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Megawatt analyst's Southern glow.

Southern Co.'s risk management information system used to breeze along at a leisurely pace, tracking historical claims and payments before converting the data for claims administration. But six years ago, Elizabeth Morrell, who used to brief auto mechanics on the benefits of UNIX, joined the company and that's when Southern's RMIS system really got to work.

By combining her rigorous training in risk management and skills in technology with a soft-spoken manner that quickly puts people at ease, Elizabeth M. Morrell is helping the Southern Co. manage the diverse risks that come with running a giant electric utility.

As senior risk analyst in dais Fortune 500 company's risk management department, Morrell acts each day as a bridge between the complex worlds of risk management and technology by helping her co-workers use technology to manage their risks

"I'm able to take complicated computer systems and translate what they do into terms so that people with limited technology backgrounds can understand them," says Morrell, who joined the Southern Co. six years ago at the age of 25 as administrator of its risk management information system (RMIS). "I enjoy the challenge and problem solving aspect of the job--the chance to take something technical and arcane and explain it--to help people make their jobs easier."

The Southern Co. is one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States and delivers nearly 39,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity to households, businesses and industries throughout the Southeast. And with about 26,000 employees and the minute-by-minute delivery of a product that carries inherent life-threatening risks, this regional energy company's risk managers need to be on top of two important risks: claims for public liabilities and workers' compensation. Morrell helps claims managers and staff across the six operating companies of this Atlanta-based holding company--which administers its own self-insurance program--tap into technology to identify loss trends, project future losses and reduce the cost of claims.

"I'm a one-person help desk for anything involving our risk management information system, from fielding routine user questions and report requests, to teaching reporting workshops and developing loss forecasts," says Morrell, who completes her tasks during a 20-hour work week from her home in Powder Springs, Ga.

For example, a recent project involved a request from a claims supervisor at Alabama Power Co., one of Southern's operating utilities, who was getting ready for a presentation before a group of power delivery engineers. The manager wanted information on the frequency and severity of certain types of property damage claims associated with the installation of new electric service over the prior three years. By targeting certain causes of loss and helping to quantify the costs associated with those claims, Alabama Power's risk services group was able to help the power delivery engineers fine tune their loss control efforts.

"Electric safety, for the public and our employees, has been such an integral part of what we do for so long, that high severity claims like electrical contact burns are very rare," says Morrell, who holds a bachelor's as well as a master's degree in risk management and insurance from Georgia State University in Atlanta. "But our RMIS also captures information on high frequency, low-severity claims, like appliance or electronics damage, that we can share with power delivery and other groups to drive down claims costs and improve customer service."

Morrell says the risk management information systems used by corporations have become increasingly sophisticated since the systems were first developed more than three decades ago.

"They've grown dramatically and gained more robust capabilities over the past 10 to 15 years," says Morrell, adding that the systems have expanded from simply providing data on claims to giving a company detailed information on its exposures and the insurance policies themselves. "Now you can track the claims and see how they are affecting your policy and aggregate limits. You can benchmark your losses to your exposures."

As chairwoman of the Technology Advisory Council of the Risk and Insurance Management Society, Morrell is helping risk managers in all industries work with their insurance carriers to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their data management. Morrell began leading the Technology" Advisory Council's data standards task force in 2000, became its vice chair in 2001 and is now serving as council chairwoman for the second year. Morrell's long-standing relationship with RIMS goes back to her junior year at Georgia State University as a recipient of a scholarship from the Spencer Educational Foundation Inc., which is affiliated with RIMS. And as a graduate student in the risk management and insurance program at Georgia State University, she spoke at the Spencer Foundation's annual luncheon for RIMS directors and chapter presidents in 1997. But she wasn't alone. Her first daughter, six-day-old Sara, was with her at the conference.

"I had been a Spencer scholar my junior and senior year and I had received a graduate scholarship and I didn't want RIMS to think I was going to disappear off the face of the earth," says Morrell, who is also now the mother of 4-year-old Emily, along with 7-year-old Sara. "The support of the Spencer Scholarship has had a huge impact on my life and Bob's. RIMS helped me get started."

And Morrell isn't the only adult in the family whose career meshes the crafts of risk management and technology. Her husband, Bob Morrell, is one of the founders of Risk Laboratories, a company that created a data warehouse system for risk managers in 1994. The other founder was George Netherton, a former director of risk management for the Coca-Cola Co. and one of Elizabeth's mentors during the early years of her career. Another mentor was Gary Meggs, the director of risk management for the Southern Co., who later turned out to be her future boss.

"There's plenty of people who can do the programming and understand the technology, but it's a very rare person that can make that information understandable to the users," says Meggs, director of risk management at the Southern Co. Meggs has known Morrell for a dozen years and watched her grow through her years as a university student and as a professional. "Elizabeth's also very good at building relationships and getting consensus among people," he adds.

In addition to the capacity to successfully handle many tasks simultaneously, one of Morrell's strengths is the ability to bridge the gap between technology and risk management.

A native of Georgia who now lives in the same community outside Atlanta in which she grew up, Morrell first learned about computers as a 10-year old as she helped her father, an accountant, prepare data for the tax return season. But she was bitten by the computer bug the summer after a freshmen college year that had been spent studying English prose and poetry, at a small liberal arts college. The computer knowledge she absorbed that summer from her new boyfriend (now her husband), who was a computer sciences major at Georgia Tech, prompted her to drop her plans to study English literature. Instead, at age 18, she took a summer job in the Atlanta office of London broker Miner Inc. and stayed on as a software support specialist for more than 18 months.

Morrell held several jobs, including one at Genuine Parts Co. that had her "explaining the UNIX software system to auto mechanics." That developed her technology skills before she headed back to university in the mid-1990s to gain her risk management degrees.

Morrell says it has been very satisfying to take Southern's risk management information system from a "sleepy, lightly used system" tracking historical claims and payments and convert several decades of data from Georgia Power into a common platform for claims administration across the system. Today, Southern's risk management information system can interface with its human resource, payroll, accounts payable, general ledger and even outside vendor systems. Payments are processed, checks are cut, and workers' compensation benefit payments are imported from outside sources, such as BlueCross. And, she says, the re-keying of information into a computer by different departments is dramatically reduced.

"This job lets me use my communications skills, my people skills and my technical and analytical skills," says Morrell, adding that the flexibility of her part-time schedule allows her to home school her two daughters. "It's my dream job."
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Title Annotation:Profile
Author:Green, Paula L.
Publication:Risk & Insurance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 15, 2004
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