‘Legacy platforms were constraining us’: Rockford Mutual CIO

“It was very satisfying and had a significant impact on our ability to increase our business and sales opportunities,” Hanby said. “The legacy platforms were constraining us and limiting us to how flexible we could be with a web-based technology platform.”

Hanby joined Rockford Mutual as CIO about 10 years ago and has helped guide the company’s technology evolution since then. The regional mutual insurer employs about 85 people, including 16 or so associates in the IT department. Launched in 1896, Rockford Mutual writes auto, home, farm, and commercial multi-peril in Illinois, where it is headquartered, and also Wisconsin and Indiana. Policies are written through independent agents appointed within various areas of operation. The company works with about 185 insurance agencies, Hanby said.

Rockford Mutual is also gearing up for an expanded footprint in several new states, pending regulatory approvals.

infrastructure and security

Hanby and his team are responsible for software development, infrastructure and data security, with a focus on building software, in part, centered around compliance, but also on opportunities for more revenue or expense reduction.

“We believe that information technology is an enabler for the business operations,” Hanby said. “When you look at software, you’re looking at it as a way for business partners to do their job more effectively … The systems are helping you and providing better information so that the underwriters, the claims examiners, the customer service representatives can all attend to the customers’ needs much faster [and] much more efficiently and thoroughly.”

Software work includes product development, and a focus on improving risk selections for the claims department. Technology improvements also target giving claims examiners better capabilities to pay claims faster and more efficiently.

The key phrase here is “reducing hassle.”

“With products [and] product enhancements … we want to try to make sure that we’re easy to do business with, so we’re trying to reduce the hassle and the complications that are sometimes involved in technology solutions,” Hanby said.

Tearing down the old

During the first three to five years of Hanby’s tenure, he focused on “tearing down” five old legacy systems and replacing them with a web/cloud-based model. The company now relies on three clouds: one with Amazon, the other from Microsoft and a third private cloud used for other purposes such as business processing.

Hanby said that getting rid of the old and coming up with a viable and successful new IT option are major accomplishments, allowing the company to run seven days a week in a much more fluid and flexible way than before.

“We’re not dependent on our bricks and mortar for operations,” he said.

This was a particular benefit when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“When the pandemic hit, it was a very simple solution for us to tell everyone to work from home because all of our central systems are web based. Everybody just logged in from home and began processing,” Hanby said. “We made the decision at 10:30pm on a Sunday night and, on Monday morning, everybody was up and operational and we had no disruption of service.”

Customers later gave feedback that they didn’t even realize that Rockford employees were working remotely.

“That’s the beauty of the implementation that we [built] when I walked in the door,” Hanby said. “The beauty of technology is to leverage it to its fullest extent.”

Hanby said that technology such as servers and data services should work like a utility.

“You can plug your coffeemaker into the wall and get 110 volts of electricity,” Hanby noted. “Why wouldn’t I go to the cloud to get my computer horsepower and my data services…?”

Future priorities

For the future, Rockford is exploring the use of artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics and other technologies to help manage routine tasks, make better risks decisions and improve its claim activity.

Those technologies would build on services Rockford has added, such as allowing a person in a fender bender to photograph the accident and upload pictures into the company system. That advance allows for claim payments within hours, rather than days or longer, Hanby said.

The cloud platform, I have explained, is a good base from which to add continued improvements.

For some companies, insurtechs become a way to collaborate, through partnerships or product purchases. Hanby said he follows insurtechs and their advancements closely.

“It gives you an outline of where the future might be taking the insurance sector,” Hanby said. “As far as some of the capabilities of these small startup companies, [they are] really starting to make inroads….”

He pays particular attention, he said, to the ones using AI and data analytics, along with drone and satellite technologies to speed everything from underwriting to home inspections and more.

“I think it’s very doable in the not too distant future where … building inspectors are wearing a headset with cameras on their heads and they’re doing real-time feeds [so underwriters] can see what’s going on,” Hanby said. “You’re talking about risks that used to take a couple of weeks to analyze and determine [but] I think you’re going to turn those risks around in an hour’s journey and make a decision.”

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