Software Selection � Value of a Disciplined Process

Why Rigorous Searches Yield Better Results

Bill Garvey, Eastern Shore Consulting

Golf & the Art of Software Selection

Professional golfers develop a process to help them strike the ball consistently. Some take a practice swing; others relax into their stance, address the ball, waggle the club, and off they go. If some fool in the gallery distracts the golfer with a hoot or a photo op, good golfers stop, return to the process and begin again. They develop a routine that feels right to them. They understand that it eliminates distraction and focuses energy on the goal.

Insurance companies develop processes for everything from assigning brokers to handling claims. There’s an Underwriting process for evaluating new submissions, an HR process for hiring employees, IT process for developing software, and an Actuarial process for making periodic rate changes. The more consistently the process is followed, the better the result, generally speaking. Insurers after all, are in the business of averting risk. Adherence to process does just that.

Yet, many insurers in the midst of seeking operational software feel their wheels spinning off because they haven’t any process for it. They kneejerk based on pressure, or what someone read in an analyst’s report, or heard over the phone from a sales person. They’re in a hurry because their current system is awful or they can’t keep up with the competition. Most insurers seek software infrequently. Others have failed miserably time and time again. Some will bemoan the sloppy search of a prior regime and then seek a quick solution to a complicated problem.

Insurers should value a rigorous search process. It takes a while, half a year or more, and it IS a project with the same discipline as any other � a plan, team, activities and goals. Following a process works because you uncover things a cursory or hurried search cannot possibly find. You remain focused on your business drivers which guide the decision and eliminate the distractions of politics, favorites, news blasts and the latest sales pitch. A search process drives the vendor to meet your specific needs, not what he or she wants to lead you toward. During the course of a disciplined search, some name brand systems are quite often exposed as a lot of fluff; while diamonds in the rough are uncovered.

Very often, when I expound upon the values of a disciplined search, I hear frustration on the other end of the phone. I hear, �We don’t have that kind of time.� or �Can’t you just recommend a vendor?� Sure I could, but truth is, an off the cuff recommendation from a consultant, or software analyst, is a terrible way to solve your automation problem. Any expert who tells you differently has ulterior motives. The answers to your automation solutions reside within the walls and hallways of where you work. Your vision combined with the hands-on knowledge of underwriters, claim adjusters, billing experts or actuaries form the basis of your successful search.

Steps for your Search

Business drivers are critical. These are the guide posts for every step of the way. Develop them and abide by them. Don’t waver; and when someone decides to steer the team off course, drag out your drivers, remind them what was agreed to. Business drivers don’t need to be complicated. Quite often they are so obvious they might sound clich�. So what. Build them and use them. Here are some I’m sure you’ll recognize. We want a system:

  • we can configure ourselves for new products or workflow rules
  • that will allow us to bring products to market sooner
  • that will facilitate flexible rating options
  • that has as much out-of-the-box functionality as possible
  • that interfaces with other systems and services easily
  • that fits within our technical environment
  • that is built on a consistent and sound architecture
  • that has a successful implementation track record
  • that is managed by a financially secure company whose management cares about our business
  • that we can afford

If you establish business drivers before the search begins, and follow them at every turn, you will have a successful journey.

If you abhor the RFP (Request for Proposal) document you are in good company. It’s long, it’s boring, and it’s just a bunch of words. Not really. A well written RFP accomplishes a number of objectives. Among them:

  1. Educates you and your staff about the software market specific to your business needs
  2. Separates the wheat from the chaff quickly
  3. Offers some good ideas about how to address functional solutions
  4. Provides a rough order of magnitude of initial costs and 5 year TCO
  5. Provides multiple context diagrams to help plot your integration solution
  6. Provides useful data about the size and team make-up of the vendors
  7. Demonstrates how urgently (or not) a vendor wants your business (read between the lines)
  8. Shows you who the vendors’ insurance clients are
  9. Develops a written document from the vendor that can be used to form a license down the road

The operative words here are �well written.� If you draft something that allows the vendor to punch in one word answers or to check off what they offer/don’t offer or (worst of all) to self-rate their ability to handle your specs then you’re right, it’s just a bunch of words. An RFP must be drafted deftly. It should maintain the same tone throughout regardless of the section. It should demand open-ended responses, and it should provide some rules for responding up front to at least attempt to keep the process clean. When you read the vendors’ RFP responses beware of two words � Future release. That means they don’t have it and probably never will unless someone spends the money to develop it.

Scripted demonstrations are invaluable. Demonstrations must be configured around your critical or strategic functions. Draft the scripts and give each vendor time (about two weeks per ten scripts) to show off what they’ve done. Provide them a day or two in your offices to demonstrate the results, and then spring on them two hidden scripts which you would like them to configure in front of your team. The value of hidden scripts is in how they help simulate � as much as possible � the real world. The better vendors will open their hoods and show you in gritty detail their configuration engine.

Stay the Course

Other steps required for a thorough search, such as a Bidder’s Conference and Due Diligence, I’ll save for a future article. The emphasis here is this �a successful software search relies on the discipline you apply in following the process you’ve established. If you’re involved in or leading a software selection team it could be the most important contribution you’ll make to your organization. Veer off course and you will invariably become as distracted as a weekend golfer. Stay the course and you will make sound and successful choices.

About the author

Bill Garvey has over three decades of Insurance Operations and IT executive and management experience. He works out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Eastern Shore Consulting assists insurers in building the business case for legacy system replacement, selecting the best software, and enabling a successful implementation. Call 902-457-7350 or visit www.easternshoreconsulting.ca.