Scott Embree's greatest fear was making the wrong decision; not because he was worried he would lose his business, but because so many people depended on it for their livelihoods. So after being told that a critical piece of software, one that his company relied heavily on, was going obsolete, Mr. Embree was forced to make a decision that could affect the future of his business.
In 1996, Mr. Embree left southern Ontario to study commerce at Mount Allison University and, after graduation, he took a job with Sears Insurance in Sackville, N.B. The company was founded by Ken Sears, and as Mr. Embree became more involved with the business, he saw the opportunity it presented. In 1996, when Mr. Sears decided to sell the business, Mr. Embree acquired the business along with two partners.
Since buying Sears Insurance Ltd. in Sackville, N.B. in 1996, Mr. Embree has been steadily growing the business, adding staff and expanding into new markets.
Like other businesses, the insurance industry relies on information technology and software to manage the day-to-day tasks, from developing quotes, issuing policies, renewals and endorsements.
A couple of years after buying the business, Mr. Embree was informed by his software vendor that they would no longer support the product they had used since 1986. The software played a key function in his business and he knew he had to find a suitable replacement. And fast.
With a deep understanding of the company's departments, as well as an interest in IT, Mr. Embree felt comfortable making the decision. But he also recognized that he wouldn't be the one using the software and that every department had particular needs. How could he make a decision that included his staff but that wouldn't take significant amounts of time?
To help him make the right decision, Mr. Embree set up a committee of members including himself, an IT staff member, an agent from the personal and commercial insurance lines of business and an accountant. The team represented the various user groups within the business who would be using the system on a daily basis and had unique information and management needs. The committee made a list of functions they wanted in the new system to provide, along with a timeline.
The group next solicited quotes and demonstrations from five leading vendors. Each vendor was invited to an off-site presentation after which three were shortlisted. After further scrutiny, the committee decided to buy the new system from Custom Software Solutions Inc. based in Manitoba. The process, which started in August, 2000, was complete by December, and the new system was up and running by February, 2001.
Mr. Embree knew how difficult it would be to introduce such a dramatic change. Including various groups in the decision-making process was instrumental in getting buy-in from staff, and to make the transition seamless manner. Realizing the success of the strategy, Mr. Embree has used a similar approach in tackling other issues over the years.
The company has since doubled its business since the new software was implemented. And as a matter of policy, Scott and his team regularly compare their software solution with other available products. So far, he says, they are happy with the decision that they made.
Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University .
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.