ASP Gets Insurer and Its Law Firms in Sync

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (04/03/2000) - An insurance company is using a hosted Web service to keep a tight rein on legal costs and get the best performance out of the law firms it hires.

Royal & SunAlliance USA, a property-casualty insurer in Charlotte, North Carolina, is using Serengeti, a hosted Web service from a legal services company called ELF. The insurer, which is a unit of a British group with $16 billion in premiums, uses Serengeti to get detailed invoices from law firms and analyze a mass of case management data.

Typical of insurers, Royal & SunAlliance hires outside law firms to handle about 60 percent of its legal work - defending its policyholders in court cases. Tracking those firms is a top priority, according to Brian Stahl, vice president of liability claims.

"A pitfall of any litigation is to let it languish," he says. "You have to actively manage it. You need good communications between your claims handlers and the lawyers."

The insurer last year ran a pilot with a trio of law firms using ELF's existing Lotus Notes-based case management application. For the pilot, the law firms had to invest in Notes client software, a server and additional training. The Notes database maintained by ELF at its data center let the insurer quickly see information on how long lawyers took to finish each phase of litigation, weigh this against the case outcomes and compare the lawyers' performances to industry standards.

ELF then shifted toward a Web-based services model and in September created an application service provider offering, dubbed Serengeti.

Initially, ELF hosted an electronic invoice application, which the insurer now uses to see a detailed and systematic breakdown of a law firm's billing. ELF is adding business intelligence software that will let the insurer analyze data generated by the Notes-based case management application. Eventually, the case management will also be moved to Serengeti.

"I can go into Serengeti and pull up an application that can slice and dice the data," Stahl says. "I can get canned reports or run my own. I can see trends based on patterns in underwriting or on what a customer is asking for."

The Web service dramatically lowers the costs, deployment time and training for customers, says John McNulty, ELF's vice president of consulting services.

Customers will only need a Web browser to access the service, and can dispense with the need to hire computer and software administrators.

Even more importantly, customers can rent via Serengeti a growing number of third-party services, such as videoconferencing, lawyer selection and deposition scheduling.

That's just what Stahl is looking for. "I get to use [the Web-based] software, and I don't have to mess around with licenses, upgrades and maintenance," he says. "I want to be able to subscribe to new services as I need them. For X amount of dollars per month, I get to use an application, and if I chose not to use it, then that's the end of it."

Law firms, too, will benefit from such services, says Andrew Adkins, director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida's College of Law in Gainesville. That's partly the result of a set of performance metrics, called Uniform Task-based Management, created by several lawyers' groups and supported in online applications. Lawyers' increasing familiarity with the Web also plays a part.

"A lot of the law firms are using the Web today for e-mail and legal research," Adkins says. "A lot of them now realize they can increase their efficiency with computer technology."

Serengeti is based on IBM RS/6000 SP servers and Windows servers for certain applications. The IBM DB2 Universal Database is the featured data server, with IBM's Online Analytical Processing Server supporting business intelligence tools. Customers connect to Serengeti via a virtual private network.

ELF charges customers a percentage based on the invoice transactions Serengeti processes for them.

ELF: www.elftech.com or www.serengetius.com.

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