When Considering a Shared Publishing Platform on the Cloud

By Alok Mehta and Shriram S

Insurance companies rely heavily on the communications they use to connect with their customers. Their effectiveness to communicate to their end-customers holds the key to the success of any individual or organization. This is more pronounced in the financial services industry wherein time-bound communication adhering to regulatory compliance can be pivotal. While there are rich set of legacy technology products to support various modes of communication, there is a new model of communications that can be delivered as shared services using commercially available cloud infrastructure.

This article discusses the needs, pertinent benefits and considerations of building a cloud-hosted shared publishing.

Typical State of Document Outbound Solutions

The current state of typical document outbound solutions is beset with many challenges that are not suited to cater to the growing needs of effective communications in the insurance and financial services industry. Some typical ones include:

Product-Centric Marketplace: There’re more than 50 different outbound communications products in the market today and growing, including legacy products that have been in the market for many years. All these have typical contractual engagement models, which makes organizations perpetually bound to these products with limited options for innovative and cost-effective usage.

License Oriented: Most of these products have their own licensing model that typical boils down to customers being tethered to these products for initial implementation and later upgrades. The licensing costs can become high with associated software and hardware costs and related upgrades. This poses significant cost management challenges.

Multi-Vendor Dependencies: The documents outbound solutions landscape can be quite complex with various pieces involved (documents determination, composition, generation, distribution, storage, etc.) with various technology vendors and products for each of them. Organizations are left to negotiate the complex maze to come up with an effective solution, which can be a drain on an organization’s operating costs and resources.

Heavy business & operations involvement: Adding to the challenges of the previous points, typical outbound solutions also pose challenges of change management. For any organization to be abreast with the fast-changing customer communications needs and preferences, the typical outbound solutions aren’t ready to keep up the pace. The cost of adapting the underlying outbound solutions is very high because of high business involvement and associated operation costs in terms of implementation and testing.

Need for a shared publishing solution

The challenges and pitfalls mentioned above warrant a case for coming up with a scalable and futuristic publishing solution. With the increased adoption of cloud-based technology infrastructure, the possibility of leveraging this for the purpose of creating a shared publishing platform would provide the right solution for the rapidly evolving business needs around customer communications. The publishing platform solution provides a scalable, flexible, configurable system that can be implemented in any organization’s cloud environment that could be rolled-out to various business units in a phased manner.

Bringing in architectural standardizations: A common shared publishing solution built on cloud infrastructure would bring in the best practices and design principles of cloud adoption, which can be piloted in the identified areas in the organization and leveraged in other areas during subsequent roll outs. The ease of integrating existing channels or introducing newer communications channels (mobile, SMS, social media etc.) leveraging a shared publishing on cloud caters to the ever-increasing demand of the changing customer communication needs.

Effective governance across communication: Managing outbound communications is always a challenge since it involves multiple facets viz. template changes, handling peak volume, product changes, product life cycle stages, introduction of new communication channels, form factors, as well as regulatory and compliance needs. This can be addressed by having a holistic governance module that would be a part of the shared publishing solution.

One-brand propagation: Many insurance and financial services firms offer a diversified set of products and services. While this provides the rich set of offerings catering to customer needs, there should be an underlying unified communication brand running across all these products and services. A common shared publishing solution can help create and manage this unified brand.

Operations optimization:  A significant cost overhead in an insurance organization is associated with handling of the ever-increasing outbound communications. Having a shared publishing solution on cloud can significantly reduce the operational cost, which will help the organization to focus on other core areas of business development. If planned well, this reduction in operational cost can be around 30-50%.

Speed to market: Speed to market can be quite challenging. Introducing new products and services or changing existing products and services must be reflected in the corresponding outbound communications. The technical ease of introducing these changes in the outbound communications with a shared publishing solution helps reduce the overall time to bring these changes to the market.

A well-planned implementation with an effective involvement with business and IT can help increase the speed to market.

Core architectural components needed

Typical publishing platform architecture would have all the key components of a customer communications ecosystem with the core aspects of document determination, data preparation, template generation and workflow, and associated components around its integration with various upstream systems, rules governance, distribution etc.

Templates: A repository of templates for the various business lines designed in the document composition cloud platform. These templates can be managed by the business without any IT intervention and bundled with the overall shared publishing solution. Using the right configurations, it can be utilized across the organization.

Rules governance: This is a key component responsible for determining the documents that needs to be created for a particular scenario. This can be a combination of any parameters like product type, transaction type, product/service life cycle stage, preferred communication channel, and special conditions (like special colour prints for HNIs, bigger fonts for special accessibility needs etc.). These rules can also be configured using contemporary programming languages.

Data schema: A well-defined data schema for the outbound documents holds the key to effective management of communications. A data schema would involve a combination of static and dynamic aspects of communication metadata. Static ones would include things like the design layouts, branding and standard template content. The dynamic content would have the contextual content based on the given scenario.

Integration: This involves integrating with the core upstream systems (like policy administration, claims administration, etc.) that provide the required dynamic data for the documents. The key aspect around this integration would be building a translation layer and/or formatting layer between these upstream systems and the core document composition components. These layers are utilized dependent on the various types of inputs and data schemas from the various upstream system.

Distribution: This constitutes the integration of the output of the document composition to the distribution channel of choice. The publishing platform outputs can be channel agnostic as this can be customized to standard delivery channels like print and newer or emerging ones like other digital channels such as email, SMS, video, etc.

The modernized policy print solution was implemented on such a publishing platform to ensure all print functions on legacy platforms have successfully migrated to a scalable solution and decommission the mainframe print software component.

Business benefits

Cost: Gradual decreases in overall operational costs through print and postage reduction, automated packaging and sequencing of documents using a scalable architectural model

Business Flexibility: Ease of business to accommodate a change through standardization of templates during the authoring process and/or regulatory changes

TCO Reduction: Overall reduction in the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) established through technology consolidation, optimal usage of cloud infrastructure and leveraging the right tools.

Architectural compliance:  Scalable, futuristic, easily maintainable architecture through right cloud components catering to any future products, tools or delivery channels change with minimal code impact

Speed to Market: Quicker launch of new communications for products through industry renowned architecture

With such a shared publishing platform implemented, turnaround times can be improved by ~60%; operational costs reduced by 30%; regulatory and compliance needs are addressed 40% faster. The shared publishing platform can be a significant contributor by the inherent ability to be configured for subsequent rollouts of other business functions.

Where to start

In conclusion, the most common considerations for building a shared publishing solution are the following Right Four Cs:

Right Cloud – Choosing the most suitable and cost-effective cloud service provider for the shared publishing needs. The best fit has the right blend of hosted services and ready-to-implement components

Right Candidate – Arriving at the right candidates for implementation, which will provide the desired return of investment. An initial MVP is desirable as the proof point for evaluating the applicability of the solution.

Right Content – Arriving at the right content type for the chosen channel of distribution. This includes the right set of forms, declarations and disclosures associated with the implementation

Right Channel – The best fit channel(s) of distribution considering not only the immediate needs but emerging channels of distribution. This is very particular during the metamorphosis of the print-based paper documents to the digital equivalent delivered as emails.

These key considerations can help organizations formulate a strategic shared publishing platform that can be pragmatic and at the same time scalable and futuristic.

About the Authors: Alok Mehta is the Chief Information Officer of Business Systems for Kemper Insurance and Shriram S is a Consulting Partner for Insurance Transformations in Tata Consultancy Services Limited