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Midtier Insurers Seek Help When Upgrading Software Solutions
It has been a busy time at West Bend Mutual Insurance as the carrier is in the midst of replacing their policy and billing systems and, in parallel, rolling out an enterprise data warehouse. The carrier went live with its commercial lines book of business for policy and billing and is rolling it out state by state and is ready to kick off the personal lines phase, according to Tracey Berg, senior vice president and CIO at West Bend
West Bend has an enterprise project management office in place. At one time, the PMO reported to IT, but Berg explains the company decided to focus projects on an enterprise level and get away from a strict technology PMO. The PMO now reports to the carrier`s chief risk officer.
“For a project of this magnitude, we brought in PwC to help us run the program with a governance model that is appropriate for this size effort,” says Berg. “We are tackling the governance and leadership differently. We put in several director-level leads and partnered them with people from PwC from a program leadership perspective. It`s a big investment and you want to get it right.”
Berg explains West Bend sought a consultant that had “been there and done that” in an insurance market for an organization of West Bend`s size.
“We didn`t want to learn the lessons the hard way,” she says.
Strong leadership is the top trait for those working on projects from the West Bend staff. If the project calls for a program technical lead, the insurer looks for a leader with a strong technology background and strong leadership skills. For a program business lead, they seek a trusted business leader internal to the organization—a key decision maker with a business capabilities perspective, according to Berg.
“We used the rule that if it didn`t hurt to pull them out of their previous jobs, they probably were not the right person for this,” she says. “For project management, the actual managers bring strong leadership and the mechanics of being a project manager who knows how to manage and track activity. We were looking for someone weighted with strong leadership skills and the core project management capabilities.”
For most program lead roles, West Bend brought in PwC and the carrier had internal resources that they called ‘shadow resources` that partnered with the PWC resources.
“In time, we have become less dependent on PwC and have taken over several leadership roles as we built up our internal skill sets,” says Berg. “We made it more of a joint delivery with the goal of our people attaining those skills.”
Berg admits it is difficult pulling people from their previous functional positions. A company needs depth to still run the business. If there wasn`t depth, the insurer had to get a plan in place quickly.
“We pulled people from their jobs for the program and they had to get comfortable with that,” she says. “They had to have a lot of trust in us that we would be looking out for their best interests and that this was a good career move not a career staller. They can`t be held back because they gave this commitment. We made a tough choice to pull one person off the program and place them back into another position because it was the right thing to do for that individual and the right thing for the organization. We had to demonstrate that commitment.”
West Bend is implementing a solution from Accenture Duck Creek and Berg points out a strong relationship has been built among West Bend, PwC, and Accenture Duck Creek.
“PwC did the overall governance and execution and Accenture provided the subject-matter expertise and several key resources,” says Berg. “We`ve all worked well together. If you came here, you couldn`t tell who was from PwC, who was from Accenture, and who was from West Bend.”
The methodology that PwC brought to West Bend included the concept of a mobilization phase, which is done before the project kicks off. West Bend business users answered key business questions and technical question, which gave the project team a good sense of West Bend`s architectural structure.
“It allowed us to build a high-level plan right from the kickoff,” says Berg. “We were able to stick with our milestones and there is no way we could have done that without the foundational work done up front. If you contrast that with one of our traditional projects, we would kick off and then start doing the planning work. We would frequently be making changes it and it often felt like a moving target.”
Now, West Bend looks to apply what it can from the larger projects for smaller projects. This includes a better understanding of the problems, having a sourcing approach, determining the best way to keep costs under control, and applying rigor to the risk management.
“We`ve always tracked issues and risks but we haven`t always managed them as consistently,” says Berg. “This direction doesn`t need to be specific to large programs. We intend to apply that across the board. It`s not what is IT doing for me, it`s what we are doing together.”