By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2005-05-23 Email Print this article Print

UnitedHealth Group's David Astar almost can't help collaborating with his CIO. They sit in the same room, along with his other technology execs.

Scope Creep'">

How to Prevent 'Scope Creep'

For Santelli, the challenge is making sure Astar's constant feedback system doesn't turn into "scope creep," leading to costly—and unbudgeted—expansion of features.

Santelli says the way to work around frequent changes is to keep the end goal in mind, which is to ultimately process 90% of claims automatically. "We have to manage scope creep, but the way around it is understanding what you're trying to do," he says.

The claims system was rolled out to four transaction centers and Uniprise's Minnetonka location beginning in September. The system is currently being fine tuned with more locations being added in the first half of 2005. The payoff so far: In pilot sites, processors who had been able to do roughly 27 claims an hour are now hitting 40 claims an hour.

By pushing those efficiency gains, Astar is striving to automate as much of the business as possible. So far, the effort seems to be working as customers are increasingly using channels other than the telephone to interact with UnitedHealth. Call volume has dropped from 36.2 million in 2003 to 30.3 million today. And those savings can add up quickly. For instance, if the work time involved in a telephone call costs UnitedHealth $6 a pop, that's a savings of $35.4 million over two years.

Astar says portals are also critical to his automation goal. The company's MyUHC Web portal now handles 81 million transactions, up from 45 million in 2003, and Astar is hoping it can process more. He's planning a redesign and adding new capabilities to entice customers to use the portal for more transactions. Astar was mum on what new features the portals will have.

That project would bring Astar and Santelli full circle. Four years ago, Astar, who had recently joined UnitedHealth as a senior vice president of technology, was handed responsibility for developing UnitedHealth's portals. Santelli was project manager at the time.

"Four years ago, John was the development lead for the portals and we've been tweaking ever since," Astar says. "That project never really ended. A lot of them don't. We see things end to end."

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH)
9900 Bren Rd. E.
Minnetonka, MN 55343
Phone: (952) 936-1300
Fax: (952) 936-1949
www.unitedhealth group.com

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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