By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
Insurance technologies ebb and flow. Some of them stick, most disappear forever. Still others are reborn in a different form.
Here's a look at what seems to have generated the buzz, for whatever reason, this year.
Mobile platforms: This is going to have traction, according to Wausau Financial Systems, a vendor in the mobile payments space. With 87 percent of the U.S. population owning a mobile phone, consumers and small business owners are more likely to take notice on text messages coming across their phone than they are wading through spam clogging their desktop e-mail.
The application could have particular relevance for small insurance claims. Said the president of a Dallas-based auto insurance company that insures cars by the mile, mobile platforms are coming and they're coming quickly, particularly with people under the age of 25. The more channels a company can use to sell products or service clients, the more likely such companies will be perceived as reliable, in the minds of Generation Y and the millennials.
"IBM last month allowed employees to use social networking tools, and other companies along the way will follow suit," said the director of sales for one software vendor at the 81st Annual Insurance Accounting & Systems Association meeting. "It's not bad for business, it's the way these kids were brought up. Kids today can type 60 words a minute, watch TV, listen to radio and surf the Net."
Yes, but that's still a far cry from managers processing a $50,000 business interruption claim over an iPhone or BlackBerry. Or how about a $3 million property claim from one of the nation's largest companies? Will the mobile platform ever crack that market? Perhaps, but in the short run. we wouldn't bet on it.
Server suites. Leaving the mobile platforms for the more established "server side" of the enterprise technology architecture, Pagos, the small, Farmington, Conn.-based developer of business logic software, has been promoting its new SpreadsheetWEB product designed to convert Excel spreadsheets into Web applications and then host them instantly on SpreadsheetWEB servers.
The application, designed for business users, not IT geeks, helps solve inconsistencies in data, according to Ugur Kadakal, president and CEO of the company. It's an idea that holds promise. If every accounting manager collected just 1 cent for every time they came across an inconsistent data point, they'd be retired poolside instead of hoofin' it through yet another conference exhibit hall.
Consistency of experience: Not long ago, carriers could slap their brand on a direct-mail campaign or a Web site homepage without worrying much about whether the experience offered customers much consistency. With the multiplicity of channels--customer service, call centers, agents, affinity partners, third-party Web sites, Internet aggregators--creating a consistent user experience is more important than ever. Whether issuing a new policy or paying a claim using one channel or another, the consistency of the experience of the so-called "presentation layer" is paramount.
When's the last time hum-drum billing applications made the top of a carrier's to-do list? The slower economy has once again made billing the new darling of many a carrier's IT department. During any given year, with 100 percent of insurance buyers receiving a bill but less than 10 percent filing a claim, we wonder why attention to billing ever wavered in the first place. Billing is back. In truth, it never really left. If carriers want to get paid, they need to bill their clients.
Indexing: A back office application that rarely rises to the front page of the C-suite agenda has, thanks to the full-court press on compliance by regulators in the wake of the financial meltdown, jumped several notches on IT agenda. Carriers that can't find documents to prove there's no rogue unit operating in the satellite office in London are not going to be doing themselves any favors with regulators. Taxpayers now own all or significant chunks of big-name carriers, AIG and Hartford, for example. Carriers had better know exactly where Uncle Sam's money is going, lest they be called to the carpet by septuagenarians on congressional subcommittees wagging their index finders.
Services-Oriented Architecture: The talk of insurance tech conferences two or three years ago--SOA--barely made it into the technical sessions agenda this year. Was it because managers were intimidated by the price tag and long implementation phases of a true SOA project? More likely, managers' budgets have been cut by the C-suite. Smaller budgets have a habit of dimming ambitions, narrowing project scope and scaling back on consultants, who often stand the most to gain from big IT projects.
IFRS and U.S. GAAP: True, there was no shortage of sessions devoted to international financial reporting and its comparisons to U.S. GAAP and statutory accounting, as there are every year at IASA. In fact, an entire "supersession" was devoted to comparing international and U.S.-based accounting systems. Because the changes haven't yet gone into effect, IASA jumped the gun offering these sessions. We appreciate IASA's attention to its core audience, but if it's too soon to shed clarity on the matter, organizers are better off filling their session air time with other issues. We'll check back with this issue next year.
September 1, 2009
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