Jul
31

Champion Change – Key Considerations When Adopting New Insurance Agency Technology

by Kris Hackney

Today, you are currently facing a number of changes in the industry – increasing industry consolidation, the evolving workforce and new consumer experience expectations. You are required to do more with less time, particularly smaller agencies or brokerages where individuals are asked to fill multiple roles and manage many disparate tasks. To ensure maximum productivity and technology gains, agencies and brokerages are reviewing their internal technology strategies to ensure their systems are advanced and flexible enough to respond quickly to new market opportunities.

Adopting or switching technology can be a daunting task – there are a number of associated resource requirements and expenses with these projects that require thoughtful consideration and planning. When evaluating implementation approaches and methodology, there are two distinct ways to view the move-forward strategy: one is focused on the best steps to champion change and the other lacks clear focus and purpose which can lead to a challenging transition. As shown below, these are two diverging paths – one ultimately leads to recognized benefit from the technology investment while the other leads to team frustration and adverse productivity.

Change-Management_Chart

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How to Become a Change Champion at Your Agency or Brokerage

When evaluating if it is the right time to make a technology change – whether adopting a new self-service software or switching management systems – consider the following stages to success to become a change champion within your agency or brokerage:

  • Awareness and Understanding:
    Provide compelling business reasons for the change
    As agencies and brokerages continue to evaluate their growth strategies – both organic and acquisitive – they are in tandem assessing their internal infrastructure to ensure it can support expansion. To support growth goals and continue to attract and retain new clients and employees, they require integrated software that delivers consistent workflows, standardized data, and a modern architecture that is scalable for growth. Consistent workflows provide your business with universal procedures across locations and office branches, as well as simplify employee on-boarding and training. Standardized data provides a single view into your agency’s or brokerage’s book of business, enabling you to better service your clients and identify opportunities to cross/upsell. Finally, as technology continues to become even more embedded across all enterprise functions, your business needs to look to  software best built to integrate additional technologies such as mobile applications,  business intelligence (BI) tools and customer self-service portals that will further drive business efficiencies and support superior client servicing.
  • Engagement and Acceptance:
    Change is a team effort – get everyone on board
    In any organization, change management requires well-defined business benefits, objectives, and structured steps to be successful – and adopting new software is no different. Clearly communicating why change is needed and the benefits of implementing new software to all stakeholders in the transition helps to build buy-in from the start. Teams need to foster a partnership approach, examining strategic areas of the business to make operational, process and training improvements based on insurance technology best practices. Throughout the implementation process, your business will discover insights that increase ROI by optimizing business operations and service practices. Change is never easy, but by setting expectations and preparing your staff thoroughly, you can quickly derive benefits from your investment.
  • Testing and Action:
    How to avoid bumps in the road
    Key focal points in your transition should be centered on data, workflows, staff education, and business continuity, ensuring that you maintain daily business operations to continue supporting clients and prospects. When beginning any software conversion, you should consider what data needs to be transitioned. When evaluating moving management systems, look at the process as being similar to moving to a new home: you take the time when moving to consider what items to move into your new home and what you no longer need; you don’t simply move everything from your existing home to the new one. When making the transition to a new management system, data quality is critical to your success. Also, focusing on workflow development can be critical in driving overall efficiency and reducing time spent onboarding employees to a new system. As implementation of a new management system can take up to several months, it is critical to involve employees consistently throughout the process. In doing so, your business can obtain critical insight on how your technology has been used to date and identify opportunities to better leverage your technology investment. Additionally, employees then feel more involved in the decision-making process and are motivated to support adoption of the new management system within your organization. I encourage you to identify “champions,” those eager and excited about the change, early in the transition process and involve them in every step along the way.
  • Commitment:
    The means are worth the end
    Many agencies and brokerages have been on the same systems for well over a decade, and their users are comfortable with the status quo. However, the benefits of modernizing agency and brokerage technologies outweigh the challenges of change. Advanced, integrated technology enables businesses to customize and automate operations, further improving staff productivity and allowing you to focus more time on attaining and servicing customers. The key to success is going in with realistic expectations, strong executive sponsorship, and a focused commitment to change.

What hesitations does your agency or brokerage face when it comes to changing technology, processes or procedures?

Kristin HackneyKris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the company’s Professional Services, Support and cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.

Jul
22

Advice on Data Migration from the Experts

by David Degroot

Everyone’s been talking about data this year – how to secure it, analyze it, and why you should pay attention to it. It’s an important topic.

So what’s the key to improving the overall health of your business? Clear, accurate data.

The best way to streamline and organize your workflows? Managing your data.

Need to get everyone on the same page and boost client and agent relationships? Data again.

Data-Migration-Blog_ResourcesIt’s definitely a big concern, and for those of you who are in the midst of or considering moving to a new management system, maintaining the health and integrity of your data is critical. As the VP of Technical Services at Applied Systems, I live, eat and breath data. Over the last five years we’ve managed more than 3,800 data migration and merger projects from multiple systems. This represents over 10,000 individual databases delivered within that same time period. We’re very familiar with some of the most common issues that agencies face. Some agencies see data migration as a daunting challenge and let this delay their conversation to a new system. Following a well-defined process makes this transition much smoother with less time and a faster return on investment.

Evaluate the Data in Your Current System
To make your move to a new system successful, you will need to spend time taking a thorough inventory of the data in your current system. Why? The answer is simple.

I recently read an article by Oracle that calls accurate data “the raw material that maximizes the value of enterprise applications.” In short, it’s what makes your new system worthwhile. Taking time to evaluate, organize and update your data at the beginning of the move will maximize the return once your new system is in place.

It’s likely that you’ll have data from the very beginning of your business and from every employee you’ve ever had. Not all of it will be necessary to move to the new system, so I recommend that as you evaluate, you determine the value of each portion of data, and make sure you keep a record of it.

Next, ask yourself some questions. When is the last time you examined your data? Have entries been kept up to date, or have they been duplicated or saved in different locations? How accurate is your policy and coverage information?  What about lists of clients and prospects? You can utilize the reporting tools in your current system to generate a more accurate look at what data you have, and what might be missing.

That brings me to the next step: updating. This is something you’ll need to determine early, because there are two ways to do it. You can clean and modify your data prior to conversion, or you can manage it as part of the conversion process.

The key here is to acknowledge that the data conversion process is one of the most critical elements of the migration, and you will most likely have to make updates to your existing data. Be sure that your timeline includes enough time to make any and every correction you might need.

Develop a Data Transition Plan
Planning is one of the key steps to transitioning your data. You won’t just need to move it to a new system; you may also need to convert it into a new format that works better within the new framework. Creating a solid overall timeline with completion dates will help you lay out a roadmap to the conversion and migration process, and ensures that you include ample time to test your data.

In a recent article, Steve Forte of OneNote recommends doing “dry-runs with large data sets to flush out inconsistent source data,” and I couldn’t agree more. You’ll want to identify the areas where data is incomplete and inconsistent as early on in the process as possible to allow you time to run these tests.

Investing the time to make sure that the data you are migrating will be as accurate as possible in your new system is possibly the most important step you’ll take in this process. Treat the conversion of your data from the old system to the new with as much care and attention to detail as possible, and you’ll be much more likely to have a successful implementation.

Get Staff Up to Speed
Naturally, migrating to a new system will involve training for your employees, but you can significantly ease the process of transitioning by carefully planning the training process from the beginning. Besides ensuring that everyone is up to speed at the right time, requesting additional training for your staff creates additional resources when reviewing the data conversion process. When scheduling training courses, consider the dates of completion and aim to have all training completed by the time you’re ready to perform your data testing.

Implementation
This shouldn’t be like opening the flood gates. Oracle recommends that you move your data to the new system in stages, and use both systems together until the new one is fully functional. I support this approach for a couple of reasons. First, it will give you additional time to ensure that staff are fully trained and comfortable with the new system. It also allows you to ensure that you have fully completed evaluating your data. You can catch any remaining gaps or incongruences that may need to be addressed.

Running both systems and migrating data gradually can make things more complicated however, so it is critical to set up safeguards that allow you to track what data has been migrated and how it’s working in the new system. That may extend your migration process incrementally, so you may want to consider whether this is a viable option at the beginning of the planning process.

Regardless of how you choose to go about the final implementation, making sure that your data is as accurate and up to date as possible is going to smooth the process immeasurably. It will also put your mind at ease.  If you’ve taken care to ensure that everything is as complete as you can make it, then you’ve already done the hard part.

What tips do you have when it comes to data migration?

Dave-DegrootDave DeGroot, vice president of technical services, is responsible for data migrations, integrations, and infrastructure assessments. DeGroot joined Applied in 1989, and since that time has participated in numerous product development initiatives including Applied TAM, Applied Vision, Applied Epic, and many custom development projects.

Jul
16

3 Ways Technology Can Boost Agency Productivity

by Michael Howe

In the not too distant past, consumers went to independent agents for all of their insurance needs – whether simple or complex – because insurance was often an elusive concept to the man on the street. At the same time, insurance coverage was considered something everyone must have so when insurance-related questions came up, many consumers’ initial instinct was, “I have to talk to my agent.”

Over the past few years, this paradigm has shifted toward consumers being much more willing and able to build an understanding of their needs. This trend is broadly seen across nearly every industry and is accelerating in Insurance. While the trusted relationship with an agent is often still crucial, insurance consumers today are researching, purchasing and interacting with the insurance industry in new ways, and increasingly on their own terms. In working with agencies and end consumers around the industry, we think the shifting behavior of consumers can be summarized in two key ways:

  • The Knowledgeable Consumer
    This consumer actively researches insurance online and consults their peer network prior to purchasing policies – either online or in person. How can you quickly and effectively service this consumer before they research other options or take their business elsewhere?
  • The Always-On Consumer
    This consumer wants information anytime, anywhere via any device be it smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. This consumer doesn’t want to stop by your office for an auto ID card or certificate of insurance. How can you give them access to their insurance information when and where they want it?

One thing these two types of consumers have in common is the expectation for instant access to information and we see this expectation playing out in insurance: consumers expect similar servicing from their insurance agent or broker. From an agent’s perspective, providing a mechanism for online service allows for an improved experience by allowing consumers the flexibility to interact you’re your agency when and how they want. And while there may still be a window of opportunity for this to be considered as a differentiator for the agency, the day is approaching where nearly every consumer will expect and demand it of the agency. Consumers that don’t have this immediate accessibility and flexibility will take their business elsewhere. Further, by pushing common transactions online, agencies can free up resources to focus on higher value service interactions with consumers.

Of course, as seen across nearly every industry, advanced technology can and should be a key elements of the agency strategy to meet these business objectives and the evolving expectations of insurance consumers. Agencies and brokerages are able to become more productive with relative ease thanks to enhanced data, mobility, better communication, and increased adoption of third-party apps and other tools.

As an agency considers their business strategy, I’ll suggest there are three key considerations when it comes to the role technology solutions can play:

1. Standardize and Dissect Your Data
First, ensure data accuracy within the agency management system and in workflows:

  • Standardized Workflows
    To the extent it makes sense for your business, workflow consistency can yield real productivity gains and help capture comprehensive and better customer risk and demographic information your agency can use to better market, account round and engage customers. By leveraging standardized workflows, agency owners are ensuring data entry is consistent across an agency – regardless of location. Additionally, standardized workflows reduce the number of workarounds conducted by staff – increasing productivity at the outset and reducing any potential time spent rectifying workarounds at the back-end. The end result will be improved quality and completeness of the underlying data.
  • Business Intelligence
    Over time, agencies and brokerages generate an immense amount of data – yet it can be difficult to access, analyze and understand that data and meaningful ways. Business intelligence (BI) solutions are one way to help turn all of that data in to information. For example, principles can identify which of their producers are using their time most efficiently and driving the most revenue for the business. Principals can also evaluate how effectively their business is cross-selling and quickly identify new market opportunities. While traditional reporting can take hours if not days, BI solutions present your information in immediate and visual ways that drive new insights, enabling you to make more effective decisions to improve productivity and business growth.

2. Think Easy Access

  • Mobile Technology
    New mobile technology affords producers all of the benefits associated with management system access within an office, without having the producer tethered to a desk. This allows them to be more productive and to respond to clients and prospects more quickly and in the manner current and prospective customers want and expect. For smaller agencies, where employees wear multiple different hats within the organization, giving your employees access to tools when they’re away from the office is critical.
  • Online Access
    Consider how your business can leverage the cloud to drive productivity gains. The ability for service staff to work from home via the cloud, when needed, supports work-life balance and allows business to go on regardless of unexpected events.

3. Time Is Money

  • Paper No More
    Evaluate ways to become an all-digital agency and eliminate paper. Agencies and brokerages should leverage electronic signature and delivery of client documents, which reduces the time and expense of mailing paper copies.
  • Carrier Information Exchange
    Productivity gains have increased over the years as carriers improved their interface and as agencies better understood how and where to enter data in carrier systems. The vast majority of agencies use personal lines policy detail download to reduce rekeying of data, saving, on average, 81 minutes a day per employee. In addition to download, using real-time for service and rating saves agency employees up to an hour per day. Policy download yields daily time-savings of nearly an hour and a half per department employee for personal lines and nearly an hour for commercial lines. Take the time to automate communications with your carrier on the front end to save more time over the long term.
  • Online Client Self-Service
    As mentioned earlier, today’s insurance consumer increasingly expects information anytime, anywhere. Agencies need to provide clients the ability to access policy and billing information on their terms, which helps strengthen relationships, ensures high retention rates and drives revenue gains. Self-service functionality can increase staff productivity and decrease costs in commercial lines, as well as personal.

Technology will allow you to work faster and, in-turn, will redefine the products and services you offer to your clients. While working faster is one thing, using technology to provide mobile access, enhanced communication and streamlined procedures to more quickly serve clients will also drive new business and customer retention.

T-23010_Blog-Banner_ProductivityEbook
How does your agency use technology to stay productive?

Michael HoweMichael Howe, senior vice president of product management, is responsible for the strategic direction of the Applied product portfolio. Howe joined Applied in 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software. He formerly served as senior vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Aptean, a global provider of industry-focused enterprise software. Prior to Aptean, Howe held senior executive management positions at SAP and other leading software companies.

Jun
25

[Podcast] What You Should Know About Data Security

by Applied Communications

 Guests:

Tim-Sander_1
Tim Sander
Senior Vice President
IT and Cloud Services
Applied Systems
David-Gerlach_1
David Gerlach
Director of Information Security
Applied Systems

Data security is more important than ever as information has become increasingly digital. Insurance professionals need to be aware of the risks to their business and how to safeguard their data against cyber threats. In this podcast, Tim Sander and David Gerlach of Applied Systems discuss data security in the insurance industry and how agencies and brokerages can protect their data against cyber threats. Sander and Gerlach speak to data security measures you can take at your agency or brokerage, including mobile security, software patches, antivirus solutions and best practices to create a safe working environment.

Here are highlights from our conversation:

  •  Applied Systems: Why is data security more important than ever?
  • Tim Sander: Data security seems to be a very big topic for everybody. At this year’s World Economic Forum, cyber attacks landed on the global risk list for 2015. This risk is heavily evaluated in the United States and government is pushing corporate America to do more to protect their information. Yet, we continue to see an increased number of breaches.In the report by the California Attorney General there were 187 breaches documented within the state of California just in 2014 and 75% of those come from small to medium businesses. Hackers aren’t just targeting the large Home Depots, Target and the IRS (situations you hear about every day); this is a growing problem for all of corporate America. This means that we have to spend more time on educating, not only the general public, but also the insurance industry. Specifically, agents need to become more aware about what exposures are within their systems and how they can provide better coverage options for their insureds.
  • Applied Systems: Do you think insurance professionals are generally aware of the risks their businesses face against cyber threats?
  • Tim Sander: Overall, the industry is doing a better job addressing the needs of their customers as it comes to cyber risks with various policy options. However, I don’t believe that agencies and brokerages are necessarily taking the right amount of time to evaluate their own risks.Agency management system databases contain tens of thousands of records with personal information. With the cost of data breaches on the rise, (documented by the 2015 Ponemon Institute report) it’s now $259 per record for the financial services sector. This is a risk that can’t be overlooked.It’s no longer about hackers attempting to get to specific things. It’s more about hackers firing off a million requests in hope that they receive a 1% response. Whatever that information is, that data then becomes the subject for the next big story. This means that the old methods of placing a firewall and installing anti-virus software on a workstation or PC are no longer enough. Protecting against threats today requires continuous evaluation of the risks, the measures to protect those risks and requires investment in people, process and technology.
  • Applied Systems: Are insurance professionals starting to take action to safeguard themselves against cyber threats?
  • Tim Sander: I think there’s a false sense of protection that it (data breaches) “only happens to the big guys.” It’s important that we continue to evaluate what’s necessary to protect our own business. Applied can provide strategic counsel on how to help you evaluate and leverage technology to better protect data. We have solutions within our offerings that help decrease the risk by moving data out of localized environments.
  • Applied Systems: How are we addressing some of these risks here within Applied, both from our own corporate perspective and then in our Applied environments?
  • David Gerlach: One of the first things we do is we conduct a thorough risk assessment of the environment. We look at asset profiles. We look at the business impact of those profiles being compromised. We understand the threats that those assets face, as well as calculate that risk and then try to mitigate those risks.We’ve also moved into taking that information and really developing a strategic plan around our security program. As Tim had mentioned, Applied invests a significant amount of time and money and resources into continuing to improve our security program.A few things David noted from the security program:

    1. Backups:
      Traditionally, a lot of companies leverage a paid backup system. We understand the risks around paid backup from both a security and a business continuity perspective and therefore we’ve moved to what we call a replicated disk-to-disk technology. What that allows us is two things. One, faster uptime, faster recovery. Two, getting away from taking tapes, a physical asset and sending them offsite and procuring a very detailed asset management program to understand where every tape is and where it’s offsite at. By moving away from those tapes, we’ve really killed two birds with one stone.
    2. Encryption:
      All our customer databases in our online environment today are encrypted with ADS-256 encryption. That really helps prevent any accidental loss of sensitive or protected information.
    3. Physical security controls:
      Within our Applied online data centers, we have very advanced security facilities. We use biometrics, complex video surveillance and we have strict access control policies.
  • Applied Systems: What should agencies do to address cyber threats?
  • David Gerlach: It’s about understanding your risks. You need to identify those risks and have, what I would call, an in-depth risk assessment strategy.A few steps David mentioned to build a strategy to address cyber threats:

    1. Leverage cloud solutions
      Leveraging technologies like the Cloud is really not a bad thing (as some people have come to think). It’s actually a good thing as long as it’s a reputable cloud solution.
    2. Understand your system and software
      If you’re not securing your work stations, your laptops, your phones, etc. that’s a potential breach point for you.
    3. Know what your employees are downloading
      One of the things we see in the security industry is a lot of people are downloading software from less than credible sites. Sometimes pirated sites. That software almost always includes additional items that you don’t know you are downloading. A lot of malicious software; viruses, spyware, malware, you name it. Always be very careful what you and your employees are downloading. Always make sure it’s credible.
    4. Educate your users
      I was at a conference yesterday and the FBI was there and they said, “If we could just stop users from clicking on attachments, URLs and emails, we’d probably cut down 98% of malware that exists in the world today.” Before you click on that email, look at what that email says and who it’s to. If it seems malicious, urgent or just doesn’t seem right, don’t click on it. Just delete it.
    5. Create an acceptable use policy
      What can they (your employees) do with the information they maintain and what can they do with the information assets that they’re using? What can they not do? That’s part of an acceptable use policy. Something that I’ve always encouraged every agency to pursue.
Jun
19

[Video Blog] Productivity Insights from a Best Practices Agency

by Applied Communications

Frank SwingleGuest: Frank Swingle, CEO, Swingle Collins & Associates, IIABA Best Practices Agency
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Swingle Collins & Associates CEO Frank Swingle has worked in the insurance industry for more than 30 years so he knows how to run a successful agency. With summer approaching, we wanted to find out how Swingle Collins & Associates keeps operations on track because interestingly, U.S. statistics have shown a sharp decline in workforce productivity during the summer months. Watch this video to learn how Frank defines productivity and what his agency does to stay productive year-round. Frank also discusses how insurance has “turned into a real-time business” in order to meet the increasing demands of today’s digitally savvy consumers and shares insights into agency business practices.


Jun
03

[Podcast] Mark Breading – Business Intelligence Is Changing the Game

by Applied Communications

Mark Breading HeadshotGuest: Mark Breading, Expert in Advanced Technologies for Insurance
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Length: 14:54

Mark Breading, partner at Strategy Meets Action and a recognized expert in advanced technologies, has more than 30 years of insurance and information technology experience and is known for his perspective on innovative uses of technology in insurance. In this podcast, Mark provides insight into Strategy Meets Action’s recent “Maturing Technologies Report,” which highlights that more agencies are adopting business intelligence (BI) tools to promote growth and transformation of their business than ever before. He discusses key trends driving business intelligence adoption, including greater system integration, expanded insights and advanced analytics, and explains how BI solutions can give you critical insights to help your business get ahead.

“I truly believe agencies that don’t invest in BI and try to run the business the way it’s always been run, are going to be at risk.”
–Mark Breading

In this podcast, Mark answers these questions around business intelligence:

  • (00:20) What business intelligence trends are you currently seeing within the insurance industry? Do you think that these trends have any implication on independent agencies?
  • (02:41) You reviewed survey findings last year regarding independent agencies and their adoption of BI tools. Since last year, have you witnessed any sort of increased adoption of BI tools?
  • (04:18) Are there any specific hurdles agencies are going to need to overcome to implement BI strategies?
  • (08:03) What key business insights can agencies gain through BI tools beyond the traditional reporting capabilities?
  • (10:51) How do you think agencies leverage BI tools to enhance their competitive value?

 

May
28

Your #1 Priority When Disaster Strikes

by Greg Shiple

Hurricane season is right around the corner, running from June 1 through November 30, 2015. Is your business prepared? Recently I’ve read a lot about how 2014 was the least expensive year for natural catastrophes, resulting in 38% fewer insured losses than the 10 year average. I decided to dig into the research around recent catastrophes to see if disasters really are impacting the insurance industry less. If you look at the chart at below from Sigma World Insurance Database, you’ll see that in the last 30 years, total insured catastrophe losses have more than DOUBLED. And not only that, there is minimal trend towards a decrease or increase in insured losses over the years; each year varies dramatically.

Insured Catastrophe Losses

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Despite the optimism of the press, catastrophic events can happen anytime, anywhere. And you can never be too prepared for the unexpected, be it bad weather, a data breach or civil and economic unrest. A recent Travelers study found that 48% of small businesses are operating without any type of business continuity plan, yet 95% indicated they felt prepared. After the recent earthquakes in Nepal, tornados in the Midwestern United States, and massive snow storms in the Northeastern United States at the end of 2014, it’s difficult to imagine a business not having some type of crisis plan. When disaster strikes, people are your number one priority – whether it’s your family, friends, employees or clients – and their safety is the first thing that crosses your mind. From a business perspective, your ability to service your clients is a critical factor – positioning you not just as a trusted advisor, but a loyal partner in a time of need. The business of insurance is about protecting property and assets, and with any business continuity plan, being able to reach customers and be easily accessible is imperative.

Why a Business Continuity Plan Is Essential
Even if you aren’t in an area prone to extreme weather, the increasing connectivity and complexity of growing organizations means that being prepared is more critical than ever. Consider the fact that when disaster strikes, small businesses can lose $3,000 a day, and larger companies $10,000. If that isn’t enough to convince you, close to 75% of businesses without a business continuity plan fail within three years according to the book, “Blindsided: A Manager’s Guide to Catastrophic Incidents in the Workplace.

What You Can Do to Make Clients a Priority During a Disaster
A business continuity plan ensures that you’ll be there for your clients regardless of the situation, and can mean the difference between being ready on day one versus several weeks later (too late, I might add).

Two things you can do to make sure you can effectively service your clients when they need you most:

  1. Protect your data
    One of the best ways to protect your clients’ assets in the event of a disaster is to protect the data in your management system. With cloud technology, you and your staff can access client information from any location using Internet-enabled devices. Employees can retrieve the data they need and return customer calls and emails. Embracing the latest technology provides a solid foundation for your business continuity strategy.
  2. Open the channels of communication
    Proactively communicating with clients is crucial before, during and after a disaster. Once a disaster strikes, restoring lines of communication as quickly as possible is central to being able to support your community as they assess the damage to their homes and businesses. Consider implementing multiple communication channels including:

    • Social Media
      Communicate with your clients on their preferred social channels:

      • If you know of an impending weather event or emergency, post tips on how your clients can get prepared; what items to stock up on, where to go for safety, etc.
      • Tell clients that you are available for assistance and provide them with the ways they can contact you (phone number, email, self-service portal, etc.)
      • Advise clients that you are proactively reaching out to assist them
    • Phone/Email/Text Message
      Actively reach out to clients who might be in distress. Using your management system data, identify clients directly impacted by the disaster and connect with them to show your compassion and concern.
    • Customer Self-Service/Mobile Device Access
      During serious weather- or infrastructure-related events, your clients may be on-the-go to avoid a disaster and/or may have been evacuated. If this is the case, the ability to access your website via a mobile application can be extremely useful. An online customer portal can keep the lines of communication open with self-service capabilities, allowing clients to access their policy information and contact your agency through a 24/7 call center.

Protecting the assets of your clients is the reason you’re in business. And when the unexpected happens, your clients rely on you to be there when they need you most. With a business continuity plan in place, you safeguard not only your own assets and operations against any threat, but ultimately those of your clients.

For more resources to prepare your business for the unexpected visit appliedsystems.com/protectyourbusiness

How has your agency or brokerage helped a client in the midst of disaster? Share your stories with us!

Greg Shiple, Sr. VP of Support at Applied SystemsGregory Shiple, AIS, senior vice president of support, heads the Applied division servicing clients’ technical support needs, support operations, and client retention in the United States, Canada and the UK. Shiple began his Applied career as a programmer in 1986 and was responsible for developing a variety of leading Applied solutions.

May
11

Brokerage of the Future: Adapting to 21st Century Technology

by Jeff Purdy

Brokerage-of-the-Future_Image-In-Blog30 years ago, Universal Pictures released Back to the Future, the classic 80’s comic sci-fi adventure film that took Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett L. Brown back and forth through time in their famous DeLorean time machine. In the sequel, Back to the Future Part II, the characters travel to 2015 where they see inventions ranging from high-tech innovations like hover boards and flat screen TVs to 3D technology. In 1989, those things seemed pretty far-fetched, but 26 years later, nearly every invention in the film exists today.

So what does Back to the Future and the insurance industry have in common? Change. Consumer demands are changing, the marketplace is changing, the workforce is changing – and so too must the ways in which insurance brokers manage their business to begin adapting to the technological shifts and opportunities present today.

Technology enables you to streamline operations, drive efficient business operations and reduce E&O. Simultaneously, it is evolving insurance consumer expectations for constant communication and customer servicing through multiple channels. Like in Back to the Future, the key is embracing technology changes to meet evolving demands. The 21st century brokerage will continue to transform into a digital workspace that’s mobile savvy and data-driven.

Characteristics of a 21st Century Broker:

  1. Stays ahead of the curve
    By leveraging a modern brokerage management system, brokers can quickly scale business operations across multiple locations and easily integrate acquisitions. And through the use of digitally driven interactions and optimized workflows, leading brokerages have gone paperless – cutting costs associated with paper filing and creating additional physical space to expand their employee base. Standardized data also provides a single view into a book of business, empowering the 21st century broker to service clients better and identify opportunities to cross- and upsell.

    Consider this:
    Ensure your systems are modern and flexible. Technology such as the cloud provides anywhere, anytime access to information while protecting important data in a secure online environment away from a physical office. Investing in cloud technology delivers remote access to data, lowers costs associated to maintaining your IT infrastructure and increases business continuity.To improve broker productivity, mobile technologies are breaking down the traditional workspace and enabling brokers to deliver personalized client service away from the office while maintaining access to the latest client information. Consider mobile applications that enable access to your brokerage management system, as the next wave of insurance professionals are more mobile-connected than any other generation. Leveraging mobile can help you attract and retain top talent to drive business growth and profitability.

  2. Meets clients online
    A recent Ovum study found that 74% of consumers now use more than three channel’s when interacting with an enterprise brand or organization for customer-related issues. To deliver superior client servicing, leading insurance brokers have expanded their online presence by building out their company website and amplifying their social presence. This multichannel servicing allows companies to provide the best all-around customer experience, differentiating their business proposition from that of aggregators.

    Consider this:
    To deliver a superior customer experience, empower your employees with the latest software to ensure they can reach their clients at multiple touchpoints, like social, mobile and online. Provide business updates and advice via social media to encourage client engagement. Consider a customer self-service portal that delivers 24/7 online access to policy information and documentation and the ability to initiate and track claims processing. By delivering a multichannel customer experience, you will be able to remain connected to your clients on their preferred channel, increasing client satisfaction, retention and future client growth.

  3. Is data savvy
    According to Forrester Research, data volume in the enterprise will grow 50 times year-over-year between now and 2020. With the exponential growth of data, leading brokers and insurers are evaluating ways to extract and analyze pre-existing data in an easy-to-consume visual format to make more informed business decisions. Brokers can evaluate their book of business to better understand retention rates, growth markets, and leading lines of business. Business intelligence solutions also provide information about business metrics such as how efficiently a business operates, how quickly tasks are being completed, workflow bottlenecks, and how many employees hit their sales goals.

    Consider this:
    Take advantage of brokerage data to better understand your customer and accurately segment. Invest in technology that can enable you to more quickly and effectively analyze data to cross/upsell and determine which clientele are fit for certain products.

Technology is leading brokers into the future. The ability to harness the power of innovative software to automate business operations and meet changing consumer demands will elevate your role as a trusted advisor and further differentiate your business. By implementing technology innovations and becoming a 21st century digital broker, independent brokers are well positioned to accelerate an organization’s growth, profitability and agility both now and in the future.

“Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”
–Dr. Emmett L. Brown, Back to the Future

JeJeff-Purdy-Blogffrey D. Purdy, senior vice president of international operations, is responsible for Applied’s Canadian and UK operations. Purdy began his Applied career in the company’s Canada operations in 1989. In 1993, he was named president of Applied Systems Canada, assuming responsibility for Canada product development, sales, implementation and customer support. In 2002, Purdy relocated to Applied’s U.S. headquarters as vice president of Diamond Implementation and Account Services, departments within the carrier division then operated by the company.

May
06

Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Head in the Cloud

by Kris Hackney

Business-Continuity--Kris-Hackney-Blog-1Has weather ever kept you off the roads and away from the office? Have you ever feared that your data and clients’ data has been exposed to external threats? If the answer is yes to either question, it is more important than ever for your organization to develop a business continuity plan to ensure your business remains financially and operationally viable regardless of external factors or unforeseen events.

Market intelligence firm IDC’s recent survey reported that 72% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) expect to increase their investments in business continuity over the next 12 to 24 months. And 81% of SMBs are considering improvements to their existing business continuity strategies. Business continuity plans require you to assess and adopt technology, tools, and processes that ensure your business continues to operate at all times – particularly when customers need you the most.

From a systems standpoint, the cloud enables agencies and brokerages to protect important data in a secure online environment within off-site data centers. The cloud is a delivery mechanism for IT services and data exchange over a secure network, providing on-demand, remote access to information. Data centers deliver a high level of security and also provide redundancies for power and back-up sites, so in the event a data center is in a disaster location, the redundant site will take over to ensure business continuity.

Moving core software applications to the cloud is fundamentally a decision about how to maximize your investment in the people, systems and strategies to grow your book of business more profitably. With a cloud solution, agencies and brokerages can increase their return on investment as applications and supporting software update automatically, so your business continually runs the latest software without incurring delays or extra expenses that may be required for manual updates.

5 Reasons Why You Should Adopt the Cloud
With spring weather season in full swing and cyber threats on the rise, I encourage you to consider adopting the cloud for these five reasons:

      1. Improve your business continuityWith the cloud, your critical applications and data reside in a secure data center, which provides redundancy for power, Internet access and a physical infrastructure that offers greater protection from natural and man-made disasters and other unpredicted business interruptions. The ability to remotely access and use your core business systems in the event of a disaster enables your agency or brokerage to maintain operations and continue to serve your clients anywhere, anytime.
      2. Reduce costs to maintain and manage IT infrastructure
        The average agency or brokerage staff has .5 dedicated IT personnel, meaning that many insurance agencies and brokerages operate without dedicated IT personnel and lack the expertise to deploy and manage multiple IT applications required in business today, as well as the hardware and software needed to run these systems. Cloud technology eliminates many requirements for hardware and software on-site and can significantly reduce your budget and capital costs for IT. It also reduces the need for personnel to manage IT infrastructure, freeing up time and money to focus more on core insurance activities.
      3. Increase information security and data management
        With weekly news stories on the latest corporate data breach, maintaining data protection has become table stakes for business success and client loyalty. In the cloud, you gain an extra layer of data defense by maintaining critical business information in secure data centers. In addition, your business benefits from implementing more efficient data management and data access processes. The cloud ensures you are running the latest version of your software applications, including any antivirus programs. By offering an exponential amount of data storage, the cloud allows you to focus on growing your business and clients without the concern of running out of storage space.
      4. Provide better customer service
        If weather keeps you at home or travel has you on the road, the cloud provides you and your employees remote access to up-to-date client and policy information using virtually any connected device, enabling you to reach and service clients at any time regardless of location. Instant access to information enables agents, CSRs, producers and others to provide clients faster service that can lead to higher productivity. In addition, reduced staffing for IT allows you to assign more employees to client-facing activities that improve customer service and satisfaction.
      5. Increase your ability to grow fast
        The flexibility of a cloud solution can be ideal for insurance agencies and brokerages that need to scale their business quickly to meet changing needs, such as a business acquisition or rapid growth, without the time and expense of adding or integrating new IT capacity. Since applications are hosted remotely in data centers and accessible via the Internet, new users can quickly connect to systems of record and gain access to data across your business enterprise, improving collaboration and productivity.

Today’s insurance marketplace continues to move at an accelerated pace, requiring you to provide information in a more timely and effective manner in order to enhance your competitive value and serve as a trusted resource. Integrating cloud solutions and emerging communication channels enables businesses to increase their operational flexibility and security while reducing downtime and bolstering connectedness to both an agency or broker’s internal operations and clients, enabling you to uphold your role as a trusted advisor and better service clients at times when you are needed the most.

Learn more about why the cloud makes sense for your business >>

How is your agency using the cloud for business continuity? Share your thoughts below.

Kristin HackneyKris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the company’s Professional Services, Support and cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.

Apr
30

The Mobile Moment: Winning Customers in the Moment of Need

by Ed Higgins

It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m stranded in Newark. With my flight canceled and no knowledge of the Newark area, I pick up my phone and say “O.K. Google, find a hotel near the Newark Airport.”  Then, “O.K. Google, find train transportation from Newark Airport to New York City.” Within minutes, I’m able to book alternate transportation by train and bus to arrive at my final destination. Although I arrived at my destination a little less than 12 hours after originally scheduled, I was able to find transportation and book accommodations before the airline had re-booked my flight, which would have been 3 days later!

This moment makes me wonder how we ever functioned before mobile technology. Consumers like you and me have the capacity to access services that assist us at our moments of need, and insurance customers expect the same experience from independent agencies and brokerages.

Making Mobile a Priority
I think the first time I realized my agency needed to become more engaged from a mobile perspective was when I queued up for an airline departure and realized that several other passengers had digital boarding passes on their smartphones. Later, I saw iPads used to display digital menus and integrated flight update information in the food service areas of a major airline terminal – no waitresses to take orders and the opportunity to get immediate flight updates while you waited, plus access to the Web for anything else you wanted.

Today, limited understating among independent insurance agents of the potential of mobile technologies has kept many from adopting this technology even though mobile can be an incredibly useful tool. The market paradigm has changed and an alarm is sounding for independent agencies and brokerages. When clients have fender benders, can they take pictures and submit claims to your agency via mobile? If your clients are on vacation with no computer access, can they use their smartphones to make a few quick changes to the policies? Does your agency or brokerage offer these options?

Starbucks Knows Mobile
When people are on-the-go, they expect information to be relevant and timely. Starbucks has mastered the art of delivering targeted information at tiny little moments. In a book I recently read, “The Mobile Mind Shift: Engineer Your Business To Win in the Mobile Moment,” author Ted Schadler discusses the mobile movement across the globe. A compelling example he shares is Starbucks’ mobile strategy. Realizing that many of their customers already use mobile devices to surf the Web while in their stores, Starbucks saw an opportunity to “connect with customers” who were already online.

Starbucks identified three types of mobile moments:

Starbucks Mobile Moments

Click to Maximize

Loyalty Moments
Starbucks’ capitalizes on customer loyalty by  providing a mobile payment option for customers already at their stores. The company recognized additional loyalty opportunity moments by analyzing traffic patterns throughout the store and plotted specific opportunities to create a loyalty moment.  (Image at right shows the identified moments)

Manufactured Moments
A manufactured moment occurs when you can help a customer with a problem. Another word that describes a type of manufactured moment is “Youtility.” A new buzz word, Youtility occurs when a business helps consumers with problems that are not directly related to the products and services the business sells. By being useful, we can elevate our brand in the minds of the individuals we help. Then, when it comes time for those individuals to buy our products, they will think of us first because of the Youtility we provided in their time of need. For example, Clorox has an app called MyStain that provides practical guidance on how to manage clothing stains. Say you’re at a restaurant and you spill spaghetti sauce on your white shirt. No worries because the Clorox MyStain app tells you how to use products that are most likely available at the restaurant to manage your stain until you can return home to treat it properly.

Borrowed Moments
Finally, a borrowed moment is when you engage someone who is already “someplace else” like on Facebook or some other mobile application. An example would be purchasing advertising space on the mobile app of your regional newspaper.  The “reader” was not there to see you but you “borrowed” their attention from the forum to which they voluntarily subscribed.

Overall, what has become incredibly evident is that we have only BEGUN to see the tip of mobility’s potential and, because it provides opportunities to create truly customized experiences or “moments,” it is changing the world. At my business, Thousand Islands Insurance Agency, and as in the Starbucks’ example, it’s about delivering a small snippet of information at just the right time. Being able to identify, for instance, details of a client’s physical damage coverage and servicing that client at 10 p.m. on a weekend is a great way to build loyalty and a long-term relationship.

No Longer a “Nice to Have”
Mobile is here to stay and the sooner we adopt ways to become “mobile-ly engaged” with clients, the sooner we can take advantage of the benefits that mobile access can provide. An example is the availability of an insurance identification card through a customer self-service portal. We live near a military base where vendors are barred access to the base if they cannot provide proof of insurance at the entrance gate. On numerous occasions, we have driven to the base gate with an insurance ID card to accommodate a client. Now, our customer self-service portal allows clients to retrieve electronic identification cards on demand with their mobile device hence satisfying their moment of need.

Mobility is no longer just a nice to have and independent agencies and brokerages need to think more about staying connected 24/7 – both in the field and with customers. At our agency we use Applied MobileProducer, a mobile insurance app for producers that brings client, policy and sales information to iPad or Android tablets because our producers need to stay connected when they’re on the go. We use it to retrieve information from the management system regarding recent transactions and activities and to confirm coverage when providing clients our 24-hour claim service. It also allows us it to complete documentation during out-of-the-office in-person meetings with clients.

To close, I challenge agents and brokers to better and more comprehensively understand the electronic mobile landscape. Personally, I’ve committed to learning and implementing at least two new useful applications every month for 2015. In these first few months, I have discovered how wide the spectrum of mobile applications is and the variety of solutions that they provide. I encourage you to take the challenge yourself!

Is your business using mobile technology? How are you finding it beneficial? We welcome your thoughts below.

Ed HigginsEd Higgins, vice president of Thousand Islands Insurance Agency in Clayton, N.Y. and chair at Applied Client Network, has been an active independent agent since 1974.  Ed is a Past President of the Independent Insurance Agents Association of New York (IIABNY) 1995-1996. He has also served at the national level of the on Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc. as State National Director representing New York (1998-2002) and as chair of the Agents Council for Technology (A.C.T.) (1998-2003). Ed does insurance agency automation consulting on practical applications of agency automation and other technologies to enhance agency workflow & maximize customer service.