIS system in May. Now, in addition to the risk management department, the safety department is using the new RMIS system and the company is now training the legal staff to use it as well, Ferris said. Human resources is next in line after legal is up and running on the new system.
"There are more people who are involved in the system," Ferris said. "It's just easier to set somebody up as a user." But more people are also interested in getting set up as well because of its ease of use and functionality.
"As we show folks the capability, there's more and more people who are interested in having access," he said.
All of these new advances are helping to give risk managers more tools, more flexibility with systems that are easier to use.
"Fundamentally, the point of it to me is to use technology to help you make better decisions,'' Smithson said. "That's how you're gong to get the return on investment from it," she said.
Better decisions are one thing. New advances are also helping to free up risk managers so that they are not spending as much time on tedious, repetitive tasks or waiting for systems to be updated to meet new requirements.
"That's what it's supposed to do," Tweedy said. "It's supposed to free you up and reduce that amount of work and increase your time to do the stuff you are being paid for."
September 1, 2010
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