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There was a time, not too long ago, when an agency principal needed to know little about automation, and when incorporating technology into a strategic plan meant making sure the office had a fax machine, photocopier, PCs and voice mail. Staffing for automation involved training your staff on word processing and, perhaps, spreadsheet software.

Times have changed. Staying competitive means going beyond phones and faxes. It even calls for more than just installing an agency management system. Today, successful agencies must use all the features of existing systems, and understand and use new solutions. And they must incorporate workflows that make the office operate more efficiently.

Managing New Technology

For smaller agencies, its tough to justify a full-time technical expert. What happens instead is that the CSR supervisor doubles as an onsite technical expert or some similar arrangement is made. While this works to a degree, to delegate all automation responsibilitytactical and strategicleaves agency principals in the dark on this key component of an agencys operation and success.

Principals cant afford to do that. Instead, we must lead technology. We need to understand how automation impacts workflow and vice versa, look at the big picture, and make decisions on the role technology will play in our offices.

It is equally important for principals to be involved in automation and workflows, so we can better deal with our carrier partners. Carriers certainly have no shortage of technical talent. As they go headlong into launching a new Web site portal, unveiling a new online capability or functionality, or turning off paper without full consideration of the impact on an agent, we must speak up. Its increasingly critical that the voice of each and every agency principal is heard by our company partners.

Get Involved with Tech Groups

I have found tremendous pleasure in being involved in agency technology planning and implementation. I take pride when automation and workflows come together to boost efficiency. And I relish seeing more productivethus happieremployees. But I also enjoy working with other principals, producers, carrier staff and vendors to help drive the technology direction our industry is taking.

I encourage more agency principals to get involved. Many technology groups exist that are dedicated to advancing technological needs of the agent through discussion with companies, vendors and other agents. Some groups center around agency management systems, while others are consortiums geared toward technology or agency operations.

The good thing about these groups is you dont need to be a computer geek to fit in at their meetings. In fact, most meetings are business discussions on workflow and how to capitalize on agency management systems and other technology.

On a local level, these committees generally come out of state or regional agent associations. Agency management system user groups also have local chapters to encourage exchange between agencies, vendors and carriers. Nationally, agency associations and agency management systems groups also bring together users for similar purposes but at a higher level.

New and more agents must step up to the plate, get involved in industry efforts and recognize that technology should be part of a strategy they can help drive locally and industrywide.

Technology Rubber Hits the Road

Forward-thinking agency principals recognize that marketing and economic factors demand that agencies grow and expand. To do this often requires change. And agency principals should be integrally involved in that change. Thats what leaderships all about. While that sounds good in theory, specific examples demonstrate the need even more.

For example, agencies no longer can say it would be nice to go paperless. Paper, and the processing of it, costs every insurance agency in the country time, money and space, and without good cause. Agency principals must start imaging, so the workflow lets CSRs get a document using the agency management system and discuss it with the client, fax it or e-mail it directly from their computers.

In the past, an agency principal had to do three things: sell insurance, read insurance publications and attend CE classes. I propose that getting involved in technology is equally important. We cant hide our heads in the sand and use automation only as needed, if at all. And we cant ignore the fact that the competition is getting more streamlined and efficient.

Agencies that plan to grow their business, set up perpetuation and meet best practices guidelines must make technology a top-tier element in their business plan. That requires getting involved. Its worth finding or creating the time to volunteer with a technology group.

is vice president and co-owner of the Warwick, N.Y.-based Seely & Durland, Inc. insurance agency. He is immediate past-president of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based Applied Systems Client Network (ASCnet), the international user group of Applied Systems technology. He can be reached at sdurland@seely-durland.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, November 11, 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.