By R. Christopher Haines, Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer

What Happened to Change Control?

If you were to compile best practices for managing an insurance policy admin system, change control would have to make the list. Insurance systems are complex, with rates, rules, and interfaces. So, installing something to production that might be incorrect would be a self-evidently bad thing. Remedy? Don’t install anything that hasn’t been tested. Oh, yeah — and if common sense weren’t enough, don’t let the auditors find out you loaded something untested.

Nonetheless, we see some pretty scary things. Systems upgrades and releases that aren’t tested before they’re copied to production. Patches rushed to production because users just can’t wait. And software vendors treating systems like websites or apps and just letting changes and updates flow in with of course no user acceptance testing (UAT).
There are a lot of reasons for the slow death of change control. First, there’s massive growth in the number of start-up insurance companies. They usually start with very little capital, so their IT suffers. You need management, you need underwriters, and you need claims people to operate an insurance company. And many start-ups don’t have the money for an experienced IT presence, don’t think they need it, or don’t understand why they need it. So these non-IT insurance professionals make very bad IT decisions — like not testing their software and system updates.

Second, there’s a large influx of IT resources into the insurance industry with no insurance experience. They don’t understand why change control is important. They might understand the inconvenience of a website’s being down. But they don’t understand the ramifications of letting 1,000 people buy an insurance policy at the wrong price. Or writing 1,000 polices with the wrong coverage limits. The only way to find such errors before it’s too late is through UAT — the foundation of change control.

Many insurance companies do understand UAT and change control. Things take a little longer to get loaded, but everyone sleeps a little better at night. And all those urgent fixes users are waiting on? Many of them get caught during testing and never make it to production in the first place for the companies that really understand change control.

All of this couldn’t be happening at a worse time for the inexperienced. Insurance systems are more complex than ever. There are more things to test and more change to control. More billing options, policy options, portals, apps, interfaces, and integrations.

If you didn’t have a good understanding for these things 15 years ago, you might have avoided the hornets’ nest. But now, it’s just a matter of time until you get stung.