5 Steps To Selecting The Best Agency Management System For Your Agency – Episode 015
In this episode of “The Digital Broker” podcast, Steve and Ryan will show you a five-step process for choosing the right Agency Management System (AMS) for your organization.
You will learn:
- How to evaluate if you need a new system
- How to determine the appropriate requirements
- Understanding the different options available
- Evaluating and choosing the correct software
It is admittedly a daunting process to evaluate Agency Management Systems. One needs to consider how many to evaluate, what exactly is part of the evaluation and making sure that the right things are being examined. It would be easy to simply shut down and ignore the process, but in doing so there is the risk of putting the agency behind by not staying up with technology and system capabilities. While approximately twenty percent of agencies have no AMS at all – the vast majority – eighty percent have some sort of platform. The threshold question for these agencies is “WHEN IS IT TIME TO MOVE FORWARD?” (3:30)
In the prior podcast, Steve and Ryan discussed how to assess whether it was time to replace or upgrade your Agency Management System (AMS) and specifically addressed which indicators should be examined in order to decide that a change in AMS is warranted. To briefly recap from the prior podcast, some of the indicators that might warrant a new AMS are:
- Having had the same system for a long time
- Whether the current AMS is in-house or on the cloud
- Current fees and costs of the platform
- The level of office automation or dependency on paper
- Ability to attract younger staff
- How the AMS stores your data on the back end.
Reviewing and understanding these indicators will give you a good idea whether it is time to consider a new or upgraded system. If you haven’t listened to the prior podcast or would like to review in detail what was discussed, you can access the podcast by clicking here: Does Your Agency Need a New Agency Management System (AMS)? – Episode 014.
In order to properly move forward in evaluating a new system, Steve employs a five-step process, beginning logically with asking “WHY”?
STEP ONE: WHY DO YOU WANT A NEW SYSTEM? (5:02)
In considering what to do regarding your AMS platform, your first threshold is to understand your reasons for wanting to change and understanding what is driving your desire. Is it motivated by money or cost? Is the current system not functioning well? Are you deciding whether you are on the right platform?
This step can actually be (and probably should be) a yearly process. It’s entirely possible that the answer comes to be that everything is ok and the organization is good with its current AMS solution. In the alternative, there may be very good reasons for wanting a new system but from a strategic standpoint, the time is not right to move forward. At this initial stage of evaluation, it can be recognized that a new system should be considered but that there are other issues to work out first, such as improved office processes, inefficiencies not related to the AMS or simply recognizing that the time is not right to proceed. An important factor that needs to be considered is that changing systems will significantly reduce productivity for upwards of six months.
STEP TWO: EVALUATION OF SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS (9:00):
The internal discussion of what is needed generally begins at the top – the ownership level or the Chief Operating Officer (COO) level. However, it is critical to bring the entire team into the process. Part of the process includes the identification of the “pain points” in the system by listening to the staff and hearing their complaints. In this matter, it can be determined what is working well and what is not. Another factor is simply considering the nature of the agency’s business – what problems that are inherent to the agency must be considered.
However, the most critical item to be considered is asking what requirements do the clients have – essentially what do the clients want? Understanding the expectations of the client base and including it as part of the system requirements is probably the most important component of this stage of the evaluation. The mission of the agency is to provide value to the clients – if that can’t be done, then essentially nothing else matters. Meeting client expectations could be a reason in and of itself to change or update platforms.
STEP THREE: WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS? (10:29):
There is no cookie-cutter approach to examining options. The options vary based on the agency or brokerage and the specific needs of the business. A commonly asked question is “What is the best agency platform?” Steve answers this question by emphasizing that there is NOT the best agency management system BUT there IS a best system for your situation.
There is a myriad of factors that impact a system and the options including the type of work the agency does, such as high net worth; what kind of carried communications for uploading and downloading are required, use of E-Docs, the amount of personalization that is done, etc.
Another thing that should be considered is to explore what new vendors are out there and decide if they are a reasonably viable option for your organization. Often large organizations tend to make platform decisions based on the financial security (whether perceived or real) of the vendor without looking at feature functionality and benefits. Security is also a factor – assessing whether the vendor will be around in ten years or not is often a concern. As was pointed out in the prior podcast, 80 percent of the market is occupied by two large vendors – however, in many cases, agents and brokers should consider taking a bit of risk with other players. Being “risk-averse” can sometimes lead to loss of business opportunities. Steve encourages agencies to look at everything out there – and narrow the products down to meet the specific requirements of the business. There are approximately 40 different platforms available with many taking a niche-market approach and gearing their products toward the smaller or regional agencies. A reasonable examination would be to take a look at approximately ten of the products.
Another factor that cannot be forgotten is corporate culture. It is not uncommon to dismiss new software because of staff objections to something new. However, in today’s market and fast-moving environment, technology requires change and staff must be strongly encouraged or perhaps even forced into change situations. Younger team members are often more receptive to change as they have not felt tied to a particular software product for years.
STEP FOUR – DEMOS (15:30):
The next step in the process is undertaking an examination of the product through demonstration. There are two kinds of demos: Vendor-controlled and Agency-controlled. We will discuss each individually.
Vendor-Controlled Demos: (15:40)
The vendor-controlled demo is the first step of the funneling process. An agency should arrange demos from all 10 potential providers and set them up in a reasonable time frame. As the term indicates – the vendor will show their product and exhibit the best features of the package. Your role is to listen and ask questions. Make a notation of what was liked and what wasn’t liked. Be sure to have someone take notes or things will be forgotten. Make sure you understand what they are showing you.
Be sure to create an evaluation team which represents all parts of the business – personal lines, commercial, surety, benefits, accounting, etc. Each area has specific needs that must be addressed. In fact, the team should really be in place during Step Two and be an active part of the process through all of the steps.
Evaluation criteria should be developed for the demos. Key criteria might be to ask if there is enough difference in what is being offered versus the current system to justify the time and expense of replacing. A few additional bells and whistles might not be enough to even justify the “deep dive” evaluation of platforms. Another factor is determining when the current vendor will be upgrading and if costs are involved there. A good evaluation compares the risk of acquiring a cutting-edge platform but it is important to remember that there is an advantage to being first. Being part of the beta test allows the agency to have input into product development.
Agency-Controlled Demos: (20:37)
At the completion of the vendor-controlled demos, it is time to cull the selection down to a smaller group – preferably two, three or four vendors. This is the core of the comparison. At this point, the agency is using actual data and doing side-by-side comparisons of how the platforms perform. An effective demo will have specific scenarios created for each area of the business and the various tasks that need to be performed. If there are “must-haves” such as critical status reports, this would be the time to ensure that each of the platforms can handle the tasks. The creation of scenarios allows accurate and complete comparisons of how each platform processes transactions. The demo process will enable assessment of specifics such as efficiencies gained, time saved, etc.
This is also an excellent time to get staff buy-in. Have staff score each demo and determine what they like and don’t like. In addition, there should be specialized demos for particular areas such as accounting to make sure their needs are satisfied.
STEP FIVE – MAKING A DECISION (24:02):
The obvious final step is deciding upon the best platform and getting the contract signed. This is the only step in the process where you potentially make a commitment – although remember, it is not mandatory to purchase even at this phase. The decision, after all of the consideration, might be that the current system is fine.
Before you get to this point, there will be many contract related questions – performance, time frames, and cost. Some things can be negotiated while others will be non-negotiable. This is also when you want to be certain you have buy-in from the rest of your time. No one should be solely responsible for a decision this big.
If you do decide to go forward – you then begin the Implementation Process which will be the topic of a future podcast.