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Sebastian Herrgesell: "Reducing integration projects to the exchange of technical platforms falls short; it's about companies' willingness to change."

– Collection and disbursement

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7 recommendations for action for successful collection system integration

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– Abstract

The implementation and integration of a new collection system is complex. Many stakeholders underestimate this work at first glance. In order for an integration project to be implemented successfully and with little friction, it requires not only good planning and committed employees, but also one thing in particular: good preparatory work and communication on the part of the affected stakeholders. Sebastian Herrgesell, Partner and Dock Manager at IKOR – with a focus on Project Excellence – gives seven recommendations for successful system integration.

A matter for the boss: why central questions must be asked and answered at the beginning

Traditional insurers have long been putting their business processes and thus their system architectures to the test – this is forced by markets and the status quo of digitalization. In addition to outdated systems for the core business, this also affects central peripheral systems, such as for dunning processes or payment transactions. The cross-divisional implementation and integration of new systems or functions is not only a major challenge for IT: All project participants are confronted with functional, process-related and organizational changes. This is where adaptability is an enabling and necessary trait of a company’s leadership.

In order to successfully implement a demanding project such as a collection system integration with standard software, in this case an SAP FS-CD solution for a large German multi-product-line insurer, a project approach tailored to the situation is required – with the following main points of action in particular:

  • Clear and broad communication and information channels
  • Transparency in project planning
  • Setting up a project-specific organization with a) organizational structure (integrating the project into the company organization, setting up roles and responsibilities) and b) process organization (defining activities and processes, implementing the project according to the development process).
  • Consideration of training
Since payment transactions are a core element of every insurance company, the integration of a new collection system is – figuratively speaking – tantamount to open-heart surgery: millions of contract items must be taken over and millions of insurance contracts migrated. At its core, the new system must work immediately; it must seamlessly take over the “heart function”.

But how does an optimal changeover work – ideally without any major impact on customers, employees and intermediaries? The following questions help to clarify this:

  • Do we perform a “big bang”? That means: Do we convert the new system during ongoing operations, preferably over one or two weekends?
  • Do we operate two systems in parallel for a defined period of time? Starting with a partial stock?
  • Or do we completely shut down operations for a defined period of time and set up the new system during this latency phase?

Since most insurers will decide on the first option as collections and liquidity operational shutdowns are an unrealisitic choice for any company, insurers should consider the following seven recommended actions for successful collections system integration:

TIP 1:

Clarify framework conditions

The general conditions determine the success of a system integration. This also applies to integrating a customer’s existing system environment. Important questions are: What are the options? What complexity is involved? What strategic goal is the insurance company pursuing (individual services versus standard processes)? Who are the stakeholders and how do they influence the success or failure of the project? What are the dependencies? What about the willingness to change and the attitude towards standard software versus maximum individualization?

In any case, decision-makers should not underestimate an integration project and its dynamics. The goal must be to cut off “old habits”, to part with what has long been outdated and to give priority to modern, fast and cost-efficient processes. Extensive and complex system integration projects require a professional view in order to be carried out successfully.

The most important aspect of the framework conditions is the company’s leadership mindset. It requires an openness to change and transformation. Reducing integration projects to the exchange of technical platforms would fall far short of the mark. Rather, it is about the willingness to change in the approach, the organization and the style of corporate management. The bottom line is that mindset represents a (new) interaction between employees and management. From the very beginning, those involved must embrace change management and sharpen the awareness of the change mindset.

TIP 2:

Prioritization at C-level increases the chances of success

Such a project as the implementation of a new debt collection system must be top prioritized by the board/management. Full attention and goodwill regarding the value contribution of the project significantly influences its success. Ideally, a board or management member will support the project from A to Z and also represent it to other board members of the organization.

TIP 3:

Determine the methodology

Once the framework conditions are in place and the responsibilities are clarified, the project participants should determine the project management methodology. However, there is no one right method for such a comprehensive project as that of a new collection system integration. Here, a significant part of the requirements and solutions are still unclear at the beginning. Therefore, the project requires a method that fits the project mission and the overall organization. These three different approaches are suitable:

  1. Conventional project planning offers a lot of room for focus – including time representation
  2. Agile project planning makes project planning more agile, faster and more successful
  3. Hybrid approach: Here the project framework determines success, not the method alone
The currently often highly praised agile methodology does not always provide the right or sole answer. For a major German insurer, IKOR deliberately opted for a hybrid approach, a mix of agile methods (Scrum) and conventional project management. From this, the project participants at IKOR, together with the customer, set up a customized framework for the project work.

TIP 4:

Change the perspective

A common language acts as a common denominator. If people with different expertise and diverse perspectives work together in the project planning phases as well as in everyday project work, this can lead to communication challenges and even potential misunderstandings. Worst case, this impedes the progress of work in sub-tasks within the project and can lead to misunderstandings throughout the company.

However, there is a proven remedy for this: the regular adoption of the helicopter view. The key question of the helicopter perspective in conflicts is: “Does what I am doing lead to the goal and is it understandable?” This form of meta-communication is not only helpful. It requires all parties to be willing to question themselves and find good solutions to the project or issue.

TIP 5:

The right employees bring impetus to the project

It needs employees with an overall view and a detailed view. Doers and analysts who are interlocked via the methods are equally important for the success of the project. Organizations in large integration projects should also consider simple structures in the organizational chart and allow them to grow and develop. The best technical expert is not always the best project manager, which is why it is important to be courageous when filling roles that work at neuralgic points. It is important to demand and promote motivation and commitment.

TIP 6:

Integrate management

Actively involving the management in central decisions has a significant influence on the success of the project. The steering committee should see itself as a friend of the project. A transparent information policy (see framework conditions) is a “must have” in order to regularly inform directly and indirectly affected stakeholders about the project status.

Support is provided by active change management, which prepares the organization’s employees for the change: In an integration project such as that of a new collection system with many affecting factors and points of contact in many departments of the company, implementation and system integration will not proceed completely silently. Accordingly, the employees need active support in the context of the transfer of operations and stabilization.

TIP 7:

Communicate in a way that is appropriate for the target group

Direct, transparent and efficient communication is a key to successful project work. The more complex an IT project – such as a collection system integration – the more important it is to have an excellent dialogue between all parties involved, including the management board. Here, it is important to communicate in a way that is appropriate for the project staff / stakeholders and to get everyone involved on board. For external communication to management, a bottom line, factual, relevant meta-level overview with recognition mechanisms is needed. In this way, those involved can quickly and correctly orient themselves. And project progress and results can also be easily tracked and recognized.

Communication into and with the project team requires facts and details tailored to the specific situation. Installing different types of communication paths and methods into the project is one of the key factors for project success.

– Conclusion

Accompanying the change

The adaptability of insurance companies to the digital transformation will determine their long-term success. In order for implementation and integration projects, for example in the area of collection and disbursement, to provide a suitable response, these projects need teams that professionally accompany the technical, process-related and organisational changes.

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sebastian-herrgesell
Sebastian Herrgesell is Partner and Dock Manager at IKOR - in the Dock Project Excellence.

Contact

Sebastian Herrgesell

Partner & Dock Manager
IKOR GmbH
projectexcellence@ikor.one
+49 40 8199442-0

“External communication to management requires a bottom line, factual, relevant meta-level overview with recognition mechanisms; communication into and with the project team requires facts and details tailored to the specific situation.”

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