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Mobile Technology: Is the Industry 'Ready?'

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For at least the last 5 years or so, pundits, nerds and other assorted technophiles have been asking when the insurance industry will be “ready” to embrace wireless mobile technologies in its day-to-day operations.

While Internet-ready phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), Blackberries and notebook computers are literally changing the face of the way business is done in many industries, the insurance sector has steadfastly resisted the urge to conform. It’s not that wireless has completely taken over the U.S. infrastructure, but its use, even in other parts of the financial services industry, is generally far more widespread than in the insurance industry.

Yes, I and others have written that insurance is generally about 5 years behind the bleeding edge when it comes to technology adoption, but shouldn’t that put us now on the precipice of a major shift to mobile applications? We’ve had our 5 years to hem and haw, so are we “ready”?

Let’s consider this question. Readiness is a funny concept, and the meaning we take from it is often quite context-dependent.

For example, high-profile boxing announcer Michael Buffer usually begins his center-ring spotlight spiel by exhorting the crowd, “Let’s get ready to rumbllllllllllllllle!” Now, he’s not telling the audience to get up and start throwing haymakers at each other (as entertaining as that might be). He is telling all within the sound of his voice to be prepared for what is to come: the thrill of the gratuitous violence that is about to unfold.

Is the insurance industry “ready” for mobile technology in the sense of being prepared for something new and exciting? Not likely. Remember, insurance is an industry that has thrived on maintaining the status quo–in other words, avoiding risk. Excitement and newness sound so, well, risky!

For another example, the singer in the 1970s group Bad Company declares, in a song of the same name, that he is “ready for love.” Now it may shock some of you (especially considering the band’s name) that he is not referring to meaningless rutting behavior, but is actually talking about a relationship. The lyrics reveal someone who has walked down a “rocky road” in life, is now back on his feet, and realizes he is now prepared for a loving relationship. For you classical music fans, we’re talking about maturity here.

So how about this version of “ready?” Has the insurance industry benefited by years of experience and matured to the point where it is now prepared to take the next, responsible step technologically? I wish I could say it were so, but when it comes to maturity–technologically speaking–the insurance sector remains a hopeless tadpole in a world of bullfrogs.

If you log on to ., you’ll be asked to consider the question of how ready you are for an emergency, such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. This site encourages readers to stay informed and make a plan.

OK, so is the insurance industry “ready” in this way, as in prepared to handle the worst situations that could arise? If another Katrina hits and on-site adjustors need to do business from an area where phone lines are down, is there a wireless backup that can fill the void? For some, generally agents, the answer is yes, but for far too many in this industry, if there is no dial tone, there is no answer.

It was recently reported on National Underwriter’s Online News Service that new research from TowerGroup indicates the time is right for U.S. insurers to aggressively exploit the business benefits of an enterprise mobility strategy.

“Given the strides made by mobile technology vendors in functionality, bandwidth and devices, mobility solutions for the insurance industry are increasingly reliable–and can yield significant value if developed within a coordinated strategic initiative,” said the researcher.

All that may be so, but the real question is the fundamental query with which we began. Is the industry ready for mobile technology?

Offhand, I would say we are more ready to play golf, dine at elite restaurants, and enjoy the fruits of our unique status as a service that most Americans are compelled to acquire.

Until and unless the younger and more tech savvy among us can become more aggressive in implementing and utilizing technology, we will never be fully ready to rumble in the world of mobile technology.