Far-reaching partnership between IBM and icon creates a variety of synergies
Interview with Stefan Riedel, Vice President Insurance, IBM Germany and Uwe Seltmann, majority shareholder of the icon group [published in Versicherungsbetriebe, Edition 02/2014]
Partnerships must be actively supported – at many levels. Insurers are committed to developing a partnership relationship with their customers. In turn, they also expect this paradigm shift from their partners. New approaches are needed to succeed in a market where competition is becoming increasingly fierce. Global suppliers and small and medium-sized enterprises are now joining forces to create innovative solutions for their customers.
The cooperation between IBM and icon Systemhaus GmbH is an example of this. But how can a partnership between a large, globally operating corporation and a medium-sized IT company work?
Read what Uwe Seltmann, majority shareholder of the icon group, and Stefan Riedel, Vice President Insurance, IBM Germany, have to say.
Insurers have faced increasing challenges in the past few years. What effect has this had on them?
Uwe Seltmann: Operating in a market with numerous suppliers, insurance companies have to find new ways to distinguish themselves from the competition and adapt to their customers' needs on a much larger scale than in the past. This includes customized customer communication as well as the use of clear language and modern visual styling. It's no longer about sending customers a largely standardized letter but about managing customer communication from end to end. This is why we have been talking about CCM – Customer Communication Management – for some time.
Stefan Riedel: Individual communications are based on all the information available about the customer or the current business transaction. Insurance companies need solutions that will not only respond to inquiries but can also inform customers about suitable products from other insurance business divisions. To do this, the CCM system has to be connected to other systems, such as the insurance business applications or the CRM applications that manage policies and customer information.
What do customers expect from a partnership? How must insurance companies position themselves in order to be seen as reliable partners?
Stefan Riedel: Customers expect individual and comprehensive communication and they expect their inquiries to be handled quickly and professionally. Many surveys have shown that customers can be hypersensitive to responses to their claims. That's where effective companies can gain a competitive advantage, strengthen customer loyalty and increase their customers' trust in the insurer.
Uwe Seltmann: The US research and advisory firm Forrester believes we are in the "age of the customer" and describes the links between good customer communication and a company’s financial success. A powerful CCM system is the key to long-term customer relationships and thus to the financial success of an insurance company.
By the way, communication with non-customers can also have positive effects. Let's assume that you were involved in a car accident through no fault of your own and the opposing insurance company settles the claim promptly. Even though you are not the customer, your experience with this insurer has been a positive one. If the insurer refers to the prompt settlement in the customer letter, the consumer will keep this provider in mind when purchasing a new motor policy. This is how effective communications can have a positive impact on non-customers too. If you have a powerful CCM solution, such dependencies can, of course, be mapped by rules in the system.
This will certainly include a technical aspect too...
Uwe Seltmann: There is a whole range of challenges involved with enabling successful communication. I would like to offer a few examples if I may. Integration into existing business processes and IT environments is anything but simple. Companies typically employ different legacy applications to create, process and dispatch correspondence. Efficiency potentials will only be properly realized, however, if all types of document creation are supported by a uniform system that is available across the whole company.
Another challenge is producing clearly written text. This might sound trivial at first but is a real issue in day-to-day business. So much so that a large insurer has run an advertising campaign in which it promises to communicate in clear, comprehensible language. We also offer specific solutions that can sustainably and measurably improve the clarity of customer communications.
icon, a medium-sized company, is partnering with IBM, a big player. Should customers be concerned that the benefits of the DOPiX solution could be diluted?
Stefan Riedel: No, on the contrary. We are particularly successful because we are combining the expertise of specialist partners with our broad customer access and in-depth process know-how of the insurance sector. By the way, our partnership with icon has been in existence for several years. We only moved it to a completely new level in spring 2013. Another important aspect is that DOPiX was certified as "Ready for PureApplication Systems" jointly by IBM and icon. As a product of an ISV of IBM, it is therefore an integral part of the IBM appliance family.
What were the decisive arguments for IBM?
Stefan Riedel: From a technical point of view, one could certainly say that the DOPiX CCM solution from icon is a logical successor to IBM's Application Support Facility (ASF). DOPiX enables the formatting of DCF source code and the creation of documents in all common output formats. As a result, DOPiX is helping to safeguard investments in the previous ASF environment. Moreover, DOPiX has demonstrated its performance capability and scalability on IBM hardware in combination with IBM software in numerous projects.
What consequences will this move have for icon's customers?
Uwe Seltmann: Let me answer the question using two concrete examples: costs and agility.
DOPiX can be deployed much faster and easier in IBM PureSystems environments. In addition, the total cost of ownership is significantly reduced because IBM PureApplication System facilitates full monitoring of the hardware, the database and the DOPiX application.
The dynamic deployment of hardware resources enables capacities to be flexibly scalable to handle peak loads and address maximum performance requirements. If pre-defined thresholds and response times are exceeded in an IBM PureSystems environment, more instances, cores, RAM, etc. are automatically deployed – but only, of course, while they are needed.
How do you organize a cooperation like this? How do you implement a partnership between two enterprises of quite different sizes?
Stefan Riedel: In my opinion, several aspects are important. Regular coordination at different levels is necessary: from strategic coordination at management level, to joint sales activities to the implementation of joint customer projects.
It is also of critical importance that our products are perfectly matched and integrated. To ensure this, we have for many years offered selected partners access to our Innovation Center, where we advise and guide Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) like icon through the process of integrating their solutions with IBM hardware and software.
Uwe Seltmann: The direct access to the resources of the Innovation Center allows us to develop and test our software on all types of IBM infrastructure. Of course, having direct, personal contact with IBM staff is also important as it allows us to work in a very targeted and result-oriented manner.
Let's get specific: who is in charge of large orders?
Uwe Seltmann: We have successfully undertaken large-scale projects in the past – including 7/24 support. This is why we are perfectly familiar with these requirements. On the other hand, our partnership with IBM opens up completely new possibilities in this field – especially with major international customers.
Stefan Riedel: We are the leading supplier to many enterprises worldwide of business solutions as well as of IT infrastructure and even outsourcing. These are the traditional strengths of IBM. We are therefore perfectly accustomed to carrying out large orders. In the end, the customer will always decide which partner should take the leading role in the project.
In a nutshell, what are the benefits for IBM?
Stefan Riedel: Thanks to the ASF compatibility of DOPiX, we can safeguard investments and offer our customers a state-of-the-art CCM solution – based on IBM technology and IBM services.
... and for icon:
Uwe Seltmann: The cooperation offers excellent opportunities to both partners: IBM's product portfolio is expanded and icon gains access to completely new customers, especially abroad. But most importantly, our joint activities have met with a consistently positive response from our customers.
Versicherungsbetriebe: Mr Seltmann and Mr Riedel, thank you very much.