Las Vegas

Technology is advancing so rapidly that, according to one IBM expert, “by 2015, we will have enough computing power to match the power in the human brain.”

Daniel Yellin, director, Software Technology Services and Software for IBM Research, Hawthorne, N.Y., said trends are moving in a direction that will put “tremendous computing power at our fingertips.”

Speaking at the recent IASA Educational Conference and Business Show held here, Yellin told participants that such technology advances would allow insurers to “evaluate the value of your customersas lifetime customersto your enterprise.” He added that real-time analytics and fraud detection are also just around the corner.

Insurance, and financial services overall, are changing technologically in two ways, he explained. First, more and more companies are moving away from “doing everything on their own” and are outsourcing some operations. “Companies are interacting with each other much more, and that leads to best-of-breed products.”

Second, he noted, insurance companies are trying to break down information “silos” based on products and distribution channels in order to share distribution and to leverage data components across different enterprises.

Such progress, Yellin said, is and will be fueled by increasing computing ability. “Technology isnt just doing the same things faster, but it enables new things to be done,” he asserted.

“The dramatic improvement in information technology will continue,” he noted. In the area of data storage, he pointed out that while a DVD today contains an entire movie, “in the future, on a single device, will be Blockbuster [Video].”

One technology that will enable business advances is grid computing, which takes advantage of the unused processing power in idle computers within an enterprise, said Yellin. “Computers hooked together on a grid can use unused power to do calculations you couldnt do before,” he pointed out. This means that while a financial advisors computing resources today may be able to analyze a portfolio in about four minutes, “on the grid, it would be seconds,” he stated.

On the other hand, Yellin indicated that the reign of Moore’s Lawwhich holds that computing power will double every 18 monthsis coming to an end, in that progress will be somewhat slower. The main barriers to continuation of such increases are physical, involving power consumption and heat problems, he said.

Over the long term, technology will get a tremendous boost from work being done in quantum computingcomputing based on new discoveries in the field of quantum physics, he noted. In the “medium term,” new chip materials and technologies will enable growth in computing power.

In the short term, said Yellin, “75 to 80% of performance improvement will come from faster caches,” storing information closer to a computers central processing unit in order to increase performance. New and better middlewaresoftware that bridges the gaps between disparate systemswill also be a key area of growth, he added.

In the area of storagea critical one for the data-intense insurance industryhe said that while data storage needs are increasing exponentially, the information technology industry is also bringing new storage products to market faster. He pointed out that the cost of storing data on a hard drive “is well below the cost of paper.” He predicted that in the future, “all customer information will be onlinea lifetime of information,” allowing insurers to mine that data and use it to improve business processes.

On the sometimes sticky issue of aligning business and IT interests within companies, Yellin said software modeling technology would enable IT to tailor software that would represent important business concepts. He noted that business and IT developments will converge, with IT projects being broken down into “chunks” that are services being offered to the business.

A key issue will be using IT “to give the business the information they need to govern the business,” he stated. He said that will involve “helping IT manage business processes in terms they can understand and implement.”

Of special relevance to insurance, said Yellin, is the concept of “ubiquitous computing” or “pervasive devices” that help make processes more efficient. He cited telematicsdevices that enable cars to communicate with outside entities, and vice versaas an example. Telematics, he noted, can help drivers get navigation information or get “context sensitive” advice on a particular trip.

He added that the technology would help enable “pay as you drive” scenarios in which one’s auto insurance could be rated in real-time via a global positioning system in the car. “That rate measures real risk,” he stated.

Such technology would also enable comparison of before and after pictures of a damaged vehicle (taken with a digital camera) to help adjustors be more productive, Yellin observed. Use of grid technology at the same time could also do fraud analysis, helping to determine whether the damage occurred as claimed.

Increased used of mobile devices and growing computing power will enable great strides in business processes, Yellin said, but security problems with such wireless devices “may impede growth in the industry.” He asserted that industrywide standards on security and privacy are needed to overcome such problems.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 16, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.