Email
Newsletters
R&I ONE®
(weekly)
The best articles from around the web and R&I, handpicked by R&I editors.
WORKERSCOMP FORUM
(weekly)
Workers' Comp news and insights as well as columns and features from R&I.
RISK SCENARIOS
(monthly)
Update on new scenarios as well as upcoming Risk Scenarios Live! events.

Ara Trembly

Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

Column: Technology

Beware the Internet of Things

By: | October 15, 2014 • 3 min read
Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

In case you missed it, the technology world is all about “the next big thing.” We are all breathlessly awaiting the next technology pronouncement that will — pundits like me say — be essential to your enterprise or to your larger organization. And it goes without saying that anyone who doesn’t buy in to said pronouncement will be left whimpering in the proverbial dust by their far more tech-savvy competitors.

Advertisement




Let us then consider one of the hottest new technology concepts—and ruminate on how this concept will affect the insurance industry. Behold, the Internet of Things (IoT)! According to Techopedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a computing concept that describes a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the Internet and be able to identify themselves to other devices. The term is closely identified with RFID as the method of communication, although it also may include other sensor technologies, wireless technologies or QR codes.”

Why is this so important? “The IoT is significant because an object that can represent itself digitally becomes something greater than the object by itself,” says Techopedia. “No longer does the object relate just to you, but is now connected to surrounding objects and database data. When many objects act in unison, they are known as having ‘ambient intelligence.’”

Admittedly, this still sounds rather academic and esoteric, but the people at Cisco make a very telling comment on their web site. According to Cisco, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects accessed through the Internet, as defined by technology analysts and visionaries. These objects contain embedded technology to interact with internal states or the external environment. In other words, when objects can sense and communicate, it changes how and where decisions are made, and who makes them.” (Italics mine)

Now we begin to see the importance of this technology in general and for the insurance sector in particular. Anything that impacts on our decision-making process is certainly significant. But just what kinds of “objects” are we talking about?

“The IoT is connecting new places–such as manufacturing floors, energy grids, healthcare facilities, and transportation systems–to the Internet,” Cisco explains.

“When an object can represent itself digitally, it can be controlled from anywhere. This connectivity means more data, gathered from more places, with more ways to increase efficiency and improve safety and security.”

It also means many more ways for criminals to interfere with operations and/or steal confidential information. It’s one thing to have the appliances in our homes communicating with each other to automatically provide appropriate lighting, temperature control, food preparation, video monitoring of our premises, etc., but it is quite another to have, say, an entire city’s power grid exposed to multiple points of hacking. And what about all that confidential data that sits on healthcare systems?

Advertisement




The IoT is clearly a two-edged sword. It will (or should) allow far more automation of manufacturing and transportation systems, which should result in higher efficiency and (insurers take note) greater safety. Unfortunately, every “object” or device now becomes a point of access—offering an opportunity for mischief, or perhaps more serious crime. In a strange, antediluvian way, the very fact that most of today’s electronic devices are not connected through the Internet provides a layer of data security that can and will be lost as literally anything that runs on electric power becomes an Internet object.

Beware the IoT.

Share this article:

Column: Technology

Project Managers Reduce Internal Risks

By: | October 1, 2014 • 3 min read
Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

I was very interested to see a recent report from “Computer Economics,” which noted that IT organizations today are relying more on professional project managers (rather than staffers) than even a few years ago.

The report speculates on several reasons for this trend, including new technology adoption, regulatory compliance issues, outsourcing, and the ever-present mandate to do more with less.

If those reasons sound familiar to insurance industry readers, they should because they are oft-cited as technology issues for our quiet little sector of the technology universe.

Advertisement




The report also points out, “Perhaps the most pressing reason for the growth in project management personnel is that many organizations have a poor record of bringing IT projects in on time and within budget.

Worse yet, many projects fail to meet key requirements, and some never reach completion. Much of the work in IT organizations today is project-based, and IT managers realize that project management is a critical element in delivering successful projects — and thus, value — to the business.”

It’s a well known fact in Information Technology that IT projects fail at a rate of 65 percent or more.

Again, all true of the insurance sector, but I would add that while successful projects are highly valuable to our business, the failure of such projects is a major risk — especially in this time of intense competition and shrinking insurance margins.

Yes, many projects do fail to meet requirements or are never completed, and this can mean losses well into the millions when one considers the time (often years), resources (both human and financial), and software and hardware investments that accompany a major project such as modernizing a legacy insurance system or ripping and replacing all or part of a policy administration system.

It’s a well known fact in Information Technology that IT projects fail at a rate of 65 percent or more. With the sword of that number hanging overhead, it is a wonder that insurers undertake any such projects.

But, risky as they are, IT projects are obviously necessary for insurers that want to deliver products and services more quickly, not to mention those that want to keep pace with their technologically active competitors.

Obviously, we in the insurance industry want to reduce this risk factor, and turning to professional project managers is a logical step toward reducing the possibility of failure.

Prior to the recession, according to the CE report, project management staffing levels averaged a full percentage point lower than they are now. “The data indicate that project management becomes more valued when budgets are tight and projects are being altered or outsourced,” it said.

According to the Project Management Institute, its Project Management Professional (PMP) credential “is the most important industry-recognized certification for project managers, and demonstrates “experience, education and competency to lead and direct projects.”

Advertisement




Isn’t this just what we are looking for to keep our insurance IT projects as low-risk as possible? This is not to say that some of the folks already within our enterprises are not capable, but when failure has such significant implications, we must take whatever steps we can to ensure success.

It makes great sense for insurers to either get their IT staffers certified by one of the bodies that does such certification, or to bring in individuals who are so certified to oversee their critical projects. Whatever reduces risk should be warmly welcomed.

Share this article:

Column: Technology

Can We Trust Driverless Vehicles?

By: | September 15, 2014 • 3 min read
Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

Several years ago, I read a story about a man who purchased a brand new mobile home. One day, while driving along, he decided he needed a cup of coffee, so he set the mobile home on cruise control and walked back to make said coffee.

Needless to say, the vehicle ran off the road and crashed. It turns out this story wasn’t true, but it does reinforce the idea that technology left alone in a moving vehicle may not be a good idea.

Advertisement




That brings us to the subject of the proposed driverless car, a topic on which I have opined previously.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal notes that, “Between now and 2016, an increasing number of car makers will offer ‘traffic jam assist’ systems that take over braking, steering and acceleration for vehicles inching along in low-speed traffic. It is a far cry from Google Inc.’s vision for a car that can drive itself in all conditions, but auto makers and suppliers have long taken the view that quantum leaps typically take place one mile at a time.

At first, this seems like a very appealing concept. I was recently stuck in a monster traffic jam on Interstate 95 in South Carolina, and I certainly could have saved a great deal of effort and aggravation over the hour or so that we crawled along if my car simply took over all the stops and starts while I grabbed a nap.

But I also remember that during this mind numbing event there were several times when people, including children, got out of their cars to walk around on the roadway.

Common sense and true concern for the safety of drivers demand that we strike a balance between technology that reduces risk and gadgets that actually increase the danger by removing responsibility and accountability.

Would my “traffic jam assist” recognize that potential hazard? And would the software alert me when the road was clear again? One wonders.

Auto industry executives, the Journal says, intend to offer systems that can robotically pilot a car at speeds up to 40 miles per hour within the next five years or so.

“Meanwhile, federal safety regulators say they are still conducting research on the potential safety and benefits of autonomous technology.”

Well done, regulators. Any technology that substitutes itself for the alertness and judgment needed from a human driver is risky by definition.

Ask yourself how many times your own computer fails to work quickly — or just quits working, necessitating a reboot or some other fix. Most of us have come to accept these glitches as a fact of life, but motoring down the road at 40 mph (and I’m sure it will be faster as time goes on), there would be no time for a reboot.

As I noted in my previous writings on this subject, accidents involving the inevitable failure (even if it is only occasional) of such technology could be a nightmare for insurers who need to assign risk and pay claims.

Advertisement




Certainly, technology that automatically brakes before my car can smash into anything is a potential lifesaver. The real danger is from technology that allows or encourages human drivers to stop paying attention, because the human brain understands things about risk that a computer chip may not.

Common sense and true concern for the safety of drivers demand that we strike a balance between technology that reduces risk and gadgets that actually increase the danger by removing responsibility and accountability.

Share this article: