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Employers’ IT secret? First, listen

JOHN SEELMEYER
info@nnbw.biz
Richard Hallman
Jeff Ross |

The information technology group at Employers has spent the better part of three years developing a sophisticated account-management portal that allows insurance agents and their customers increased self-service access.

But during the greatest part of that time, no one was slugging down Red Bulls and writing code far into the night.

Instead, they were listening and taking notes, says Richard Hallman, senior vice president and chief information officer of the workers compensation carrier based in Reno.

They were listening to executives elsewhere in the company, learning about their hopes for the new generation of technology and determining how the technology will help drive the insurance company’s strategies.

A key piece of that strategy: Improving the efficiency of Employers’ core business, workers compensation coverage for small businesses — many of them very small.

“The more you touch them, the less profitable they become,” Hallman says.

At the same time, automated and self-service systems must conveniently meet the needs of those customers so that they feel they are getting great service.

“You can’t just go out and start coding,” says Hallman. “You have to know what the business needs, then build those solutions.”

Just as important, Hallman says, information technology and marketing staff from Employers were on the road throughout the development process, talking with agents and customers across the company’s 31-state footprint.

They got down to a step-by-step understanding of how an agent works with a client — asking question such as, “Then, what do you after you get that piece of information?” — and learning how clients would use a self-service Web portal.

Complicating the process, Hallman says, has been the rapid adoption of mobile devices across the spectrum of Employers’ clients.

“All of the technology we are building today is mobile-enabled,” he says.

Employers, named a few weeks ago to Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Hall of Fame for its use of technology to grow its business and serve its customers, begins rolling out major elements of the new portal this summer.

Because they’ve been talking with Employers’ information technology staff for a couple of years, agents and clients are unlikely to be shocked at the arrival of the new technology.

And as the feedback continued throughout the development process, Employers staff feels confident that the portal meets the needs of its clients.

“They’ve told us that we’re on the right track,” says Hallman.

Spearheading development of the new portal was the 65-person information technology staff of Employers, assisted by contractors who handled some specific and specialized tasks.

The company also assigned numerous subject-matter experts from throughout the company to advise IT staffers on elements of the project.

Given the importance of information technology the execution of Employers’ strategies, Hallman says the company has a sharp focus on the recruitment and retention of people with top IT skills.

“You need someone who also can ask the right questions,” he says. “That’s one of the very rare skill sets.”