Allstate Canada pushes self-service intranet tools to employees

The Allstate Insurance Co. of Canada is building a Web content management system, with Sapient Canada‘s help, that the insurer said will allow it to maintain several critical Web sites serving customers, partners and employees.

Work began on the project — including a corporate Intranet and three insurance brand sites — in September 2004, said Karyn Toon, director of corporate relations at Markham, Ont.-based Allstate Canada.

The intranet went live this spring. Allstate is now “putting the finishing touches” on external sites that will bring “a level of consistency to the presentation of our material,” Toon said.

“I don’t think it has improved brand identity. But it does allow us to…adhere to our brand strategy in a Web environment.”

The content management system, built on Microsoft’s Content Management Server 2002, SQL Server 2000, and SharePoint Portal Server 2003, is described as allowing writers and publishers to upload content themselves using templates that are easy to manage.

The system enables a “degree of oversight, privilege and control that we didn’t have previously,” Toon said. “Before, we had to go through IT. Now we can go through live from the business unit at hand.”

Allstate Canada said its three public sites and Intranet, including more than 260 microsites, had to be managed by several web designers and developers. Basic content updates, which were routed through the IT department, were completed about once every 30 days and raised the likelihood that important information would quickly become outdated.

The new content management system still has “the appropriate checks and balances, but it gives people the tools to do their job,” she said.

Under the previous system, the IT department had to perform custom programming on several sites, a function now built into the new content management structure.

Now that Allstate has improved company efficiency and cut costs associated with IT support and Web site management, said Toon, IT resources may now re-focus on other issues such as core systems related to policy or claims processing. She declined to quantify the estimated savings for the insurer.

Toronto-based Sapient Canada Inc. said it is difficult to pinpoint a cost-savings figure, but in most cases clients aimed to achieve “intangible process efficiencies” concerning self-sufficiency, said director Richard Lee.

Inputting the system has “literally taken weeks off a person’s time to publish something to the Web,” said Lee.

The implementation was handled by Sapient’s practice based in New Delhi, which offered Allstate Canada “more efficient rates,” he said. He explained Allstate Canada had never before looked to the services of an Indian technology provider, a situation which introduced a constant challenge around communications.

With the time difference of 9.5 hours, Lee said, “We were working on a 24-hour clock,” with several late-night and early-morning calls.”

Sapient Canada ensured time management was well handled, with the Indian office undertaking system changes overnight. Allstate Canada would then awake to no bugs the next day.

Sapient Canada also flew members of the New Delhi team to Canada so that Allstate Canada “got a feel of the people and their competencies.”

The company has deployed Web content management systems for other international financial institutions, hotels, educational facilities and telecom providers.

For the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sapient developed OpenCourseWare, a Web-based publishing initiative that provides anyone with free, searchable access to nearly all of the university’s undergraduate and graduate course material.

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