by Alison Bass

Integration Management – Cigna’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

Mar 15, 200315 mins
Enterprise Applications

Cigna CIO Andrea Anania looked out at 250 peers at an October 2001 conference in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and declared that she had successfully reengineered her company’s IT. These days, she said, projects are completed on time and within budget.

Anania spoke too soon.

Four months later, in January 2002, Cigna HealthCare’s $1 billion IT overhaul and CRM initiative went live in a big way, with 3.5 million members of the health insurance company moved from 15 legacy systems to two new platforms in a matter of minutes.

The migration did not go smoothly. In fact, there were glitches in customer service so significant that millions of dissatisfied customers

walked away, causing the nation’s fourth largest insurer to lose 6 percent of its health-care membership in 2002.

IT malfunctions may not have been the only reason Philadelphia-based Cigna lost a large number of employer accounts last year and watched its stock plunge 40 percent. Wall Street analysts say increased competition and pricing miscalculations on the part of Cigna management also contributed to the drop in health-care membership from 13.3 million at the end of 2001 to 12.5 million by January 2003. But in a conference call with investors to explain why Cigna posted a $445 million net loss for the first nine months of 2002 and could only look forward to more bad news in the coming year, Cigna executives made it clear that the company had stumbled badly on what company officials like to call IT “transformation.”

“Unfortunately, we have not executed well [on transformation],” confessed Patrick Welch, the new president of Cigna HealthCare, to investors on Oct. 28, 2002. “The cost is greater than anticipated, much of the economic and service benefits are yet to be realized, and transformation shortfalls have led to service shortfalls, which have led to lower new sales and [customer] retention.”

Cigna’s transformation was hobbled not only by the insurance giant’s haste to get its new systems up and running, but by its eagerness to cash in on the technology’s promise of reduced costs and increased productivity. Instead of waiting to see how the new systems performed, Cigna precipitously eliminated the very people who gave the company its human face: its customer service reps.

Anania and her team at Cigna now say they have fixed the glitches, and a subsequent migration of about 500,000 customers went far more smoothly. Even so, some observers consider the Cigna snafus a classic example of what can go wrong when a large enterprise is in a hurry to replace disparate legacy systems with new infrastructure and acts as if the promise of productivity gains is ironclad. And the lessons learned?about the need for methodical testing, experienced in-house project management and more standardized governance?are applicable to integration-minded CIOs in any industry.

“CRM is a very important business solution. Our [customers] want better tools and capabilities and product options, and they’re driving us into this space,” says John Ounjian, senior vice president and CIO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, which recently launched an integration effort similar to Cigna’s. “But there’s a heavy risk involved. How you connect CRM to the back office and bring customers on board makes all the difference. When you stumble, the very credibility of your company is at stake.”

Starting Off Behind

Cigna’s facility in Bloomfield, Conn., where Anania spends half her workweek (she spends the other half in Philadelphia), could be mistaken for one of those sprawling, sterile junior highs that scarred the suburban landscape in the ’50s and ’60s. And, in fact, the cluster of glass buildings just outside Hartford is one of America’s oldest office parks, built in 1958.

The dining room where Anania meets a visitor for lunch also seems a throwback to an era when top executives dined in country club elegance. Anania herself is petite and perfectly coiffed in a charcoal suit worn over a pastel tee. She has a gracious, unruffled demeanor, but when asked about her responsibility for the problems with Cigna’s IT transformation, a note of helplessness creeps into her voice. “What could one individual do?” she asks repeatedly. “There’s only so much one person can do.”

Anania became CIO and executive vice president of systems for Cigna Corp., the corporate umbrella for three primary divisions?health care, retirement planning and employee benefits?in late 1998, after being hired by the insurance company in 1995 as IS officer for its retirement division. She was promoted to CIO of that division shortly afterward. In 1999, she embarked on an effort to restructure the way the company’s IT staff of 3,000 was aligned in an effort to improve working relationships within the IT community.

At the same time, she began working with Cigna HealthCare on an ambitious plan to consolidate and upgrade its antiquated IT systems, some of them dating back to the original 1982 merger of Philadelphia’s Old Insurance Company of North America and Connecticut General, which created Cigna Corp. The idea was to have an integrated system for enrollment, eligibility and claims processing so that customers would get one bill, medical claims could be processed faster and more efficiently, and customer service reps would have a single unified view of members to accomplish that. This meant the company would have to consolidate its myriad back-end systems for claims processing and billing and integrate them with glitzy new customer-facing apps on the front end. There would actually be two integrated systems, one for customers of Cigna’s managed care offerings (HMOs) and the other for its indemnity products, including its lucrative business of administering self-insured plans for very large employers. (IDG, CIO’s parent organization, is enrolled in Cigna HealthCare.)

The scope of the plan and Anania’s presentation of it was impressive. Indeed, last year CIO singled her out as a winner of its 20/20 Vision Award.

Still, some observers ask why it took Cigna so long to get started on all this, given the age of its legacy systems. Several Wall Street analysts, for instance, question whether Cigna spent too much of its capital from various sales of noncore companies, such as property and casualty insurance, on stock buybacks rather than on infrastructure improvements. Between 1996 and 2001, Cigna spent $7.6 billion on buybacks aimed at propping up its stock. “What they should have been doing is investing in IT and infrastructure improvement,” says Shellie Stoddard, a director of Standard & Poor’s in New York City. “They could have spent a half or a third of the money spent on repurchasing stock and put that back into their own systems.”

Cigna’s late start, combined with its rush to jump-start the new systems and save money on headcount, would prove disastrous. The benefits in customer service that Cigna expected to reap from transformation not only did not materialize but actually backfired, antagonizing members both new and old.

The Roots of Failure

To achieve transformation, Anania and her team had to build an entire AS400 infrastructure from scratch that could support the two main platforms for claims processing: PowerMHS software, which was already on a few AS400 computers, and ProClaim software, which was still running on IBM mainframes.

“We had to develop our own wrapper architecture to connect these two platforms and integrate claims eligibility on the front end with banking and billing on the back end,” Anania recalls. “[To do that,] we had to completely reengineer the back-end systems.”

Cigna did most of that architectural work in-house, Anania says, but the company did hire New York City-based Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (CGEY) to help implement the change management and business processes involved. Cigna HealthCare also worked with CGEY to develop and implement the new customer facing applications that would allow members to enroll, check the status of their claims and benefits, and choose from different health-plan offerings?all online. Those apps would also give customer service reps a single unified view of members so that when a member called with problems or questions, the reps would have a full history of his interaction with the company. Cigna purchased Siebel software to handle the call center functions and selected a Computer Sciences package for claims processing.

Having started late, Cigna was under considerable pressure to get the new systems in place as quickly as possible. There were a number of reasons for the urgency.

First off, Cigna, along with other national insurers such as Aetna and Humana, was being sued by thousands of doctors nationwide who were furious about delays in payment for patient care. The doctors accused the insurers of deliberately delaying payment and improperly rejecting claims in order to save money. In January 2001, Cigna paid a $300,000 fine to the state of Georgia and signed a consent order promising to reform its claims processing system after Georgia’s insurance commissioner found its claims payment process to be “the worst I’ve ever seen.” (Cigna recently settled most of the doctor lawsuits by pledging faster and more accurate claims processing with the new integrated platforms and promising to pay millions to physicians in compensation.)

Second, Cigna’s sales team, in order to win large employer accounts in an increasingly competitive environment, had promised that the new systems would provide improved customer service and would be up and running in early 2002.

Third, Cigna’s management was under pressure to cut costs after posting disappointing second quarter results in 2001, and they were anxious for the new systems’ promised cost reductions and productivity gains. Management’s stated goal was to lay off 3,100 people and hire another 1,100, for a total reduction of 2,000 positions.

Cigna began moving its members to the new platforms in 2001, but in relatively small numbers?10,000 to 15,000 people at a time. “There were minor things that were dealt with, but nothing major,” Anania recalls. At the same time, the company began laying off customer service reps as part of a planned consolidation of 20 primary and specialty service centers into nine regional centers. Since Cigna expected huge gains in productivity from automated claims processing and customer service once the new systems were up and running, the reduction in headcount made perfect sense to management. In 2002, the company paid $33 million in severance for the 3,100 laid-off employees and spent $32 million to build the new regional centers.

A Migration to Nowhere

In January 2002, with new members coming on board and existing ones renewing, Cigna moved 3.5 million customers to the new platforms in one fell swoop. Problems erupted immediately.

Members suddenly had trouble obtaining health coverage. In one case, Cigna’s systems could not confirm health coverage for some new members for several weeks. Workers at another company effectively lost coverage when their membership information would not load properly into the new systems. Cigna issued member ID cards with incorrect identifiers. It issued cards missing prescription icons. People couldn’t get their prescriptions filled at their local drugstores.

Morgan Stanley analysts heard about those snafus in late January and promptly downgraded Cigna’s stock.

Not surprisingly, Cigna’s customer service center was besieged by calls. But because of the layoffs (which Anania says was “a business management decision” she was not involved in), there weren’t enough call center reps to handle the load. People waited on hold. And waited. And when they did reach someone, the reps who had been newly hired had not been adequately trained in how to handle the new technology.

“You can have the best system in the world, but if you have people with relatively little tenure, you’re not going to get the best service,” says Anania. “There were people with very little tenure handling these calls.” (Cigna has since hired back a number of the reps it laid off.)

There were also problems with the actual migration of data from the legacy systems to the new platforms. “There were some issues with that,” Anania acknowledges over bow-tie pasta and chicken in Bloomfield. “The back-end data didn’t work at the front end.”

As other CIOs have found, converting customer data from the back end to new customer-facing apps can be tricky. The data has to be cleaned and filtered in order to be understandable to customer service reps taking calls and to members seeking information online. “When you take data from the back-office function that was built to process claims and expose that data to the front end, it starts looking funny,” explains Ounjian, the Minnesota Blue Cross and Blue Shield CIO. “Take ZIP codes, for example. Many years ago, saving space on disks was critical, so back-end programmers compressed the ZIP codes from nine digits to eight, and if you just took that data and exposed it to the front end, you’re going to make your company look awkward.”

Ounjian, whose company has captured a few of the national accounts lost by Cigna this year, says the key to a good CRM system is not how many features it has, but how it’s executed. And the key to a good execution is testing and retesting the system in a real environment.

Anania acknowledges that the Cigna team “didn’t have time to do a very thorough volume testing or end-to-end testing” in the rush to go live. But she blames that on the IT staff working for Cigna HealthCare’s business unit and on the CGEY consultants brought in to do the implementation. Asked if she herself bears any responsibility for ensuring that comprehensive testing was done, she says, “The business divisions had autonomy, and you can’t second-guess the people on the ground every day. The business was working with a name-brand systems integrator, and they were not knocking on the door saying, Don’t go live, don’t go live. Can you truly expect one individual to have more visibility into the day-to-day workings of what’s going on in that project than the people in charge of it?” (Brian Baum, chief marketing officer of CGEY’s health business unit, declined to comment, citing “contractual arrangements” that prohibit the consultancy from discussing the project publicly.)

Anania says the back-end data problems have since been fixed. “We slowed down the pace of migration and shored up those processes around the conversion of customer data,” she says. Her IT team also instituted more thorough testing practices and brought in more experienced managers to monitor the project. The CIO of Cigna HealthCare, Meg McCarthy, who was hired by Anania, has been let go, as has the IT manager directly in charge of transformation, Hayward Donagan. Both women declined to comment for this article, saying they had signed nondisclosure agreements upon leaving Cigna.

Post-Mortem: A Hard Lesson Learned

In July 2002, Cigna was able to move additional members to the new platforms without major incident, and in January 2003 it successfully migrated another 700,000 members. The company also launched, an online portal where Cigna members can look up their benefits, choose from an array of health plans, check on the status of their claims, retrieve health information and talk to nurses online. While some members have complained of difficulty in getting onto the personalized portal, Anania and others point to MyCigna as an example of a successfully implemented technology-based project.

Cigna officials now say that despite the initial problems, the transformation project is allowing the company to process medical claims more efficiently and better manage customers’ needs. In January, the insurer announced it was cutting another 3,900 positions as part of a “streamlining” of Cigna’s sales force and medical management team. A spokeswoman said the new IT systems have enabled that downsizing by eliminating duplication in claims processing and billing.

Recent customer satisfaction surveys conducted by Cigna show that 83 percent of existing members are satisfied with the service they get, compared with 58 percent earlier in the year. The project, however, will well exceed its original $1 billion price tag, according to Anania. Cigna officials decline to put a number on the extra cost.

Anania says there have been a number of lessons from the missteps of the past year (see “Lessons Learned,” opposite page), among them the need for strong IT governance.

“We moved 20 experienced application developers into the project,” she says. Translation: Cigna is relying less on its name-brand systems integrator?CGEY?and more on its own IT systems staff to manage the project. (For more on bringing project management in-house, see “It’s Time to Take Control,” at

Anania, however, seems reluctant to centralize the governance of IT to too great an extent. “At the end of the day, you have to strike the right balance between central IT authority and strong functional guidance that’s aligned with the business,” she says.

Wall Street analysts who cover Cigna are troubled by its missteps, but most remain bullish on its prospects for recovery. “This kind of thing is cyclical,” says Todd Richter, managing director with Banc of America Securities in New York City. “Over the past five or six years, Cigna stock has outperformed Aetna’s. Aetna is now on a comeback, and they are forecasting huge earnings growth, and Cigna is forecasting down earnings for next year.”

Standard & Poor’s Stoddard agrees: “Cigna mismanaged their pricing, mismanaged the risks they were holding in their reinsurance operation, and mismanaged their IT transformation. But these problems can be fixed. Aetna lost millions of members with bad pricing, and they turned it around.”

Cigna is working hard to do the same, and Anania remains part of that turnaround team. But even now, the CIO seems reluctant to claim ownership of Cigna’s IT future. When asked if the buck stops here for IT’s performance, she sits back in silence and looks vaguely troubled. It’s left to her PR handler to jump in and say, “Yes, the buck will stop here going forward.”