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    Alfa Insurance invests $100-plus million in technology

    When you ask Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mike Rowell how much Alfa Insurance is investing in its technology project, you have no idea what to expect, and are still shocked by his response.

    “The total project cost is in excess of $100 million,” he said. “Sorry, I stumble a little bit when I say that. It’s a major transformation – a large project.”

    Project Lift is so large that it will take three years, ending late next year. The major first phase is expected to be completed at the end of 2016 and that represents two years.

    The project is so large that up to 300 contractors have been used and sometimes as many as 40 to 50 temporary workers.

    “We’ve had some people really work diligently nights and weekends,” Rowell said. “The commitment of the Alfa employees and our contractors to get this done has just been exceptional. It has been a team effort and they’re willing to do whatever they need to do to make this company successful.”

    To understand how large this project is, consider the following: Before the project began, Alfa Insurance had 16 separate software systems that its agents had to learn. “Some of these were actually written before I was born,” Rowell said. Some of those legacy systems were more than 50 years old. “It took a lot of our time to have people knowledgeable on each one of these different systems; to program them; keep them up; and maintain home-grown systems. It’s our total system that we’re redoing.”

    In the past it was possible that a customer with a commercial line of insurance may not have received a discount for having auto or home lines because the systems were not integrated. Now the firm is “moving from a policy-level view of the customer to a customer-level view,” said Jeff Helms, director of the department of public relations and communications for both Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation.

    “By bringing everything together in a customer view, it not only is more efficient for the company, but it could have some benefits for the customer as well,” he said.

    Now all the business lines – such as home, auto, fire, farm and commercial – will be on a common system. The new software system is from Foster City, Calif.-based Guidewire. Alfa’s partner in the project is London-based Ernst & Young, which has undertaken its largest IT project at this time in North America.

    “The insurance industry is very competitive and we deal with some really strong (firms): State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Progressive,” Rowell said. “All of them have very up-to-date software systems. We want to provide the same or better experience for our customers and we’ve got to stay in the game and be in the same mold.”

    Helms credits Alfa President, CEO and Chairman of the Board Jimmy Parnell and the firm’s board of directors for recognizing “the need to invest in the long-term future of Alfa Insurance and that this (technology) was an area they needed to make that investment in. I think we have to acknowledge that they kind of challenged the entire company to ‘let’s not go and see what we can do to fix an old system. Where should we be and what would it take for us to get there in terms of investment? Let’s do it and let’s do it right.’ ”

    The second phase next year will involve farm lines and e-commerce such as electronic signature and electronic billing and service over the internet. Alfa2Go offers online services, “but it will be more robust as we move along,” Rowell said. “You’re going to fill out electronic information that’s going to be sent directly to the home office. There are no paper forms or mailing of forms.” The new system will even speed up the underwriting process by making it more automated. “It doesn’t mean we’ll take people out of the decisions,” Rowell said, but the automation will handle what he called the “clear yeses.”

    Why has the company been tight-lipped about Project Lift? “I don’t know that we intended to be quiet about it,” Rowell said. “We’ve just been real busy trying to get it going. It has involved everybody.

    “We’re Montgomery-based and we’re proud to be here and proud to make an investment in this city to continue the growth.”

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    Bringing Alfa to New Heights

    Summer 2016
    By David Zaslawsky

    An Alfa Insurance executive was a presenter at an information technology conference, telling participants what his company was doing.

    Later that evening at a social event someone sat down next to Rob Robison, senior vice president of life operations for Alfa Insurance and said, “I want to sit down next to the crazy person that’s willing to take on this big of a project.”

    Mike Rowell, senior vice president and chief information officer for Alfa Insurance, said, “It’s a massive project, but we feel like it’s the right thing for our customers – that we need to be aggressive to … have a system that’s as good or better than our competitors. We feel like that’s what our customers deserve.”

    This is not about return on investment, although this investment tops $100 million. This is all about the company’s customers, and a firm that prides itself on customer service is ensuring it will remain at the top. “It was the right thing to do from a service standard to continue our competitive position,” Rowell said. “It’s not just about putting a software system in or just about technology. It’s how can we do things better and more efficiently.

    “It’s really about bringing Alfa to new heights – taking us to a new level of service for our customers and our members in the (Alabama Farmers) Federation.”

    There are no specific growth goals from the technology transformation. “What we want to do is make sure that we’re servicing and taking care of the customers that we have today, and they’re happy with the experience,” Rowell said. “From that standpoint, I think this (project) will help us tremendously.”

    Rowell said the goal is keeping customers happy and staying long-term with Alfa and their children staying with Alfa Insurance. “That’s where we need to focus, but that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in getting new customers. The fastest way to grow your business is hang on to the customers that you have.”

    The three-year project is so much concentrated on customers that Alfa has spent countless hours reviewing documents to make sure they have the proper look and feel. There are nearly 700 different types of forms and communications. It was so important for Alfa to get it right that a multi-discipline was created “to look at the bill and let’s make sure we’re communicating with our customers in the best way possible,” Rowell said. “Yes, it is a software and IT project, but it really is a focus overall on our business processes and how we work with, communicate and service our customers.”

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