The Insurance industry is a fascinating ecosystem. Not so much the products as the actual business model and problems the companies face. I’ve had the fortune to work with all manner of carriers (Health, Life and assorted other segments) over the past ten years, and been able to observe the similarities and the differences across those segments. I’ve always been on the outside, a solution provider looking in, trying to better understand the business problems facing the various companies I’ve worked with. And in that time I’ve worked for a number of different software companies spanning disciplines like Content Management, Configuration and Rules, and Business Process Management, each of which experienced some degree of success in one of the many segments of the Insurance industry.
Spend enough time in the software business and you might start to feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”, doomed to repeat the same day over and over. I recall trying to help a Health insurer find a way to simplify the enrollment process (both individual and group) back in the late 90’s with a configuration and rules solution. And then I was in the same situation again around 2004 but this time with an enterprise content management company. Not surprisingly, I discussed a similar business problem again recently.
In each of these projects there were challenges meeting specific functional needs. The challenges varied based on the focus of the software we were using to craft the solution. For example, when using a rules-based technology to define the enrollment process it was difficult to do anything more than track the status of a particular application using an attribute which limited visibility into the actual process. Using the electronic forms capabilities of most traditional content management solutions didn’t quite get us there because the enrollment wasn’t about the document itself but rather about the customer and all their supporting information housed in many other systems. And most pure-play BPM solutions ignore paper entirely and focus on the process definition, glossing over the challenge that the content itself presents. And these same problems apply not just for enrollment but for many other core processes as well.
The difficulties inherent in using any one of these individual technologies might seem fairly obvious in hindsight. So what was it that prevented the teams (both the customers and software provider) from knowing that in advance? I believe it’s a phenomenon that I think of as a perception bias, the idea that we all see the world and the problems we are presented based on our past experience and from within our sometimes limited frame of reference. The phrase “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. This mode of thinking unfortunately forces a high degree of customization in order for the solution to be implemented.
Despite the hurdles each project team faced, all of the projects were ultimately successful. Maybe not as wildly so as the return on investment calculations predicted, but each one rolled out and enjoyed a period of success. Still, I’ve heard over time that some of those solutions have since been replaced, and in some cases replaced again, each time with a different technology solution. Which brings me back to the title of this post, haven’t we been here before?
I have a theory how we can avoid repeating today again tomorrow that I’ll share in my next posting. Until that point, I’d be interested in your feedback and thoughts.