Case study: Zurich sets up pan-European paperless office with Swiss Post

Zurich Financial Services, the $56bn global insurance firm, now knows exactly how much it will pay to process each of the 400,000 documents a day it receives for the next 10 years.

Zurich Financial Services, the $56bn global insurance firm, now knows exactly how much it will pay to process each of the 400,000 documents a day it receives for the next 10 years.

This is the result of an innovative deal it has struck with Swiss Post. For a volume-dependent unit cost fixed for the next decade, Swiss Post will carry, capture, digitise and archive Zurich's incoming and outgoing post and international intra-company mail.

All correspondence are scanned on scanners and all-in-one scanner/printer/fax devices. Using Kofax’s document capture and document exchange software to capture the content, they automatically transfer the digital data to an IBM FileNet workflow and archiving application.

The aim is to stop handling paper as soon as possible, said Brian Cosgrove, Zurich's pan-European programming manager and the executive responsible for the project. This is because digital files are cheaper, easier and more flexible to handle, and easier to retrieve.

This should lead to greater efficiency and better productivity. A document destruction schedule, which ensures that paperwork is kept no longer than regulations require, is a key part of the scheme.

The deal came from tough haggling, said Cosgrove, who negotiated the deal with Swiss Post's services director Charles Parrington-Tyler.

It covers Zurich's General, Life and Corporate business units. The scheme kicks off in the UK and Switzerland this quarter. Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria will follow later. More countries, including its Zurich's US subsidiary, Farmers Insurance, will join, depending on their business volumes and maturity of their IT systems, said Cosgrove.

Cosgrove declined to give details of the value of the deal. "The company has said it aims to reduce its operating costs by 20%," he said. "I can say that my financial director was very pleased with the cost benefit analysis."

The benefits were all "hard-costed", ie. financial, Cosgrove said, but the crucial driver was to improve the consistency of the customer experience in dealing with Zurich worldwide. This consistency is an advantage in the ruthlessly competitive financial services market, he said. "Five minutes saved looking for a paper file is five minutes more you can spend talking to your customer," he said.

Swiss Post will use its existing network of national datacentres, which use virtualised HP servers running VMware to drive Kofax scanners. Parrington-Tyler said, "We then process information from the documents so that we can integrate the extracted information and carry out additional processing, such as the application of business rules around the data."

The digitised data is then sent via secure links to a central Filenet server run by Zurich's IT department, where it is stored before being sent to the appropriate national office for use with internal business applications. Part of the data set identifies the target system or repository as well as any requirement to transform the images to other document formats.

The process is independent of the target system and enables the delivery of documents and data to any system, including the multiple Filenet repositories that Zurich uses. Once in a Filenet electronic document repository, Zurich staff can access them using their standard business applications, such as policy take-on and renewal and claims processing.

Read more on IT outsourcing