Smooth Systems: The Importance of Clean Data
Operations | Lauren Liacouras, Connections Editor | Mar 4 2020
This article originally ran in the December 2019 print issue of Connections, “Embracing the Digital Agency.”
Within Applied Epic, data exists in tremendous quantities across myriad categories. Given the amount of data present in this software system, frequent data cleansing becomes an inarguable necessity.
Patty Andree, Vice President and Operations Manager of Johnson Financial Group, and Christina Bavaro, Regional Operations Manager for Assured Partners, discussed their experiences with data cleansing using the Applied Epic system.
What is your role in your company’s data cleansing process?
Patty Andree (PA): The leaders of our company come to me to get reports out of our system, and those reports are used to make decisions on what we do in our company. It is my job to make sure that the data we have and the reports I give them truly represent what’s going on in the company the best they can. There are people on my team dedicated to making sure we get the best data. There are people on my team dedicated to making sure that we get the data right, so we do a lot of auditing to make sure we get the best data the way we need it. Because of that, we have changed workflows in the company. If we can get it right the first time, it takes a whole lot less work on the back end. So, the workflows reflect what data we’re going to need to track as a company. We do a workflow to keep the business moving, but just as importantly it’s what data we’re going to want to track and what we’re going to report on and we make sure the workflows exist in a way that ensure we can report on the stuff that we need to report on.
Christina Bavaro (CB): There are two things that I help oversee: when we acquire new agencies we almost always have to do a data conversion. We do conversions constantly and are constantly looking at new acquisition data and figuring out how to clean it. We have a corporate team of data analysts. I’m more on the regional level, but the corporate team used to be our regional team. There’s about five people. If you’re at our whole organization, for 2,000 users we have a five-person data team. They do all the conversion work, not just data clean up.
What are the advantages of clean data when it comes to effective use of your Applied Epic software?
PA: Using Epic is hard if your data is not clean. Epic will prefill things for you as long as you input the data in correctly. Making sure your data is right on the front end will make things much easier on the back end, because you won’t have to fill data in over and over again. I try to remind the team that if you follow the workflow and do it right the first time, there won’t be much cleanup on the back end. Right now, cleanup can be very time consuming. For example, we use activities to track things. In some cases, you have to redo the activity completely. That’s just a step you shouldn’t have to take if you’re doing things right on the front end. What I love about Epic, because I’m manager, Epic makes it super easy for managers to know when a staff is not following the workflows. I know when my team isn’t following the workflows. Epic helps you set ways up to make sure your staff is doing things right the first time. That’s an easy audit for managers—is your staff doing what you’ve asked them to do in the order you’ve asked them to do it?
CB: You will have so many problems if you don’t cleanse your data. We had a situation with two policy codes and one of them should have been converted to a different policy code, but we missed it. That was not an easy fix once we were inside of Epic. We had to recreate that policy from scratch and that was about 2,000 policies, which took a summer intern three months to correct. That was one mistake. Let me tell you the results of bad data. You will not be able to do profit and loss statements, you will not get a good book of business report, and you probably would not be able to retrieve it for a full year, because it would take you that long to get through your book of business on a cleanup. Again, you’re going to have a year of work prep, or a year of work on the back end. I promise it is so much easier to do the work on the front end.
Based on what you’ve discovered within your organization, what do you think is a “best practice” when it comes to data cleansing frequency or cadence?
PA: Using the categories in Epic, we have certain workflows that matter to us where we track and we do random auditing to make sure that the steps of the workflow are followed, because if you do that then you can make sure the data is going to be what you need. During the months we run reports on the things that are going to matter at the end of the month, so it’s like 3-4 times a month we send out reports saying here’s where stuff is missing or it isn’t done right. Quarterly, we make sure our books of business are clean and correct and accurate. We make sure we have all the data we need and we’re not misrepresenting stuff. Sometimes it’s having to go back to the carriers Data cleansing really depends on what you’re looking at; you can’t keep everything correct, every minute of every day.
CB: We run our first evaluation, give our team a list, and then we may do two other cleanups in the pre-conversion process. We make them do two to three samples before they go live. Afterwards, we do 30, 60, 90 day cleanups, and our goal is to be able to run a good report within 90 days of the conversion. Then, once you’re in our system, we have monthly internal audits.
What sort of preparation do you and your team undergo prior to a systemic data cleanse? What technology / tools do you use? Are there ways you use Applied Epic in order to keep new data clean?
PA: Epic doesn’t report on the absence of data. That’s the biggest struggle we have as users is getting the report you need, because you can’t say show me all the places this didn’t get done, that’s not how Epic works. So, you have to have your data set up in such a way that you can say, ‘show me these clients and show me this information’ so that you can see the blanks, because it’s going to show all the clients and all the blanks you need to fill. If a field is filled in and its wrong, that’s easy to get. The hardest part is finding the absence of data. They key is organizing your data in Epic so you can run reports to find what missing. Also we end up using outside software to help with that too. As an agency, you can still live in Epic doing it, it just takes a few more steps. You can audit and cleanse your data no matter what size agency you are. You don’t have to be a large shop to cleanse your data.
CB: Number one, if it’s going to be a conversion, listen to the experts. Applied has done this countless times. If you’re going to do your own data cleansing project not related to a conversion, make sure your goals are clear and that you have it backed up by your resources. It’s almost better to start small and pick one thing to audit than trying to pick ten things your first go-around.
Are there certain industry disruptors that make data cleansing vital to agency or brokerage operations?
PA: Understanding the role the carriers play, specifically as it relates to download, is really important. If you don’t have Epic set up correctly to receive the information from the carrier in the way you’re expecting can cause issues. As long as the carriers are willing to work with us and get what we need to us, then we’ll be ok. But as the carriers change what they do, that’s going to affect us greatly. Making sure we work as a team with our carriers, and we meet with our carriers regularly, really makes a difference. As the carriers respond to the technology changes in the world, things like having a mobile portal, they end up changing their background systems, and then their background systems have to work with Epic. I think the key to why you want Epic vs. another system, is with Applied owning Ivans, they own that carrier channel of information, and it really helps that they are working with the carriers to know what they’re doing so Applied systems can integrate with what the carriers are doing.
CB: I would say accounting and financial trends. If you are going to be prepping for acquisitions or valuations, how can you truly evaluate the size of your agency if you don’t have a good book of business?
Detecting and correcting corrupt, inaccurate or irrelevant data is a daunting task. What advice can you give that would make the data cleansing process less intimidating?
PA: Well, first of all you should do it constantly; it shouldn't be a once in a while thing. You should return the incorrect or wrong data to the person who put it in incorrectly. You shouldn't have someone else fixing it for them, because otherwise they never learn. People aren't doing things wrong on purpose, they sometimes just don't understand the implications of what wrongly entered data means. A key to getting your data cleansed is to get it cleaned all the time, and make sure the people who are in charge of putting it know why they're doing it and the impact of it being wrong.
CB: Don’t be afraid to hire help on data cleansing and look for people that you could later transition to long-term roles in your agency. Some people hire temps to help with data cleansing, and that’s great, but then after a year they walk out the door with that knowledge. Look for people you can commit to training and retaining because they are more than capable of learning the in’s and out’s of Epic. The other thing that I think is exceedingly important is to involve your service staff in your data cleanup questions and answers. Operations on its own holds only 50% of that knowledge. You need that service team to explain some of the data that you see, and to also help you clean up moving forward and to create a realistic plan. You cannot do a conversion or a cleanup in a vacuum. You need all members of the team.
Applied Epic is an incredibly intuitive system that has been revolutionizing the way insurance agencies and brokerages handle their data. With each update and iteration of the system, the user capabilities increase. However, Andree and Bavaro agree that the system yields the best results when its users perform their due diligence on the front end when it comes to data entry to ensure the data output is ideal. Above all, clean data in Applied Epic makes for smoother business operations.
Tags: Operations , Data , Applied Epic , Connections Magazine , Data Cleansing