Andrew Holt investigates how a new computer system is helping a loss adjuster to achieve rapid claims settlement on-site

Last year Crawford & Company unveiled a new field system - Delta - which it, rather ambitiously, promised would take the claims management world by storm.

It probably hasn't gone as far as that. But the hand-held tablet PC system with software and databases can be used by adjusters on-site to speed up the claims process.

Through Delta, adjusters have access to all resources on-site without the need to return to the office.

So all aspects of the claims management process can be dealt with there and then.

Alan Morris, systems analyst and Delta project manager at Crawford & Company, says: "The tablet PC is like a laptop but with the screen facing upwards. You can write or draw on the screen or fill in forms, and handwriting recognition technology converts your handwriting to text.

"We selected a 'ruggedised' tablet PC - the Panasonic ToughBook - as our standard field PC," Morris says.

"While most of our site visits are to domestic premises, we do visit sites that are dusty or flooded or burnt-out.

"We are sometimes outside in the rain, up ladders, down drains, so we needed a PC that would put up with all of this and the inevitable knocks and drops that will occur."

The technology was developed in line with the move toward more rapid claims settlement, driven by the pressures of facilitating better customer service and FSA regulation.

"We need to respond faster to client instructions, make contact with claimants faster to arrange visits, and settle claims more quickly," says Morris.

"So we have been looking at how technology can compress the claims process, by delivering the right tools and the right information to the people doing the work at each stage of the process," he adds

In cases involving loss adjusters, rapid response has historically been hampered by delays in the transfer of claims information and handling instructions throughout the claims process.

This is because information is currently transferred in a variety of paper and electronic formats and claims data is often re-keyed to different unconnected systems, which can frequently cause delays and errors.

"In the field particularly, we can make enormous gains in process efficiency, as well as in customer service, if we can settle the majority of straight-forward claims on-site at first visit, completely removing the need for follow-up work in the central office," says Morris.

Even where standard laptops are currently available to field staff, notes are taken on paper while walking to the site, then later re-keyed.

Digital photographs and other supporting documents are often sent separately from the site notes, incurring cost and delay in the central claims unit.

Rapid claims settlement on-site at the first visit can be achieved only if the visiting adjuster has all the relevant claim and policy cover information available.

"We don't think the standard PC is suitable for field use," says Morris.

"It is too difficult to use while standing and walking so you end up taking notes on paper then typing it in again - capturing data twice. Palm-tops and intelligent pens are fine for simple data capture - form-filling and sending data back to base - but you don't have the same computing capability.

"And you can't easily view documents on a pen or a small screen, so they don't really support increased settlement on site. And you still need to carry paper around."

Delta includes all such information, as well as features and tools which comprehensively help the job on-site, saving time and money.

"The site notes application consists of several forms with drop down lists and tick boxes for easy data input, handwriting recognition for text entry, as well as the ability to draw diagrams, download and annotate digital photographs and view policy booklets or other claim related documents," says Morris.

The application includes calculators for rebuilding costs and damage repair estimators - all aimed at providing the adjuster with the tools and information necessary to agree a settlement on site.

A portable printer allows letters and 'what happens next' documents to be printed and left on-site.

"And with in-built wireless communications, details of the visit and any cash settlement can be sent immediately to the head office, and instructions to repair contractors or orders for replacement goods can be initiated from site," says Morris.

"We have also been working in the back-office to improve the process around the field system," says Morris.

"Where possible we are working with insurers to accept instruction data electronically, directly from their computers.

"Where insurers do not have the technology to do this, we are using character recognition technology to automate the capture of instruction data directly from paper fax, removing the need to re-key data.

"Information flows directly into our call-centre workflow system, we contact claimants and arrange visits by phone, and then visit and claim details are sent electronically directly to our adjuster's table PCs, replacing the old system of paper faxes," says Morris

So completed site notes are sent electronically from the field to Crawford's regional claims centres for any follow-up investigation.

"One of the major benefits is that site notes now include all the drawings and photographs taken in the field, and are legible - no more scrawly handwriting," says Morris. IT