This story is the first in a series that highlights new developments in the agency management system space. Keep an eye on IAmagazine.com and upcoming editions of the News & Views e-newsletter for more.
At the end of 2015, Applied Systems announced the launch of the latest version of its agency management system, Applied Epic 2016.
Over the previous 12-18 months, the tech company had made significant investments to “really push forward,” says Michael Howe, senior vice president, product management at Applied Systems—not only deepening functionality in existing areas, but also venturing into a few new frontiers.
The result? “I would submit that Applied Epic 2016 and some of the things we’re going to follow through on this year are a quantum leap forward for us,” Howe says.
2015: What’s New?
EXPANDED APPLIED EPIC BENEFITS. As more agencies continue diversifying their business, firms with a traditional property-casualty focus are delving deeper into employee benefits. Released in 2014, Applied Epic Benefits enables cross-pollenating agencies to manage both p-c and benefits in the same system.
“They used to have to buy a system like Applied Epic to manage p-c, and then they often went and bought a totally different system from a totally different vendor to manage benefits,” Howe explains. “Then you have the problem of a different user interface, you’re trying to integrate these systems together and it is extremely difficult to keep a single view of the customer or a master version of information. Having it all in one system with one user interface, one database and one set of reports—that’s a huge win for agencies.”
Agents and brokers who still want to use a separate third-party system will find they can still integrate easily with Applied Epic. “The point is to give the customer a choice—they don’t have to go to a third-party vendor, there’s now an alternative,” Howe says, adding that Applied enhanced the system in 2015 to increase its benefit to agents. “We’re happy to let them choose and we’ll make either one work.”
IMPROVED MYEPIC. Also launched in 2014, MyEpic enables agents to employ common-practice workflows across an agency. “Agents often consider the best way to handle a renewal or an endorsement or those really common day-to-day things that people do over and over and over again,” Howe says. “What we did with MyEpic is essentially create a workflow manager inside Applied Epic to integrate best practice workflows into the system.”
For agencies that are so inclined—again, they are not obligated to use the tool—MyEpic provides workflows agents “can roll out inside their agency that help everyone at the agency do that thing the same way,” Howe explains. “It drives consistency, it drives standardization and it drives efficiency.”
But over the course of MyEpic’s debut year, Applied received feedback from agencies claiming their slightly different business needs warrant some workflows that are slightly different than MyEpic’s standard combinations.
“We had agents asking, ‘Can I change that workflow to better suit my business and what I want to do?’ The answer, of course, is yes, you should be able to change the workflow,” Howe says. “With this release, we’re now allowing people to change those workflows to conform the system to their business processes.”
APPLIED EPIC SALES AUTOMATION. In general, agency management systems are very well-equipped for managing existing customers and renewals.
“The thing that agency management systems historically do not help with is that other half of the pie—all the things an agency needs to do around attracting new customers and bringing them in,” Howe says. “We’re hearing more and more of our agencies saying, ‘Shouldn’t I be spending the time, intention and money on giving myself, my agency and my producers the tools, technology and automation we need to sell effectively in the same way I do to renew effectively?’”
In response, Applied gives agents the option of Applied Epic Sales Automation, which contains “the most common sales automation capabilities that an agency would need to manage all their new and renewal business and other sales activities inside Applied Epic,” Howe explains.
Considering the prowess of companies like salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics, why bother entering the sales force automation space? “With a horizontal vendor—a vendor that sells products across many different kinds of industries—you lose that last mile of specificity around functionality and capability that are truly unique to an agency,” Howe says.
For example, Applied Epic Sales Automation provides you with a view of your entire book, rather than forcing you to navigate to multiple places at a time because different parts of your business are scattered among separate systems.
For agencies already set up with salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics, integration with Applied Epic is no problem. But “every agent should focus their efforts on selling insurance, not IT management,” Howe says. “Agencies tend not to have IT resources or expertise and skill around IT, so why pursue a solution that inherently requires stitching data together and building master data management around customer records?”
APPLIED EPIC MARKET APPETITE. According to Howe, Applied Epic’s IVANS Market Appetite tool responds to a problem that is a “complete black hole” for agencies and carriers today: “It’s very difficult for agents who are confronted with the opportunity to place a commercial risk that they don’t know much about.”
Why is that such a problem? “Agents who are trying to diversify, trying to grow, trying to get into new lines of business, by definition have to get out of their comfortable lanes and start to take on new kinds of business they don’t know as well,” Howe says. “The problem is they can only rely on what they know, which is limited to the lanes they’ve been in.”
Enter: Applied Epic Market Appetite, which helps carriers and agents find each other when placing commercial risks. “The point is to bring transparency to a marketplace that is in effect today completely opaque,” Howe says. “Carriers spend significant amounts of money on marketing and offerings that don’t find the right place, and agents write all kinds of business with the wrong carriers if they can even find them. If you can marginally improve in this area, it’s a gigantic win for both sides.”
2016: What’s Next?
ENHANCED RATING CAPABILITY. In mid-2015, Applied acquired SEMCAT Corporation, a leading provider of comparative rating technology. This year, expect Applied to embed the company’s rating capability into Applied Epic, Howe says.
“What we’re trying to do is help the people that have to live in Applied Epic every day do their jobs within one system,” Howe explains. “Don’t force them to do steps 1, 2 and 3 in Applied Epic, but then leave and go to a carrier portal. That complicates their workflow, that slows them down and it’s frustrating for them.”
BETTER INTEGRATION. Given the vast array of vendors excelling in the e-signature field, “there’s no reason in the world why we would create our own e-signature capability,” Howe says. But as the technology continues to transform how the insurance industry manages documentation, Applied plans “to announce a partnership and pre-built integration around e-signature,” Howe says.
Integration enhancements won’t stop there—Applied will make similar efforts when it comes to other Applied products such as Applied CSR24, Applied Mobile and Applied Performance Management. “The more you buy from Applied, 1+1 should equal 3,” Howe says. “We’re going to continue to advance Applied Epic in a way that makes it work better, exchange information better and make it look like the rest of the Applied portfolio.”
Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.