Allianz removes walls of paper with open source ECM

BPM, workflow improvements now arriving

The paperless office may still be a pipe dream, but insurance giant Allianz has freed up prime CBD office space by replacing paper-based processes with the Alfresco open source enterprise content management system.

Tim Rynne, office automation manager at Allianz Australia Insurance, said although it was identified as a business requirement 18 months ago, the organisation had held off deploying a content system because it could not find one suited to its needs.

“We moved into a 'paperless office' with lots of paper,” Rynne said. “We had a lot of paper, people were working in a new building with stacks of paper around their desks. A lot of it was Post-It notes.”

Allianz Australia is a subsidiary of the global Allianz Group and has some two million local policy holders, more than 300 staff and runs its IT shop with a good level of autonomy.

“We had a number of projects with document management components, but it was implemented in a special way,” Rynne said. “We have Notes content, paper and the classic file directories and direct attached storage.”

As part of a number of projects around BPM, it needs ECM (enterprise content management) for functionality that is “more than just storage” and at the same time wanted to reduce emissions and viewed paper as “part of the problem”.

Moving to electronic processes would also allow Allianz to move or eliminate physically stored content which, in the case of CBD office space, could translate into a hard ROI for the ECM project.

After a three-month evaluation process, Allianz selected the open source Alfresco ECM with support from local IT consultancy Lateral Minds.

“Our key criteria were cost, agility, capability, technology fit, integration options, and functionality, Rynne said. “The factors that helped Alfresco were the presence of former Documentum people in the Alfresco team, the Alfresco community, the existence of the enterprise edition in addition to the community edition, and local support is available to us.”

As an insurance company, Rynne said whether software is open source is not something that drives IT as the organisation is “a bit conservative”, but there has been some momentum around open source which has “taken a different lifestyle in recent years”.

“There is more structure around it so we had to reassess some previously perceived risks around open source,” he said, adding Allainz had recently used open source software for a portal which allowed IT to “strike while the iron is hot”.

Since going live about 12 months ago Allianz now has almost one million documents stored in the ECM system for a total of 500GB of data.

“Now there is no need to copy documents around. We scanned a lot of documents and then put them in storage or burnt them,” Rynne said.

Documents for some business units – for example, original claim documents need to be retained for seven years after closure – had to be kept for compliance reasons, but now they are not taking up “a couple of hundred square metres of prime CBD office space”.

With Alfresco in place, Allianz is now looking at other ways to leverage it for BPM and operational efficiency.

“We just implemented a solution that takes mainframe print jobs and stores them electronically,” Rynne said. “We produce documents from original and then deposit into Alfresco as PDFs protected from printing. Now we can extract information and get historical information from them and it's all done by 6 am in the morning.”

Integration with document delivery channels like e-mail, fax and scans are also part of BPM projects, as is integration with Lotus Domino.

“We also took steps into document lifecycle for policies and procedures and are testing what we can do with that to help control the process of workflow and sign-off and having a location where anyone can go to get the most recent copy of a document,” Rynne said.

The benefits over 12 months

The electronic versus paper argument was a no-brainer for Allianz as it got back so much floor space from documents sitting around.

“Our responsiveness is now a lot better and the speed of retrieval is better so we are very happy with Alfresco for that,” Rynne said.

In terms of cost, Rynne is “not allowed to give figures”, but is happy with Alfresco and says it was “a lot less than going down another path”.

“The developers look after JBoss too and we don't need full-time support. When we need it we bring in Lateral Minds. Getting cost down quickly was a key driver.”

Rynne also praised the speed of implementation. The Alfresco part only took a few weeks, including load testing.

“When we had kicked off this BPM project we were deploying hardware on Friday, testing on Saturday and deploying the application on Sunday and they were using it on the Monday.”

“The business saw the benefits from day one,” he said. “They could see the process and could see they could throw away documents stored in the compactus.”

The future possibilities for Allianz centre on moving away from manual processes as managing insurance claims is “quite manual”.

OCR is also a big focus as a lot of documents are stored, but not necessarily indexed.

“We have a lot of images so we are looking at what we can do with the fraud guys, for example, referencing a number plate in a photo against a claim file,” Rynne said.

“We now have another million or so documents ready to go and that won't be a challenge as the model is there. The challenge for us is what do we do with it now they are there.”

Allianz has two developers working on Alfresco so it doesn't have a lot of resources on a day-to-day basis which is “quite satisfactory” and allows it to concentrate on “enhancements, not maintenance”.

“There was an element about open source where we looked at it and said 'it can't be a big deal',” Rynne said. “The real investment was on production.”

“We went in with 250,000 documents on day one. Alfresco does what it says on the box. We have an ECM up and running quickly, our costs are low and have a lot of growth and future.”

Lateral Minds managing director Alex Lee said by using an open source ECM like Alfresco Allianz can concentrate on being an insurance company, not an ECM company.

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