Watch For 2003s Blockbuster Hit: Attack Of The Killer Acronyms

Technology Enabled by Ara Trembly

In the 1978 blockbuster (and I use that word only in the video store sense) hit, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, the countryside is ravaged by hordes of rogue, man-eating tomatoes who have escaped from the ubiquitous “secret government program.”

I vividly recall one horrifying scene in which someone is standing at the sink washing dishes when one of these bodacious berries (yes, they are actually berries) issues forth and consumes said dishwasher. I have since thought it wise to avoid washing dishes–paper and plastic really arent that expensive, and my water bill has dropped by pennies.

But back to the movie: The giant fruit seem to be winning out against their human foes until the films hero figures out how to shrink them. He does this by playing an insipid teenage ballad called “Puberty Love” (so many jokes suggest themselves here, none of them, alas, in good taste).

In any case, the ploy works, the tomatoes shrivel and are subsequently pureed by triumphant humans. The world is safe once again.

But who or what will save us from a more insidious attack on our sanity and our very businesses that has its roots in the technology sector? Im talking about the Attack of the Killer Acronyms!

Irvine, Calif.-based IOGEAR, a maker of technology accessories, conducted a telephone poll of 500 California consumers on this very subject in August. The survey found that 76% of these consumers “are fed up with IT acronyms that they dont understand.” According to IOGEAR, such terminology has prevented 54% of those surveyed from purchasing products.

Of course, as a tech guru, I cant completely condemn the use of acronyms. They do make communication simpler, at least as long as everyone understands them. But there lies the problem–not everyone comprehends the true meanings of important acronyms.

Lets take a look at some of the technology acronyms our industry needs to be concerned with for 2003 and talk about what they really mean.

CRM. Long-time insurance technology observers know this refers to customer relationship management, but a lookup on the very useful Acronym Finder Web site (www.acronymfinder.com) yields a total of 47 possible definitions. Some of the alternatives include: clinical risk management, client relationship management, chief radio man, certified risk manager, and cause related marketing. Obviously, this combination of letters is way overused, which is not a good thing for effective communication.

Ideally, CRM involves the use of technology to gather information on customer wants and needs; that information is then used to tailor products for groups or even individuals. Its a great idea made possible by powerful technologies, but in the insurance industry it has been a colossal flop. According to industry analysts, two-thirds or more of CRM projects fail.

The primary reason for this failure is best summed up in the real definition of CRM: “Cant Read the Manual.” The sad fact is that many of the companies that purchase CRM software never go to the trouble to find out how to use it. Instead, they dump it into the laps of their IT people, who do what they can to make it available to the company at large. Unfortunately, without buy-in from the top and fundamental changes in the way the organization does business, CRM software is about as useful as a fire extinguisher in hell–results will be minimal, to say the least.

CRM is still being sold into our industry, but the ones who are really making big bucks are the systems doctors who come in to fix the damage caused by failed implementations.

Advice for 2003: If youre even thinking about CRM, read the instructions and make sure your organization is committed to the sweeping changes necessary to make it work.

ROI. With the failures of big-ticket items like CRM and the languishing economy, “return on investment” became the mantra for most technology product buyers in 2002, and who can blame them?

Some companies, in fact, are requiring ROI within one year for any technology product or they wont buy it. This is unfortunate and shortsighted, especially in companies where fundamental technology infrastructure changes are needed.

Certainly, if youve done this kind of updating in the past two years, tweaking systems with solid-ROI additions makes sense. But if your technology infrastructure cant support the important technologies now emerging in the financial services market–Web services and wireless networks, to name two–now is not the time to go on the cheap. To do so could leave your organization dangerously behind when the economy does fully recover.

Advice for 2003: The real meaning of ROI is “Replace Old Infrastructure.” Enough said.

ASP. This particular acronym returned 89 hits on Acronym Finder, so lets be clear that were talking about an application service provider.

Simply put, ASPs provide applications (software programs) to companies or agencies via the Internet or the companys Intranet. The advantage to the firm is that it doesnt have to host the application in-house and that software updates and patches are done automatically by the provider. ASPs often cite reduced cost to the customer, but there is some debate on that issue.

There are a number of potential drawbacks to the ASP model, however. First, there is the possibility that a companys Internet link will go down (and whose doesnt at some time?), leaving the firm without the needed software. Second, there is the issue of Internet security, which is very weak in many cases. Third, there is the reluctance by companies–and agents in particular–to put critical data in the hands of a third party.

When ASPs were first talked about, I recommended that potential buyers exercise great caution. Now, several years later, Im less cautious, but only slightly less. An ASP can be a real blessing to an organization that has little or no information technology expertise in-house. It can also be a nightmare if the link is broken or if the information transfer provides an opening for hackers and other malicious creatures.

Some ASPs have done their homework and have gone above and beyond in implementing security measures. Some have also provided “basic” software on disc, so clients can still use the software, at least on a limited basis, when the connection goes down.

Advice for 2003: The real meaning of ASP is “Adopt with Some Prudence.” Take a long, hard look at the advantages and disadvantages of this delivery mode. If it makes sense for you, make sure the ASP you choose has solid clients, solid security and a solid backup plan for when the online connection isnt available.

AUGIE and AARG. Ive had a lot to say about the ACORD User Groups Information Exchange over the past year or more. AUGIEs purpose, you may remember, is to help establish standards that enable insurance systems to speak the same language. The group held closed-door meetings and eventually came up with research on what agents want and need in the way of technology. Unfortunately, that research told us nothing we didnt already know.

Now we have AARG (ACORD Agents Resource Group), a group that seeks agent input into the electronic standards development process. Now, I could be mistaken here, but that sounds an awful lot like what the first group is doing or should be doing.

An ACORD spokesman told me that while AUGIE sets up initiatives, AARG is there to provide a business perspective, a vehicle to get into the “nitty-gritty” of standards issues. Apparently, AUGIE didnt do that.

So, we have yet another sub-group formed to deal with some discrete slice of the problem pie, while the entire confection grows moldy over time. Surely Im not alone in feeling frustrated over this situation.

This rampant creation of committee upon committee upon study group upon study group is in large measure responsible for the phlegmatic pace of technology advancement in our industry. It is a textbook example of the well-known “paralysis by analysis.”

Advice for 2003: The next time someone wants to talk to you about AARG, just throw your hands in the air and scream the acronym out loud. In doing so, you will have expressed the real meaning of the term–”Another Annoying Research Group.”

Have a happy, blessed and acronym-free New Year.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 30, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.