Small steps to big success

The reinsurance industry isn’t for the faint of heart. The business processes that enable reinsurance firms to form agreements with other insurance companies to accept all or part of their risk can get mighty complex, mighty quickly.

Now imagine developing a single system that manages reinsurance business processes for numerous offices around the world, offices whose staffs speak different languages, are in different time zones and just might be stuck in their ways as to how they manage their business. It’s a challenge that could overwhelm you if you tried to tackle it all at once instead of breaking it into small pieces.

When workers in the global software group at Reinsurance Group of America Inc. (RGA) in Chesterfield, Mo., first took on this mammoth project, they would have been the first to tell you they were unprepared for the obstacles that lay ahead.

“This whole system required so much communication and teamwork, and I’m not sure we understood at first what we needed to contribute to make it a success,” says Mike Ring, project manager at RGA.

But by engaging the business and adapting its own practices to the demands of the situation, the group is successfully rolling out an integrated, multi-currency, multi-language life reinsurance administration system, dubbed CybeRe, for its international division. It’s already up and running in South Africa and is nearly ready in the U.K., with Australia next on the docket.

“CybeRe is able to handle some of the most complex insurance arrangements that RGA and its subsidiaries have created,” says Kam Chan, chief architect of CybeRe.

CybeRe fully integrates the many functions that make up the life reinsurance business, including quotes, underwriting, claims, risk management and accounting. Integrating this data, as well as automating processes such as client audits, will increase productivity, minimize errors and enable RGA to keep pace with growing business needs without increasing staff, says Azam Mirza, vice-president of global software and head of the CybeRe effort.

Before CybeRe, workers in RGA’s global offices mainly relied on a mix of spreadsheets and databases to manage clients. Now, with information stored in one location, workers can analyze data by client, contract and product and find client errors more easily.

But the picture wasn’t always this rosy. When the project began six years ago, IT started gathering business requirements from the global offices, planning to emerge a couple of years later with a full-blown system. But by late 2001, it became apparent that a phased approach was more practical.

“The different units all do things slightly differently, and getting everyone to agree became very contentious,” Chan explains. So the group embarked on a plan to build a pilot system in one office (South Africa) and gradually implement it in the remaining ones, with as few customizations as possible.

In the process, the software group learned how to conduct user acceptance testing, prioritize enhancements and develop change management, scope management and quality assurance processes, Ring says.

Factors such as differences in the terminologies used in various offices caused delays. For example, while gathering requirements, IT asked whether the South African office used compound benefits. The answer came back “No,” but it turned out that that office just used a different term: acceleration of benefits.

Despite the local customizations, RGA still maintains just one version of CybeRe. Local units can simply “turn on” the options or customizations that are relevant to their businesses.

“Not maintaining 13 different versions is very important,” Mirza says. “It’s critical to our success.”

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