Portal overhaul helps Canadian insurer improve customer interaction online

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By recently overhauling its corporate portal, a Canadian title insurer has fostered better online communications between its agents and their customers.

Oakville, Ont.-based First Canadian Title (FCT) offers residential and commercial title insurance.

The company recently launched a client-focused Web site that allows its agents to configure – with minor or no IT personnel help – document screen images that mirror those used by clients.

This customer-focused portal employs Microsoft Corp.’s .Net framework, and applications created using Avanade Connected Architecture (ACA), a developer tool from software firm Avanade Inc. in Seattle, Wash.

The company says Avanade software makes it easier for clients to track an online transaction throughout its lifecycle.

“Both our in-house users and clients are very happy because it’s now easier and faster to work on the same page,” said Sam Dotson, chief information officer (CIO), FCT. According to FCT, the portal revamp, which started last April and concluded in January, has dramatically improved its product-to-market speed, and enhanced service customization and collaboration.

“In less than a year, we have created a Web application that’s dramatically improved FCT’s ability to collaborate with customers at various stages of the lending lifecycle,” said Rick Birkenstock, general manager, Avanade Canada, the lead implementer of the project. Established in 1991, FCT manages around 782,000 titles, and serves more than 16,000 lawyers from banks and lending institutions across the country.

The previous iteration of the company’s portal allowed clients to access their transactions, but it was geared towards FCT’s business administration needs, Dotson said. “The portal was not flexible and often required our customers to alter the way they did business.” For instance, the portal did not have a terminology library good enough to accommodate the business terms used by FCT clients. “Our system might recognize a procedure as a ‘transaction’, while a client firm might refer to it as a ‘deal’,” said Dotson.

After consulting FCT, stakeholders, and clients on their business needs, an initiative to rework the company’s e-business strategy was launched.

To start with, FCT adopted a .Net architecture – Microsoft’s Web-based client interface – on a Windows server environment, and created a custom site with Avanade’s ACA developer tool.

Microsoft and Avanade’s products complement one other well in this implementation, according to a Microsoft Canada executive.

Microsoft offers a secure, Web-based environment, while Avanade’s software enables FCT’s IT team to create custom services with “minimal code work”, noted Jeff Zado, senior product manager for developer tools at Microsoft Canada.

Dotson said FCT developers “did not have to create everything from scratch” but instead took advantage of the extensive library of re-usable applications available in the ACA tool.

Features such as user authentication and log-in services came straight from the box, along with other pre-developed applications in ACA, said Dotson.

“Avanade provided us with far more reusable applications than we had before.”

The ability to deploy reusable applications is a key advantage of a service oriented architecture (SOA), according to Curtis Gittens, senior analyst for consultancy firm Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in London, Ont.

“Companies can save a lot of time and money if their developers do not have to re-invent the wheel every time a client requests a new service,” said Gittens.

Using the SOA model, he said, developers can harness one department’s services and adjust them to fit the needs of another section.

A well-chosen SOA tool can cut down service deployment time from weeks/months to little as a day, according to Gittens.

Dotson said FCT personnel also welcome the new ability to alter agents’ document views to match those of clients, with minor intervention from IT.

“When working on a transaction, the client’s screen does not always look the same as ours.”

For instance, he said, information fields on FCT Web document pages often do not appear on the same spot as those of its clients.

In the past, any changes to reconcile the two documents were done by developers. “With the new portal, our non-IT personnel can execute most applicable changes at their desk, with a click and drag of a mouse,” said Dotson. “Now they are working on the same page.”

A process that could have taken weeks or a month can now be accomplished in minutes or overnight, he said.

The FCT CIO said the new portal also supports faster and more accurate transaction tracking.

In the past, Dotson said, clients who wanted to track a transaction’s progress had a choice of just 50 points in the document’s lifecycle, pre-determined on the FCT portal. “We later found out that clients want to see more than those 50 points.”

FCT customers now have the ability to specify at what points in the lifecycle, they want to access a transaction’s status.

Microsoft’s Zado said in any technology rollout, it is important for companies to “focus back on the customer’s needs.”

He said service-oriented projects are often open ended. “You need to constantly prod your customers, to ask them how the system is serving their needs and how it can be improved.”

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