Austria’s Helvetia Versicherungen AG has comprehensively digitised its departmental processing. Whether post, fax or email – upstream scanning of post, electronic files and inboxes allows identical processing, regardless of the medium. The changeover proceeded via a two-year project based on the Macros eWorkplace software. The special approach taken by Helvetia in tendering and implementation could become popular.
Gerald Schlesinger, Project Manager, Helvetia Versicherungen AG, Österreich.
Helvetia Versicherungen AG is active in all departments of life, indemnity and accident insurance. With around 850 employees, Helvetia looks after around 500,000 customers in Austria. It is part of the successful, Europe-wide Helvetia Group, which is based in St Gallen, Switzerland. The individuality of their customers and advice tailored towards their needs are long-standing traditions at Helvetia. Founded in 1858 under the name Der ANKER, it is the oldest insurance company in Austria. The head office is located at Hoher Markt, one of the oldest and most historic locations in the centre of Vienna. The Anker clock, Vienna's most famous ornamental clock, adorns the headquarters of Helvetia Austria. The Art Nouveau clock was installed on behalf of the former ANKER insurance firm over 100 years ago to symbolise the transience of time. In keeping with the very essence of insurance, the musical figurines on the clock are intended to draw attention to the idea of timely provision. In August of 2014, Helvetia acquired Basler Versicherungs AG in Austria and thus grew in size by more than 50 percent. The premium volume of Helvetia has exceeded the 400-million euro mark in Austria due to good business development and especially as a result of the acquisition (as of 2015). Helvetia has thus joined the top 10 insurance companies in Austria. Today, the Helvetia group has branches in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and France and organises parts of its investments and financial activities via subsidiaries and investment companies in Luxemburg und Jersey.
For many years already, Helvetia Versicherungen AG has been using a digital filenet archive for processes in its life insurance, indemnity insurance and accident insurance divisions. For this, all documents are digitised once processing is complete. However, the processing itself proceeds mainly on the basis of the requests and documents sent by customers and partners via post. A Lotus Notes application specially developed for Helvetia assists with processing and communication. “Despite the growing proportion of emails and around 80% of communication with customers and partners being electronic, our aim is to become more productive, to get rid of the piles of paper on the desks of the procedural processing department, and to ensure the way in which enquiries and documents get to is entirely irrelevant for customers and processing,” explains Gerald Schlesinger, Project Manager at Helvetia, on the initial situation.
The tender for the VesUV project (“Vollständiges Eingangsscanning und Verarbeitung” – complete scanning of incoming mail and processing) began in March 2013 – in an unusual way. “As a provider, we usually get tenders that already have very exact specifications – often as a functional specification document with feature lists and very exact specifications for the implementation. With Helvetia, it was received with a great deal more openness: We and other providers received a kind of executive summary in which “only” the project objectives were formulated,” reports Gabriele Görgen, Project Manager at Macros Reply, on her first contact with the project.
Amongst the project objectives, the following were named: digitisation of paper mail, standardised processes for all contact channels, mail archiving, time savings in archiving/indexing, policy-based and automated mail distribution and monitoring capabilities for departmental processing. Exactly how this was all to be done was left open. On the basis of the recommendations made, Gerald Schlesinger and his team reduced the provider list to just three.
The favoured approach was ultimately presented by the Macros Reply team, based on the flexibly configurable standard software Macros eWorkplace. “Here we were offered not only a viewer for digitised/archived documents, but also a complete, workflow-supported inbox/electronic filing system solution with distribution policies. As well as this, the team was convincing with its presentation and with its specialist expertise and project experience in the insurance sector,” said Gerald Schlesinger. At the end of the tender phase, Helvetia did not submit an entire order, but rather requested a proof of concept. For this, the specialists from Macros Reply were to set up their software in a usable manner and with a standard configuration on the insurance company’s IT systems. They were also to show the possibilities, demonstrate the working methods and processes in a comprehensible way, and monitor interfaces in relation to their functionality.
“We deliberately operated and paid for this proof of concept as an independent product. Of course, we did not just want to trick the provider into providing free additional services. Rather, we wanted to discover the details and get security for the later project. For me it’s certain: every cent paid during this phase was worth it,” said Gerald Schlesinger when thinking back to the start of the partnership. If the proof-of-concept phase had not met with our expectations, the project would have been ceased or another provider would have been commissioned.
But everything ran very well, both technically and professionally, and the test installation fulfilled expectations. The system installed for the proof of concept can even be directly used as a development system. Only at this stage was a detailed functional specification document created and coordinated in preparation of the implementation. Another advantage of the test installation: the employees of Helvetia got a feel for working with the system. This was important – not least because many processes that would in future be supported by Macros eWorkplace, were previously present in the company’s proprietary Lotus Notes application. This was very positive, because the employees were already familiar with a workflow-orientated IT solution. On the other side, these experiences raised expectations for the future solution. One of the consequences: the departments initially insisted on carrying over the already familiar distribution policies for the team and individual inboxes 1:1. This only changed after a few weeks working with Macros eWorkplace when the specialist departments used new options for optimising distribution.
There were also changes to the IT technology: The upstream digitisation and indexing via a service provider resulted in changes to the transfer paths to the archives and databases. An additional feature: the Macros applications are operated and maintained by the Helvetia IT team in Vienna, with the software server remaining with the Helvetia Group in Basel, Switzerland.
In September 2014, the claims department went live. Since March 2015, employees from all divisions have been working with VES UV and the inventory system on two large screens. The scan service looks after digitisation and indexing of incoming mail. Distribution to the inboxes proceeds in a policy-based and automated way. The result: the piles of paper have disappeared from desks and processes are independent from the channel or medium via which the customer enquiry arrives. The departments can concentrate fully on their value-adding activities. The time-consuming creation of instructions for downstream digitisation, which used to be necessary, is no longer needed. Optimisations are currently being carried out. These include an increase in the performance of the server and the integration of Mozilla Firefox as the browser.
“For us, the objective-orientated but very open-ended inquiry and the proof of concept as a separate project have paid off. Both may be unusual, but this approach created maximum security for us and made it possible for us to rely on configurable standard software rather than an individual programme with all the risks involved in development and future adaptation,” summarises Gerald Schlesinger with respect to his project experiences. The fact that this operation was not carried out simply pro forma is something demonstrated by the change of scanning-service provider. During the course of the tender and project, Helvetia switched to Swiss Post.
For Macros Reply too, the approach chosen demonstrated itself to be an effective and perfectly suited best-practice approach. “During the project, the corporate objectives were always at the forefront. With our configurable eWorkplace software, we are able to show at an early stage whether and how the customer’s vision could be achieved – sector-specifically, technically and in terms of time and cost. True proofs of concept on the systems bring customers and providers the desired security,” says Gabriele Görgen of Macros Reply.
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