How One Business Uses Social Networking and BPM to Handle Disasters

When a hurricane hit, insurance claim outsourcer Crawford & Company struggled to efficiently deploy adjusters. Here's how business process management and a social application helped the company move beyond whiteboards and sticky notes.

Brian Flynn, CIO at Crawford & Company, an insurance claims outsourcer, knew that the company's processes needed updating when he saw in person how its catastrophe team operated during an emergency.

When a disaster, such as a hurricane, strikes, Crawford's employees have to move fast to bring on additional insurance adjusters to help process claims.

"The catastrophe team was using whiteboards to organize names and sticky notes to map who would go where to handle the claims. It was very chaotic," Flynn says. "As an IT team we said, 'Are you really doing this?' It was one of the deficiencies in IT. We don't get out as much as we should to see how things are working."

Flynn and his team developed a set of requirements they wanted a new business process management solution (BPM) to include: Social networking features and the capability to develop once and deploy to many platforms topped the list.

"An adjuster in the field doesnt always have 10 to 15 minutes to fire up a laptop. We wanted to be flexible by developing something that would work across any smartphone or tablet, regardless of the platform—Android, BlackBerry, whatever," Flynn says.

And with an unpredictable need for a larger and dispersed workforce, Crawford needed a social solution—something that would allow them to onboard new employees quickly and efficiently and also help them report on what they were seeing in the field during a disaster and stay in touch.

Flynn and his team considered a number of options, including ones from Pegasystems and IBM, but ultimately decided on a BPM product from Appian.

Selling Agile to Developers and the Business

While choosing a solution was easy, Flynn says, convincing his team—and the business—that this was the right decision, wasn't.

"This was very transformational for us—going from a waterfall to more agile development. We had to convince our employees that this was the best thing," Flynn says. "We have a lot of .Net employees doing just that for the last decade and they felt that this would challenge their livelihood."

The business, too, had a difficult time grasping the project.

"Frankly, we were surprised the business didn't embrace it as much," Flynn says. "We thought this was something that they would have brought to us, and not us to them. Technologists think differently than businesspeople, and that was a challenge. They weren't resistant, they just didn't get it. They looked at us like, 'You geeks!'"

To get the business to believe in the project, Flynn says they reversed their approach and focused on helping them understand how their project matched their business and client needs.

"There was a feeling of loss of control: Crawford has a rich tradition and they like the way they were doing things. I don't care what you're bringing into a new organization—whether it's a new process or technology—the notion of change always seems to get in the way," Flynn says.

"So we spent time conveying how this change would enhance the way they worked and remove unpleasant manual tasks so they could focus on quality," Flynn says. And that seemed to work.

Introducing Crawford Community

The breakthrough with the business side came during one meeting where IT and the business was discussing the social element of the implementation.

"They came up with the name of it: Crawford Community," Flynn says. "That's when we knew the light bulb went off."

"Crawford Community" became the BPM and social application that streamlines the company's catastrophe-related resource management, from the assignment of insurance adjusters to the management of claims and final claim resolution. It's mobile application uses the geolocation capabilities of adjusters' mobile devices so Crawford can pinpoint the right adjuster to review the claim based on location, capacity and a past-performance scorecard.

"It gives our adjusters frequent updates on how we're scaling for an event. They can also use the mobile app to upload photos of a site using mobile technologies and send it to us so we can see what they're seeing," Flynn says.

The social networking component is also built into the claims application process to aid the more junior adjusters: When newer employees have questions, they can post it to their Facebook-like environment where more senior adjusters can provide them with feedback, Flynn says.

"In the past, that type of communication required phone calls, emails and voicemails. Now, that exchanged is opened up from one to many people," he says.

Prototyping and Aligning IT and Business

Flynn and his team began the project in September 2011 and completed it in time for hurricane season this year. The results have been impressive, he says: streamlined processes and a significantly more efficient workflow.

He's also pleased with his team's management of the project. One key to his success: prototyping.

"You can talk conceptually all day long, but there's no substitute for seeing it," he says. "Within a few weeks you have a working system—not in its entirety—but it provides a visual that everyone can see and critique without having to go through the development lifecycle. The only disadvantage is we see how much we're capable of in a few weeks, but it takes a few months to add sophisticated engines in the background."

While Flynn is pleased with the overall project, he says that in retrospect, he would have liked to involve the business earlier.

"I would have started off by aligning what the business wanted with IT earlier," he says. "It probably would have been much faster to get out of the gate and help them embrace it. But I also feel like if we didn't make the purchase and move forward with it, we might still be talking about it. Overall, though, it was very successful for everyone."

Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and enterprise collaboration for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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