It may be small, but Humania Assurance should not be overlooked.

The Saint Hyacinthe, Que.-based insurance company is this year’s small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) private winner of ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards, which recognizes companies of various sizes for their digital transformation efforts.

When asked what this win means to the company, Eric Levac, vice president of IT and digital strategy, explains that it is recognition that Humania is doing the right thing in digitizing its business.

“We’re getting great feedback from the market, and having this formal recognition is really satisfying and encouraging for us. We started on this path in 2013 and this just confirms that we’re making the right decisions,” he tells IT World Canada.

Humania created a business rule engine (BRE) to automate the complex decision-making process of assessing risk and processing applications for life insurance coverage.

And the client-centric component of this process is an online life insurance purchasing platform known as HuGO. HuGO, which took 22 months to develop and came to life in 2016, is a web application written in Java, using a Liferay portal, that receives customer information and immediately inputs it into Humania’s BRE.

While it once took 20-30 days to issue a life insurance policy, the company can now do it in a matter of minutes. In fact, HuGO can issue decisions for approximately 65 per cent of applications submitted in just 15 to 45 minutes.

But one of the key successful, and unexpected, results of HuGO was that it fostered more teamwork within the company, Levac says.

“It enhanced communication between different departments and let them learn about what was being done in other areas. Because we were working in collaborative manner, it allowed us to surface and deal with regulatory, compliance, legal, and other potential issues much faster, which led to faster solutions that could be incorporated into the next iteration,” he explains.

Digitally transforming as a small business

Humania has 142 employees, and as a small company, knows the pain of trying to transform a business with limited resources.

“Being a small company with limited resources forces innovation I think, because you need to think differently and do things in a different manner because the standard route is often more expensive or less accessible,” Levac says.

Finances are not the only challenge SMEs must overcome, however, as he points to personnel issues and time management constraints.

“We didn’t have dedicated experts for our digital projects, so directors and managers were doing their regular jobs while also working on these projects, giving less than a couple hours a day or a couple days a month to our digital transformation journey,” Levac explains. “It was a challenging and difficult thing that I think is less present in bigger corporations where they have the ability to dedicate a subject matter expert to the project full time.”

He says it was difficult for the managers involved to switch their attention from one project or task to another that was completely different every few hours, or even minutes. But being an SME also means companies are more agile.

“It can be easier for smaller businesses to make internal culture changes to foster innovation because they’re more nimble and close-knit, which is a force that the bigger players don’t necessarily have. SMEs also usually have less investment or dependencies on bigger systems, so they’re more willing to try different solutions until one works really well,” he highlights.

But in the end, the effort was worth it and Levac urges other small businesses to take the digital leap as well. So far, the commercial success this digital transformation has brought about has been “impressive,” Levac points out. Since November 2016, close to 1000 independent brokers across Canada have opted to use HuGO, and as of June 15, 2017, more than 3,500 transactions had been performed. Humania reached $1 billion of face amount coverage by mid-April, he adds.

“For us, being innovative is the only way to survive, and if you’re not doing embracing technology, you’re going to disappear eventually,” he concludes.

Check out ITWC’s Digital Transformation Award winner video for Humania Assurance below.

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