Only two years ago, Zurich U.S., a risk management insurer in Schaumburg, Ill., supplied clients as large and diverse as Allied Signal, Hoffman LaRoche, starbucks and Union Bank with monthly reports on filed and paid insurance claims by mailing them files on a disk. Today, this antiquated method has been replaced by personalized Web pages. Customers gain access to reports containing information such as how many claims are filed each day and how long it takes Zurich to process claims.
This online customer service offering, called RiskIntelligence, exemplifies a trend toward for-fee information services. For an annual charge of $5,000, any Zurich U.S. customer that has an Internet connection and a Web browser can subscribe.
Many organizations have adopted business intelligence tools to leverage back-office information; these new services extend this information beyond the company intranet. Areas that used to be cost centers, such as data warehouses and business intelligence software and systems are becoming valuable business resources. For customers, a level of service appears that previously was unavailable or too expensive.
Before RiskIntelligence was implemented in November 1998, 250 customers used the disk-by-mail offering. More than 750 customers are signed up for the new service.
Zurich U.S., the insurance and risk management arm of Zurich Financial Services Group of Switzerland, sells property/casualty and general liability insurance as well as insurance-related administrative services. The bulk of its customers are essentially self-insured but pay Zurich U.S. to administer claims made against them.
"Our customers are mostly members of the Fortune 1,000, and their premiums run into millions of dollars," says Frank Colletti, director of e-business solutions for Zurich U.S., who helped to develop and launch RiskIntelligence. "This system gives them much more up-to-date and useful information than the old one."
RiskIntelligence is powered by Web-Intelligence software from Business Objects of San Jose, Calif. According to Alex Moissis, vice president of marketing, a fast-growing number of Business Objects customers have deployed or are in the midst of rolling out information services similar to Zurich's.
The Business Objects engine generates Zurich U.S. customer reports from data in a Sybase Adaptive Server IQ data warehouse running on IBM Unix servers. The warehouse is populated by feeds from a mainframe that stores information on claims transactions. Subscribers go to a customized Web page that contains links to their reports. Clicking on a report link runs the report in real time against the database. This popular feature has slowed performance, especially when users attempt to drill down in reports or save them to their desktops. It now takes about a minute for reports to be generated, Colletti says, but he expects that time to go down to as little as four or five seconds.
"The popularity of this thing jumped a lot faster than we thought," he says. "Now we're working on the speed of the application by beefing up the back-end infrastructure and paying attention to when usage spikes occur." Colletti also is adding three business analysts to the lone full-time employee supporting RiskIntelligence.
Subscribers currently can choose any of 100 predefined reports, including historical and trending views. Zurich has also responded to a flood of requests for custom reports. To date, Zurich staff has built more than 300 customized report templates for $350 each. Customers can also request one-time custom reports for $50.
The success of RiskIntelligence is enabling Zurich U.S. to spin off new ventures: At the end of last year, the company launched a data-consolidation service that collects data from the other insurance carriers its customers use, integrates that information into its data warehouse and allows customers to run reports on it through the RiskIntelligence system.
More recently, Zurich U.S. launched RiskAccess, a service through which customers can access the details and status of individual claims, and RiskImage, which enables customers to view imaged claims files to see claim-related collateral, such as medical records and accident photos. Colletti's group also is exploring wireless access in the hope of creating a service through which alerts about large claims and other significant insurance-related events could be pushed to handheld devices.
The availability of outward-bound business intelligence through the Internet has changed the way in which Zurich U.S. interacts with its customers. As well as improving the delivery speed of crucial data, the company has identified its customers' desire for better information and acquired a more precise understanding of their insurance-related operations. In the process, RiskIntelligence has raised the level of service those customers expect.
"We're reaching a point where all companies will have to provide these information services to their customers," says Keith Gile, an analyst with the Giga Information Group in Norwalk, Conn. "The better educated customers are, the more opportunities they have to take advantage of what the data tells them."