In the tech guru business, one can’t be at a loss for words, but believe it or not, I’ve had a really difficult time deciding what to focus on in summarizing my experience at the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum, held recently in Las Vegas. Certainly, it’s not that nothing noteworthy happened. On the contrary, there was just so much going on that it’s really difficult to condense it all into this space.
Let me start with the positives.
ACORD and LOMA did a really good job in their education sessions at achieving their separate goals of promoting standards and providing information to help improve the efficiency of insurance organizations.
The sessions I attended were well thought out and occasionally spiced with a bit of controversy–in stark contrast to the sterile, self-promotional offerings we’ve seen at previous events. While there was still too much self-promotion, the panels especially were more interesting and less scripted than similar offerings in years past.
On the theater-of-the-absurd side, we had a less-than-startling headline coming out of the latest AUGIE survey. The more than 7,500 agent respondents noted a press release, “Point To Workflow Frustration, Needed Changes.” No! Really? And here I thought most independent agents just loved the variety offered them by hundreds of proprietary insurer Websites and administrative systems. Live and learn.
Can anyone explain to me why we continue to ask agents to spend their valuable time answering survey questions to which we already know the answers? (To be fair, there was some interesting information coming out of the survey on agents’ lack of ability to protect customer privacy and to secure their data. That actually was new and useful. Quite a breakthrough, I’d say.)
Meanwhile, technology giants Microsoft and IBM continued to fight it out at the forum for platforms and services dominance in the insurance space.
Microsoft announced its Insurance Value Chain Architecture Framework–which, according to a company representative, “helps insurance customers buy pre-integrated Microsoft partner applications.” At the same time, the representative dubbed IBM’s insurance architecture “proprietary and monolithic, based on IBM product suites and requiring massive consulting contracts to implement.”
Kevin Kelly, managing director for the U.S. insurance industry at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, explained that “our strategy is to deploy innovation through our partners and through our easy-to-understand framework that is specific to insurance business processing. That reduces integration expense and allows you to choose among the partners.”
IBM hit right back. The company’s new Global Insurance Industry general manager, Norbert Dick, said of Microsoft: “They have not grown up in the insurance industry. They are not insurance-specific. Their new product is a dramatic change, but we started doing this 12 years ago.”
The emphasis, said Dick, should be on business process transformation to increase efficiency and speed workflow for insurers. “This is where IBM is by far more mature [than Microsoft],” he added. “IBM has been ahead of this for years now. Microsoft is more proprietary.”
In the meantime, software giants SAP and Oracle remained interested onlookers, perhaps hoping to swoop in and grab more insurance business while the platform providers battled each other.
If nothing else, this will make for a fascinating next two years as companies are bought and sold, and alliances are forged in an effort to secure a business advantage in the lucrative insurance technology market.
On the show floor, the consensus among exhibitors was that most of the traffic they were seeing consisted of other exhibitors. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing–especially if those other exhibitors are your customers.)
The real problem, though, was the obvious divide between the property-casualty and life and health universes. At last year’s ACORD LOMA Forum, life and health vendors complained there were too many p-c customers roaming the aisles. This year, the situation flip-flopped, with p-c vendors decrying the presence of too many life and health prospects.
After last year’s conference, I said LOMA and ACORD should hold separate shows that address their very different aims. This year, the organizations did a much better job of balancing the programs and exposure at the conference. The fact remains, however, that as long as the p-c and life and health camps remain so starkly different, discontent will be the norm.
The lesson, and perhaps this year’s truly startling forum headline, would be: “Oil and Water Still Don’t Mix.”