Translating Web hype into reality is critical
Everyone agrees the Internet quickly has become an invaluable tool in today’s insurance world, with many insurers racing to take advantage of the new technology as the most efficient means to interact with their employees, distribution channels, service providers, and, of course, their customers.
Online quoting, purchasing, self-service, bill pay, and other functionalities are fast becoming ‘must haves’ for insurers to meet heightened expectations of today’s tech-savvy consumer and agent.
However, as insurers rush to provide Internet-delivered services, they’re finding their current policy administration systems frequently lack the flexibility and compatibility to reach out effectively to the Web. While these systems may be adequate for the ‘old’ way of doing business, they weren’t designed to meet Internet-age expectations. Modifying or extending these systems to meet anywhere, anytime service demands and direct, user-friendly customer access is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.
The answer for many companies is to replace their current policy administration system with one built on a technology platform that will not just work with the Internet but embrace it, leveraging the Internet to its full advantage.
Some may view this as just another incremental step forward for an industry that has long searched for technology that could deliver on all those unfulfilled promises of infinite flexibility, scalability, functionality and security. However, Web technologies really can deliver, breaking the chain of incremental changes that historically have failed to meet expectations. But, knowing how to translate endless Web hype into reality is critical to every insurer as they evaluate new systems and technologies.
Unfortunately, the Web does not allow technology buyers to forget the warning, “Let the buyer beware.” Potential buyers are frequently a bit befuddled amid software vendors making grandiose soup-to-nuts claims with a barrage of Web-tech jargon.
So, how does an insurer know which solution to choose? Virtually every technology company claims their solutions were built for today’s insurance Web world. But, how do you distinguish the best from the rest? How does someone differentiate between the endless Web claims–Web-enabled, Web-based, 100% Web, and more?
Software vendors claiming their policy administration system is Web-enabled often mean the solution originally was developed as a Windows- or mainframe-based application, but a Web front-end has been added as an alternate access method. This approach allows insurers to provide user access to a limited subset of functionality through the Internet, but the system itself is essentially unchanged from the ‘pre-Web’ version. While this might be a good interim approach, it does not address most insurers’ strategic need to provide more functionality, nor does it offer any improvement in the creation and deployment of new products and processes.
In Web-enabled systems, only rarely is the Web front-end seamlessly integrated with the core application. As a result, the addition of the Web interface frequently increases system complexity and associated costs for maintenance and enhancements. While systems that have been Web-enabled can allow companies to meet short-term objectives to deploy some Internet functionality, they fail to deliver longer term flexibility and efficiency.
“Web-based” solutions are generally next-generation systems that go beyond Web enablement. Unfortunately, this term is vague and currently used to describe everything from “re-platformed” legacy systems to new Web technologies to systems designed and built as Web solutions to component-based solutions delivering Web services when and where needed.
Differences between these options can have significant long-term implications. It’s essential to decipher vendor Web jargon into useful information. Here are a handful of key questions that should be asked of every vendor with a ‘Web-based,’ ‘true Web,’ or ’100% Web’ solution under consideration.
Is the solution written in a Web language?