• Most Effective IT Project 2006
• Most Effective Use of IT in Financial Services
Winner: Standard Life
Business goal: To create an online pensions administration environment, closely tailored to the needs of scheme members, by embedding agile IT development skills within the pension servicing teams.
Historically, group pension schemes have been opaque affairs, where details of performance are delivered in short annual meetings between scheme administrators and baffled employees. Financial services giant Standard Life has turned to cutting-edge development techniques and processes to create transparency within pension schemes, creating huge benefit for both the company and its customers.
Its online scheme administration portal, GroupPensionzone, has been build to provide its 1 million members and the administrators of 38,000 schemes with an easy-to-use, information-rich resource. But that streamlined access only results from the bold application of state-of-the-art technologies and approaches that are largely hidden from users.
GroupPensionzone has been built as part of a service-oriented architecture, with the front-end website using web services to communicate with back-end systems, both at Standard Life and at end-user organisations. For the scheme administrator this has greatly simplified tasks such as new member applications. Whereas in the past these applications required the filling in of a handwritten form, details can now be uploaded directly from the employer’s HR system. A group of 10 applications now takes just 20 minutes, compared to 10 hours previously.
The integration with payroll systems also makes it easier for employers to schedule and validate payments, making it less labour-intensive and ensuring members get their payments credited much more quickly.
Employees too, have reaped the benefits. Scheme members can use the portal to access clear, easy-to-understand information about their scheme, ensuing they can track and make informed decisions about their pensions.
The key to improving the website was to change IT development practices at Standard Life’s e-commerce group, says Manila McLean, head of customer services at the division. The seemingly radical act of embedding IT staff within pension servicing teams has dramatically improved the IT understanding of changing user requirements, enabling them to reflect that in the applications.
Agile development techniques – where projects are broken down into discrete priorities – also enabled the e-commerce group to demonstrate value to the business at much earlier stages. For example, Standard Life allows pension advisors to perform certain functions directly on the website. It also set a target of ensuring that 100% of these transactions would be automatically processed straight through to its back-end systems.
Traditionally, the development team would have had to tackle that as a single project, covering the many different types of possible functions. Using an agile methodology, the development team identified the highest priority transaction types, where a significant proportion of members would be covered, and automated those functions. “At first we could get a 50% success rate, but then we would review the code and with a few changes get it up to 100% in a matter of few months,” says McLean. “This meant we were delivering value back to the business really quickly.”
The approach has twin benefits: the highest priority projects are delivered first; and the quality of the code is improved continuously, ensuring that the best code is re-used.
Alongside the new development techniques, overall communication around development work has improved. Project status is now displayed in shared office spaces ensuring that everybody in the team is aware of progress.
The approach has also given the IT staff a greater sense of autonomy, says McLean. “When our IT guys have sat with the customer support team, they really get to understand what queries come in, the sort of issues users have.” That, again, enables them to focus on the critical ones, she says.
The results have been impressive: within six months of deployment, levels of customer satisfaction reached Standard Life’s maximum ‘triple e’ rating. Less time resolving user issues also has a positive boon for the e-commerce team: it has freed up resources to concentrate on more complex issues – and to build more permanent links to the business.
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