It’s hasn’t produced any overnight operational utopia , but the folk at Allstate Insurance Co. of Canada are nonetheless very enthused about their new content management system (CMS).
One reason for this is the benefits they hope to realize…they’re already realizing…from the CMS. These include significant time and cost savings, and a more productive and fulfilled workforce. Good technology can only work if the people who are meant to use it, want to use it.Tony Byrne>Text
Quite apart from these benefits, however, it’s the new alignment of business and IT within the company that has everyone really jazzed.
Markham, Ont.-based Allstate Canada sells property and automobile insurance through its Web sites and agents. Its three public-facing Web sites help prospective customers to research, get quotes and purchase insurance online.
Allstate’s Web sites are a vital link between the company and customers who have the option of paying insurance premiums online. Customers often check the Web sites for new products, insurance surveys, and so on. While two of the Web sites cater to big businesses, the third is for individual buyers.
Allstate’s senior management was unhappy with the earlier process of posting content on the Web sites.
As updating the sites took as long as 30 days, the company found it difficult to provide new information and quotes to customers.
Worse, a number of IT people were putting a great deal of time and energy into this seemingly simple task. Their efforts were going to waste as vital information was often delayed or became obsolete within days of being posted.
Faulty business processes were largely to blame for this state of affairs. In the 30 days, updates would go through three levels of IT staff. After the business side released new insurance quotes, HTML programmers would code them. In case of substantial changes, programmers would involve the application developers. Finally, the production people responsible for running the Web site would make the changes.
“The main problem was that the IT department was burdened with a lot of unnecessary work,” said Karyn Toon, director of corporate relations at Allstate.
However, all that is no more than an unpleasant memory.
Since spring of last year, Allstate has been gradually switching over to a CMS with the assistance of Sapient Corp., a Cambridge, Mass.-based IT consulting firm.
“With the CMS in place, we will be able to update the main page in one to three days,” said Toon. The business department will be able to update the Web site without assistance from IT. “They would use the templates to make changes. It would be as easy as using Microsoft Explorer,” said Richard Lee, director at Sapient Corp. Canada.
For example, the procedure for placing French content on the Web site has changed. Earlier, after a translation was completed, the IT department would code the French text. Now, using templates for French updates, the business folk places the text on the Web site themselves.
“The business unit and not IT will push the ‘go live’ button and this will save time and resources,” said Toon. She is confident all this will lead to better human resource management as IT staff will be able to concentrate on other support tasks.
However, Toon said this change was not instantaneous. She said Allstate business staff had to be trained to use the CMS. “It is a new technology and like all new technologies people didn’t get it at first.” Initially the business staff was overwhelmed with the new technology, and suspected it would end-up doing the work of IT staff.
So a train-the-trainer approach was adopted. A few business people were taught by Sapient experts, and they, in turn, coached others. “As this is a template-based system, people realized that using it simplified their world,” said Toon.
As employees learnt to use the CMS, members of Allstate’s senior management learned a few lessons of their own. They discovered technology can only work if people are ready to accept the changes that come with it. For instance, a browser-based CMS helped them curtail IT staff involvement in updating Web sites, but only after the business people learnt to use the new system.
It also found while the IT department might have initially pushed for a CMS, it was the business department that had to adopt it and make it work. According to Toon, senior management should implement a CMS only when it is confident that the business staff will accept it.
This is an important lesson to learn for all potential CMS customers said Tony Byrne, principal analyst at CMS Watch, an Olney, Md.-based content management analysis firm. “Vendors like to talk in terms of saving time and money using CMS. The bottom line is Web content will improve only when the people using CMS [are] willing to adopt it.”
Byrne has a word of caution for companies that believe deploying a CMS will bring instant payback. In addition to the right content management technology, he said, employee training is absolutely vital. This involves, not only teaching employees which buttons to push in the new system, but also encouraging them to adapt to the change of doing things differently. “Good technology can only work if the people who are meant to use it, want to use it.”