Lincoln Financial Syndicates Content With Web Services System

It's one thing to create a business mantra and quite another to live by it. What's even rarer is for that mantra to inspire the development of an IT system that improves a company's sales distribution and time to market, boosts partner relationships and customer satisfaction, reduces Web site costs and increases corporate recognition.

But that's what the IT team at Lincoln Financial Group in Philadelphia did in January 2003, when it went live with Service Broker, a Web services-based system that syndicates Lincoln-specific content and applications on its partners' Web sites.

It wasn't a project that had an easy solution. Lincoln is a $4.6 billion provider of life insurance, retirement products and wealth management services. It distributes its offerings through financial advisers, banks and independent brokers.

When Jason Glazier, chief technology and e-commerce officer at Lincoln, joined the company in 2001, the corporate mantra was, " 'We want to be the partner of choice,' " he says. "So I asked, What does that mean from an e-commerce perspective?"

One answer was tighter integration with broker Web sites. In most of the insurance industry, if consumers want to access their accounts or download a form from a broker site, they click on a link that takes them to the insurance provider's site, where they input a separate password or user ID. Lincoln wanted to go a step further, providing content and account access within its partner Web sites, as well as single sign-on for consumers.

The first problem Glazier's group encountered was brand conflict—brokers wanted their sites to retain their own look and feel. Clearly, if Lincoln wanted to be a "partner of choice," it also had to hand over the branding reins.

The second problem was a technical one. Simply outlining the Lincoln content in an HTML frame wouldn't provide the partner's look and feel. A pure Web services approach was also out, since most of Lincoln's clients couldn't support that kind of system. "It is not a hassle-free implementation, since the partner must then process the XML/SOAP messages," Glazier says.

For a short time, Lincoln maintained subsites for its partners that wanted them, and those sites linked to requested content. However, maintenance of the subsites was burdensome.

The ultimate answer was Service Broker. It took three developers four months to build the pilot of Service Broker, which is a Web services-based application with a front end that Glazier calls a servlet. When the servlet is installed on a partner's server, it provides a wrapper that can accept Lincoln's content and applications and still maintain the partner's look and feel.

The servlet manages many of the functions the partner would have to manage in a Web services application, such as authentication, digital signatures, passwords and page rendering. When the partner wants to include Lincoln content or an application, it needs to insert just one line of code, Glazier says.

Because the project represented such a new idea, one challenge was to develop a demo so customers could visualize the system's capabilities. This entailed keeping a close watch on how much money was initially invested. "We knew they may not take us seriously because insurance companies are not usually known as innovative," Glazier says.

When customers did see it, says Rob Pal, Lincoln's vice president of e-business and production services, about 40% were interested in this type of full-scale syndication. Currently, Service Broker is fully implemented at five client sites. Implementation is in progress at three others, and five more clients are reviewing the Service Broker agreement.

There was some resistance on the part of clients that didn't want an outside source controlling technology on their sites, according to Matthew Josefowicz, manager of the insurance group at Celent Research in New York. However, resistance was overcome by the application's power and ease of use.

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Jason Glazier, chief technology and e-commerce officer, Lincoln Financial Group
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According to Glazier, Service Broker was not only completed on time and under budget, at a cost of $545,000, but it has also exceeded business objectives.

For instance, since the deployment, Lincoln's growth rate with syndicated partners has increased manyfold, according to Glazier. In three cases, clients have granted Lincoln premier "shelf space" on their Web sites. Time to market has also improved; it now takes days to syndicate customized content and applications, vs. the months it previously required.

Service Broker has also reduced Web subsite development costs, each of which averaged $115,000 in annual expenses. And, according to Pal, it has improved partner relationships. "In one instance, we were new to a customer, and now we're one of their top carriers," he says. "There are a lot of factors involved, but syndication is one of them."

In addition, Glazier says, there has been a significant increase in the sale of Lincoln's products and services through the brokers using the technology. "There is no doubt in our management's mind that our syndicated technology relationship is partly responsible for this," he says.

According to Josefowicz, Lincoln is the only insurer that doesn't require consumers to leave a partner's Web site to access its information. "Lincoln's initiative makes it easier for partner distributors to do business with them, which Celent research has shown to be a critical factor in driving carrier choice among independent agents," he says.

Brandel is a freelance writer in Grand Rapids, Mich. Contact her at mary.brandel@comcast.net.

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Lincoln Financial Group
www.lfg.com

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Business: Lincoln Financial Group offers annuities, life insurance, mutual funds, managed accounts and other services. In 2002, its annual consolidated revenue was $4.6 billion.

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Project champion: Jason Glazier

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IT department: 800

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Project payback: The $545,000 project has yielded an increased growth rate with syndicated partners, improved time to market and reduced Web development costs.

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