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When Andrzej Klesyk became chief executive of Poland’s PZU Group in 2007, he brought with him years of experience as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. and The Boston Consulting Group. His goal: Nothing less than a top-to-bottom transformation of Poland’s No. 1 insurance company.

Klesyk has made a lot of progress. The 209-year-old company has centralized and re-organized its operational processes and claims handling, restructured the workforce, and evolved into a customer-oriented and performance-based organization. Klesyk’s goal now is to become the largest and most profitable insurance company in central and eastern Europe.

PZU and IBM Poland combined forces to complete Operation Trigger–the company’s operational overhaul. They way they worked together provides a model for how such  business transformation projects can be managed.

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Operation Trigger got its start in 2010 when the back office operations of several PZU business units were relocated to a building in Warsaw. At the time, each business unit had its own way of handling claims and communicating with customers. In addition, most of this work was done using paper, rather than digitally. The company decided to consolidate and standardize its claims processing and customer communications. “We needed to optimize our business processes. We created new work flow processes from scratch,” says Przemyslaw Nakonieczny, the customer service development manager who headed up the Trigger project on PZU’s business side.

Over a one-year period, PZU and IBM staffers worked together to create more than 160 business processes in PZU’s document processing, mail room and call center operations. The processes govern the handling of all claims and customer communications from the moment a new claim or inquiry is received until it is resolved. Each engagement with a customer is organized into a “case” and all the physical documents connected to a case are tracked with bar codes and converted into digital form.The system grants access to employees based on their business roles and competencies. In each case, PZU communicates with customers about their cases in the forms that are most appropriate, including emails, phone calls, faxes and traditional mail.

It’s a smart system because each kind of document and process is completed using a template, and the software recognizes the template and routes the document through the workflow system accordingly.

Trigger was extremely complicated, so, from the start, the two companies set up a steering committee of executives to oversee it. Anna Sienko, general manager of IBM Poland and the Baltic Countries, attended several of the early meetings, as did top executives at PZU.

Key to the success of the project was the willingness of both sides to be flexible and the project leaders’ dedication to understanding what their internal clients needed to do their jobs better. “We called them the ‘Red High Heels,’ and the joke was that when the Red High Heels wanted something, they got it,” says Ewa Preston, the IBM Global Business Services consultant to managed the engagement for IBM. “The idea was to make their jobs easier, and they’re the ones who knew how to make things easier and quicker.”

The project was completed last December, and it’s delivering on PZU’s objectives. Nakonieczny estimates that it increased the efficiency of case handling by about 20%. In PZU’s 2011 annual report, issued in March, the company reported that its annual administrative expenses dropped by 6.8% last year, even while the gross written premiums increased by 3.7%. The report credits the centralizing of operational process and claims handling.

PZU’s transformation is still going on, but CEO Klesyk is clearly feeling confident in the company’s future. The company on May 12 introduced a new logo–replacing a traditional one with a simpler image. The move was controversial in some circles, but it sent a clear message, symbolizing “the simplification of procedures, care for the costumer and a modern approach,” the company says.

Here are the before and after images:















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