Technology adds speed and efficiency to business processes

By Mark E. Ruquet

Independent agencies looking to increase their efficiency can find an ally in wireless technology, according to one chief executive whose agency has embraced it enthusiastically.

Debra Zambrana, chief administrative officer for Gateway Insurance Agency, says her agency has abandoned old-fashioned notebooks and pens for the advantages wireless technology has to offer.

“Were a pretty innovative agency,” says Zambrana. “As soon as we found out we could get wireless, the next thing you know, we all had wireless. We knew, as soon as we heard about it, we could find a way to make it work for us. And thats what we did.”

The agency has three locations in FloridaFt. Lauderdale (where it is based), Bartow and Lake Worthand 107 employees, many of whom are utilizing the new technology.

Blackberry, a wireless, e-mail messaging system, is standard equipment for employees to send and answer e-mails when they are out of the office. Managers and producers carry laptops capable of sending updated data from the road, by e-mail, to the office.

“People can respond from wherever they are at,” Zambrana explains. “Our producers now can go out to a client and can connect via wireless technology to our agency management system and update the files immediately following a meeting.”

One producer even has gone so far as to mount his laptop in his car.

“When he leaves an appointment, he goes out into the parking lot, gets in his vehicle and sends e-mails to the account manager, or indicates in some way, to someone, what happened in the meeting he just attended,” she says.

Another advantage to wireless is that with three different locations, the agencys managers can move from office to office and not have to worry about finding an empty desk with a computer to work from.

“We have wireless points installed in our offices,” Zambrana explains. “I recently went to our Lakeland office, and I took my laptop so I could work anywhere in the office. Im not a regular employee there, so they dont have to keep a desk with a computer there waiting for me to arrive. I just bring my laptop, sit down anywhere, log in to the server and work.

“Its fantastic, the convenience,” she says. “I dont have to kick someone out from their desk, or hope that someone is out sick when I go to our other offices. I just can plant myself anywhere, even in a lobby, and go to work.”

The agency uses Verizon wireless cards for its laptops and the Blackberry devices are enabled with the same Verizon wireless system. The current wireless system is not quite as fast as they would like, she notes, but in the beginning of the first quarter of next year, the agency expects to upgrade to wireless broadband.

Installation was not difficult. Having state-of-the-art technology people and a staff eager to upgrade to the latest technology made it even smoother, according to Zambrana.

“We have people who want to do things the easy way,” she notes, speaking of the agencys producers. “They dont want to have to write things on a piece of paper and then hand it to somebody. They want to be able to put it into an e-mail immediately following a meeting and get it to their account manager. It saves them from having to come back into the office. They get to do what they do bestsell.”

However, she admits, the initial investment in wireless may not be cheap. For Gateway, purchasing the hardware and paying the monthly maintenance fees may cost as much as $2,000 per agent annually, she estimates. The annual maintenance cost for the wireless card alone runs about $950 per agent.

Zambrana adds, however, that “the payback is tenfold, in our opinion, in efficiency and functionality.

“Im not sure if it is really a function of saving time as much as it is being more efficient,” she notes. “The agent still does what he has always done, but instead of writing it on a piece of paper the agent e-mails it. Its a lot easier to e-mail something than to write it out, hand it to the account manager and re-key it into the system. When an agent sends an e-mail, we just can [electronically] attach it to the clients file without having to re-input anything. It cuts the amount of time we spend on an account by half.”

Mark E. Ruquet is an assistant editor for NUs Property & Casualty Edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, September 23, 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.