William Tran was brought into Berkley Risk– an insurance management services company and part of W. R. Berkley Corporation – in 2016 as Chief Information Officer to bolster the IT function at the Minneapolis-based company. What Tran encountered was an IT system that was addressing the company’s multiple operations, but could do much more with greater efficiencies. “We’d been using the same type of system for years,” Tran explains.

It was clear to Berkley Risk and Tran that new systems and applications could significantly enhance the business. “We had multiple claim systems that had been acquired over the years, and it just wasn’t efficient to support multiple duplicative systems.  And our employees had to learn to use all these systems; logging into and out of multiple systems and different databases. It was clear that we needed to consolidate. “

The legacy system was an IBM iSeries – AS/400, according to Tran. “It was a mainframe-type application. In this day and age, sophisticated users, many of whom are younger clients, demand so much more, such as portals. Imagine bringing in a 22-year-old claims adjuster and putting them in front of a bunch of green screens and saying, ‘OK, so to do this, you type 7 then shift + F2 then you tap, tap, tap…’ That wouldn’t work too well with those who grew up with the iPad and the iPhone,” he jokes. “Plus, our clients in the marketplace today are looking for web applications and more of a self-service model to access to their data on demand, in real time. “

Calculated risk

Berkley Risk is not strictly speaking a ‘third-party administrator’, but provides claims, underwriting and full-service governance reporting and oversight for the insurance entities it services. Its business is split between risk-based and fee-based business with both large pool and self-insured group customers and individual risks.

Tran describes the first year of Berkley Risk’s digital conversion (2017) as a ‘transformation’. Tran refers to 2018 as the year of ‘optimization’ with 2019 seeing him go beyond by looking at emerging technologies. “In 2017, I knew we could rethink our IT to reduce both time and expense. We just weren’t efficient enough or as responsive to our customers as we wanted to be.”

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As far as the initial digital transformation at Berkley Risk, Tran partnered with Mahathi, a software consulting company.  “I think they're a great fit for us because they were able to deliver what we needed to be done at a reasonable price point. From my perspective, our success depends on my ability to add value to IT with improved systems without adding more cost. In fact, we need to be able to do it for less.”  Berkley Risk didn't bring in any new vendors for the active transformation itself. Instead they relied on the expertise and effort of their internal team and had Mahathi help them with additional technical expertise.

Talent pool

As well as reducing time and expense, Tran knew he had to better service Berkley Risk’s customers and clients. To do so, “you've got to look at the people, process and technology.”  Berkley Risk first decided to supplement their internal IT team’s knowledge and skills with additional technical talent.  They added an architect, data analysts, and developers to build internal technical capabilities and develop bench strength.

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Berkley Risk was originally operating multiple applications, each with its own unique processes and so Tran and his team eliminated at least half of them. “Then we looked at simplifying and enhancing these processes. Basically, we needed to remove duplicated or non-value added processes and enhance the processes that we are still using. In the future, we need to assess emerging technologies; anything that can help us in the long term.”

 “We decided to go with a claims handling application called Guidewire. It took us a year to complete the conversions because we had to convert multiple applications and several decades’ worth of data.” Berkley Risk did the same for their policy and underwriting applications, converting all their customers into the same policy system that is used by multiple Berkley companies. Then, they rolled out web portals for their customers to access claims data and policy information. “Our customers can now do a lot of stuff on demand in their own time, so it's more of the self-service model our customers were asking for.”

Berkley Risk’s original applications supported many clients and the migration to the new system presented challenges in making the transition smooth for the company’s internal teams. “We migrated to the new system and everything was new for everyone.  There were a lot of questions like, ‘This is not the same report I got last year.’ After all, it wasn’t an apples to apples comparison as far as the data was concerned because sometimes when you migrate, you have to translate and transform the data. We had to do a lot of work to reconcile reports.”

That was 2017. That's what Tran meant by ‘transformation’. In 2018 the focus is on ‘optimization’. “In 2018, we have taken a step back to say ‘OK, businesses, now that we have the new systems, what are the problems? How can we help you?’ Let’s optimize what we have. What are the customers saying?  How can we make things better? What if we auto-generate reports?  Let’s find a more efficient way to send checks out?”  So, Berkley Risk is changing their financial application to better leverage technology, like e-payments, to respond more quickly and lower the overall cost.  

The future

2019 will see Tran looking more closely at emerging technologies such as AI, RPA (robotic process automation), and additional predictive analytics. “We're working with strategic vendors to see what's out there. A lot of people have jumped in right away, and you can burn time and money and get nothing for it. You've really got to do your homework. The technologies we're looking at are AI and additional predictive analytics because we have a lot of data that can provide insights. Ultimately, we would like become an even more data-driven company. We want to make sure that we can analyze the data and patterns to better service our clients. We're doing a POC (proof of concept) with IBM on their predictive analytics tools to see if there are additional insights we can glean from our data.  RPA allows us to automate repetitive processes within and across our systems.  A lot of claims processing steps can be automated to a certain extent and so instead of taking 30 minutes, it might only take one minute to process. There are many RPA vendors like Blue Prism, UI Path, Automation Anywhere, but it's difficult to buy from them directly because we're not experts. So, we're looking to partner with an experienced SI (system integrator) for our RPA work.”

The transformation Tran oversaw has seen the company ‘reinvent itself’, according to its CIO. “It’s been quite the journey so far and we’re excited about the future.”

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