From Mainframe to Desktop: Celebrating Two Decades of Innovation in Customer Communications

By Steve Francis, President and General Manager, GMC Software Technology, North America

(Sept. 22, 2014) – Sir Isaac Newton once wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In the area of customer communications today, we truly are standing on the shoulders of the innovators who have created amazing infrastructures that make conducting everyday business more efficient and effective than ever before.

Twenty years ago, when my own organization, GMC Software Technology, was launched, the internet was popularly known as the “Information Superhighway” and was something of a novelty. Generating and reproducing high-resolution graphics in digital formats was a job for commercial artists and printers. For most business transactional documents, professional-quality type fonts were mapped on the mainframe because they had to be mapped to the printers.

Although desktop publishing solutions were available, they were best suited for creating “camera-ready” prototype documents with static content that were then printed in volume for items like newsletters or marketing collateral. For obvious reasons, desktop publishing was non-functional for transactional documents such as invoices, policies or EOBs, or any document that contained variable data. In fact, designing any customer-facing document was a project that meant recruiting a programmer from the IT department because the documents would eventually be batch-processed on the mainframe computer. And the finished pieces – the invoices, policies, EOBs – were all delivered through the mail.

Enter the millennium

Approximately year 2000, we began to see a convergence in the development of hardware, software and the internet, as well as between desktop publishing applications and those like AFP streaming, which had been developed for the enterprise user. Customer Communications Management (CCM) platforms were entering the marketplace, but as innovator Steve Jobs noted, “Sometimes the market doesn’t know what it wants” – or even what’s possible. At this time, insurance companies and other large enterprises were just beginning to discover the range of communication tools that CCM could place in their hands.

Over the last decade, CCM solutions have brought a new level of flexibility and efficiency to the area of customer communications. For example, when all transactional documents were developed on the mainframe, every change meant a change on the mainframe, with an associated charge-back to the business unit for IT time. IT resources add costs and their utilization also added time to the production cycle. CCM has made it possible for marketing or customer service employees to work on their desktop PCs, make changes, add personalized information, color and graphics, and not need full IT support until the documents were in production. This has lowered costs while significantly streamlining procedures.

Customer-centric actively defined

Predictably, however, change brings new concerns and issues. The ability to redesign and personalize documents on the desktop pushed open the door for further evolution of what always had been “ho-hum” transactional documents. Previously, their sole purpose was to simply convey billing and/or product and services information from the insurance company to the insured, including whole paragraphs of unreadable and sometimes unintelligible fine print for regulatory compliance. As it became possible to add targeted marketing and other messaging to regular monthly or quarterly communications, the focus of these documents has been shifting from the requirements of the enterprise to the personal interests of the customer. This has resulted in a clearer presentation of information and has helped to forge stronger ties with customers.

Another key piece of this ongoing evolution in customer communications is CCM’s ability to deliver communications through multiple channels – by conventional mail or electronically to a customer’s laptop, smartphone, tablet or other device. CCM solutions offer the capability to create documents that are visually identical in terms of layout, color and graphics no matter what delivery channel is used. Customers can specify how they want to receive information and be assured the documents will reach them wherever they may be. Migrating to electronic delivery channels also helps reduce print and postage costs for insurers and can speed the billing and payment cycle.

What’s on the horizon?

And, again predictably, things continue to evolve. The newest innovation in the evolution of customer communications is something called dynamic communications, an alternative to static PDFs. Dynamic communications include all of CCM’s features and functionality, but most importantly, they are interactive allowing the insured even more control of the information they want to receive. For example, if a statement includes a bar chart or pie chart, the customer can click on the chart to drill down for details, such as the dates of various charges on their account or specific policy coverage. Additionally, customers can re-sort the information as they wish, such as by topic rather than by date.

The steady development and expansion of both hardware and software over the last 20 years has entirely changed the look, feel and even the function of virtually every type of communication sent to customers. These innovations have brought about – and will continue to bring about – a revolution in the management of customer communications giving insurance companies the flexible, effective tools they need to better serve customers. It is hard to predict what the next 20 years will bring. The only thing we know for sure is staying on pace with change has simply become part of every successful insurer’s business plan.

About GMC Software Technology

GMC Software Technology delivers the most effective solutions in the field of Customer Communications Management (CCM). With unrivalled experience in the industry, GMC has consistently demonstrated the ability to help businesses increase customer engagement across all touchpoints. The company’s CCM platform, GMC Inspire, enables enterprises to deliver relevant communications, at the right time, through the preferred channel for every customer – driving customer loyalty, acquisition and operational efficiency. For more information visit www.gmc.net.

Source: GMC Software Technology