Insurance & Technology is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


09:14 AM
Connect Directly

Inside John Hancock's iPad App Design Contest

With morale low following the financial crisis, CIO Allan Hackney and his team kicked off an employee competition to design apps for the recently released iPad — and got more results than they expected.

When the iPad was revealed in early 2010, insurers did a good job of shedding their image of being slow to adopt new technology platforms. Almost immediately, carriers across lines of business began searching for ways to leverage the device's unique form factor, user interface, and portability. As a result, many insurance companies already have consumer iPad applications in Apple's online store, new ones are always entering the market and several carriers have moved on to enterprise applications that help employees use the device for insurance business.

John Hancock (Boston, $134 million in Q2 2011 insurance sales) decided to leverage the air of excitement and innovation around the device's release to engage its staff. CIO Allan Hackney says that the company's employees were in a bit of a malaise at the time, so management decided to jump-start morale with a contest around iPad application development.

"If you hearken back to the time when the iPad was just being launched, the financial services industry had just started to emerge from the dark days of the financial crisis, and morale was a bit low," Hackney says. "We conceived of this notion of having a contest to find legitimate uses that for the ipad in our business units. It was sexy, exciting and novel, and there was an opportunity here to show a little jazz in the organization."

Hackney and a team of four came up with the contest, which they called Project Launchpad — an open invitation to 7,000 employees to find the best use for the iPad. Single-person entries and the occasional partnership between coworkers yielded 176 entries for the judges. Fourteen of those went to the final round, with "win," "place" and a tie for "show" leading to four recognized prototypes.

"We looked for ideas that seemed to have the most substance; the ones people had described intimately," Hackney says. "Of those winners, one went immediately into production within three weeks, and we have at least three other ideas in production."

The winner, designed by Shawn Smith and Mark Brady, from the company's Retirement Plan Services division (Brady is still there while Smith has moved to Creative Services), was a multi-faceted, outward-facing app that offers different functionality based on whether the user is a customer, a benefits manager or a financial advisor. The app contains information about the company's products, videos, and frequently used forms, tools and calculators.

Other ideas that came out of the contest are focused on business use, however. Among those are a "playbook" that consolidates wholesalers' sales collateral into a digital form, and the other is an enrollment application for the 401(k) division. Hackney says that enabling business users to perform work functions on the iPad can serve as a differentiator in John Hancock's competition for customers and employees.

"It makes it easier for our distribution partners and our wholesalers to have access to illustrations or marketing/legal material at those moments of truth, shortening the cycle time of conversations and making it easier to do business with us," he explains. "Also, people are able to carry fewer devices with them when they're comfortable with the iPad."

With this increased accessibility, John Hancock's employees will need to be mindful of Massachusetts' stringent privacy and security laws, Hackney says. As more iPads are being used for transactional purposes, the company has stepped up its security training regimens to ensure that its apps and employees are compliant with regulations and best practices.

"At the end of the day people will do the right thing if they're aware of what the issues are," Hackney says. "We're observing that when we get people around the table to talk about security awareness, people are starting to connect the dots in their head. 'If my security guy is talking about phishing on my company iPad, gee, maybe I have that same problem on my personal iPhone.' It's all good because people are becoming more self-aware."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

Register for Insurance & Technology Newsletters