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Road Map to Connectivity

Mobile technology improves both agent and assessor productivity. But, with tighter IT budgets, insurers must distinguish between 'need-to-have' and 'nice-to-have' applications.

User Acceptance Factor recently conducted an assessor survey that took user adoption into consideration. The consultancy's goal was to understand the assessor's workflow process and where the key bottlenecks were. Additionally, customer feedback as to where they found frustrations in the claims processes was relayed. Based on the responses, the study's authors identified possible strategies for wireless solutions. Taking user acceptance and existing equipment into consideration, concluded that because the cell phone is a device that virtually everyone is familiar with and willing to carry around, a data-enabled cell phone would gain the greatest user acceptance. There is, however, a drawback. ""The challenge with that is, it's a little less flexible form factor because it's not an easy user interface to complex data situations,"" says Morgan. ""But it is the most practical to gain acceptance with.""

Although there are many efficiencies to be gained with wireless information transmission, some IT leaders remain apprehensive about sending sensitive policyholder information wirelessly. eAgency Systems Inc. (Newport Beach, CA), a Web and wireless technology provider, is in the process of patenting part of its Wireless Information Exchange (WIX) Platform, according to Bob Lotter, CEO. WIX is unique, claims Lotter, because it doesn't work with a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) browser-based solution. WAP utilizes WML (wireless markup language), an abbreviated version of HTML that was designed to deliver Web content to a user's wireless device by eliminating graphical elements. eAgency believes its WIX platform is more secure than WAP (wireless application protocol). WIX--which is only used by eAgency with the devices of its hardware partners, RIM and Cingular (Atlanta)--is based upon SMTP, an e-mail standard. The vendor says it delivers a more efficient protocol.

Range limitations also need to be considered by insurers deciding whether or not to deploy wireless. ""Wireless inthe US is a hodgepodge,"" says Gene Kim, senior analyst, Meridien (Newton, MA). ""It's not very reliable."" That's not to say, however, that many companies aren't using it now in some form-and adoption is only expected to grow in the future.'s Morgan believes that, within the next nine to 12 months, there will be a dramatic acceleration in the number of carriers utilizing wireless. The driving force behind this trend, he says, will be 3G mobile cellular communications infrastructure. For the time being, though, many carriers are steering clear of dependency on wireless, although Morgan suggests carriers prepare for future deployment. The best mobile strategy, he relates, ""is one where users don't have to worry about wireless connectivity, but the functionality is there if they need it.""

Enabling Wireless

If a carrier chooses to enable the wireless access of data, the easiest way to do so, says Eric Miller, senior principal with project management consultancy Highpoint Partners LLC (Charlotte, NC), is by equipping field force members with an e-mail application that requests information in a certain format--although he concedes this strategy is a little crude. An e-mail server on a carrier's systems can accept requests for information, retrieve the data requested and send an e-mail message back to a wireless device. Additionally, says Miller, insurers can take advantage of a concept called a self-service platform, which resides on an insurer's systems back-end. The core of an efficient self-service platform is to have only one server accepting the data requests, which can come in the form of IVR, Web, fax or wireless. That server then acts as a hub for obtaining the information from the back-end systems (whether they are policy administration, claims or disbursement systems). The information is then delivered back to the requesting device.

Ultimately, however, regardless of the means of data collection, wireless information is only as good as a carrier's core systems. ""Self-service data has to be a hell of a lot cleaner than it is now."" It doesn't matter if you are enabling wireless activity, says Miller, ""if you are receiving garbage"" wirelessly.

Independent Adoption

The rolling out of mobile technology initiatives to a captive field force is difficult enough, but what if your agency force is independent? According to's Jack Morgan, user acceptance and the overall success of initiatives focused on enabling independent producer and assessor mobility shouldn't be a problem. ""Insurers that have independent producer networks are looking to produce tools that make it easier to work with them,"" says Morgan. ""The assessors are motivated in some cases, since their pay is based on the number of claims that they process."" Since agents also work on a commission basis, ""they are open and interested in anything that will assist them with efficiencies. doesn't anticipate that the independent model will be a roadblock at all.""

Although the independent model won't necessarily constrict success, CIOs planning mobile initiatives for their independent forces have a few other things to consider. For instance, if the members of the field force are using a certain type of device, the CIO must determine if they will be willing to switch to new devices. Also, management must figure out if the wireless solution can be used with the types of device that an agent is already using. ""The least-common denominator view is to roll out an initiative that can be supported on the most generic of the WAP-enabled phones, rather than having the view that anyone who has a data-enabled device will be able to jump on board,"" says Morgan.

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