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Managing Mobility

Insurers are deploying mobile/wireless devices and applications to improve productivity in areas such as sales/agent support and claims. But security issues create risks.

Q: In what capacity are insurers currently using mobile/wireless technology? What are the benefits?

A: Nicholas Volpe, AXA Distributors: We currently are using mobile technology for our third-party distribution wholesale staff. We implemented a communication level via the corporate e-mail system and use a mobile sales tool. The mobile sales tool delivers sales reporting, client and third-party representative information, activity logging, and calendar management. Wireless benefits the mobile sales staff by giving them the ability to more effectively manage their business. The tools we issued minimize phone time, increase time in the field for sales representatives and deliver vital information during sales calls. Valuable face-to-face time is key in the wholesaler business, and the wireless tools allow the wholesaler to spend more time with clients.

A: Todd Christy, Pyxis Mobile: Insurers deploy wireless applications for wholesalers, product specialists, institutional sales and other key functions. These groups typically deploy wireless applications that access commercial CRM and proprietary sales systems. Life insurance agents historically have carried laptops, but we see a shift toward wireless PDAs with real-time capabilities for quoting, underwriting status and contact management. Further examples include paramedical examiners using BlackBerry devices with Bluetooth pens and specialized forms to electronically capture and validate insurance application and exam forms in real time.

A: Bob Cannan, Eagle Productivity Solutions: Tablet computers are the most powerful mobile tools available for insurers. Salespeople can easily guide customers through transactions and capture signatures without the hassle of paper documents. Then, they can transmit the electronic forms from anywhere to anywhere. Tablets also work as an effective presentation tool, advancing slides with a tap of the pen. Advances for claims representatives are even more exciting. Forms now contain digital photos and recordings, free-form drawings, and detailed mapped locations using GPS.

Q: What are the security considerations and risks with running enterprise applications in a mobile/wireless environment? How can insurers mitigate these risks?

A: Bob Egan, TowerGroup: For captive agent deployments using broadband wireless with laptops and tablet PCs, companies need to augment their existing remote access security with device-level access security, policy management and local data encryption. Independent agent deployments pose more-significant challenges that range from getting approved devices adopted to more-centralized thin-client access schema and storage mechanisms.

A: Volpe, AXA Distributors: The most obvious security issue is the loss of devices. A second level of risk is data flow between the devices and the home office environment. Encryption on wireless communication is essential. First, we enforce the use of passwords and automatic machine locking. If the machines are idle for more than a few minutes, the system will lock down and require a user-defined password to unlock the machine. This password security is dictated by the server side of the environment and cannot be overridden by the individual user. If a device is lost, there is software in place to kill the device when it makes a connection to the network. As far as data transfer from the machine to the home office environment or vice versa, we piggyback off the 128-bit encryption BlackBerry [from Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion] uses for e-mail and Mobile Data Service (MDS) components. Further, our sales tool was developed using a thin-client architecture, which minimizes the amount of resident data on the machines.

A: Christy, Pyxis Mobile: Wireless systems demand typical security measures, including authentication, authorization and session management. However, wireless enterprise applications heighten the need for effective encryption, network and physical security. Insurers must select wireless hardware and software vendors that deliver robust security without compromising the end-user experience. Enterprise wireless infrastructure should provide single-sign-on capability, remote device management, transport-level encryption and integrated behind-the-firewall access. Wireless applications should minimize data stored on the device in favor of real-time retrieval. This approach reduces the impact of a lost device being exploited and valuable business data exposed.

A: Cannan, Eagle Productivity Solutions: The greatest risks are related to how employees use data. Laptops can carry databases with sensitive information. Clear policies about physical site security are absolutely necessary. Finally, encryption can work to keep wireless connections more secure.

Q: What metrics and benchmarks can insurers use to determine and maximize ROI on mobile/wireless devices?

A: Egan, TowerGroup: Hard metrics remain elusive and variable in this early adoption cycle but include increases in document accuracy and flow-through time, reductions in claims adjustment times, agent retention, and better customer care metrics. The key here for insurers is to stay the course because in the short term, investments in other infrastructure changes that are needed to keep up with the business process acceleration caused by mobility may not be in place or may cloud any notion of a short-term return.

A: Christy, Pyxis Mobile: ROI for wireless applications typically involves a mix of increased efficiency, improved service and better use of downtime. Effective wireless sales and service applications pay for themselves by eliminating manual processes and calls to support staff, and by allowing users to be productive during "lost time" like travel. Advanced wireless applications increase ROI in more-innovative ways, such as optimizing driving routes through mapping services, alerting field personnel of urgent support issues or sales opportunities, and real-time validation and submission of forms during the capture process.

A: Cannan, Eagle Productivity Solutions: The best benchmarks are targets set by management. With powerful mobile tools and the ability to transmit and receive instantly, management can make an estimate of market returns from effectiveness (i.e., improving response times to customers and prospects), not just money saved from efficiency.

Q: What are the next applications of wireless technology?

A: Egan, TowerGroup: Location-based technologies are one of the emerging and important areas that insurers are taking a close look at for a variety of reasons, including being able to assess risk in a more-granular way for areas like auto insurance. Insurers will be able to apportion risk more accurately, thus increasing profitability.

A: Volpe, AXA Distributors: We have been investigating wireless software for presentations, analytics and broker profiling, and GPS tracking for directions to meetings and proximity to high-producing brokers. Software for presentations will enable the wholesaler to travel very lightly. Without laptop computers on the road, we experience a longer, more useful life of the machine, and the wholesaler is more flexible with travel. GPS presents a valuable prospect: Often a wholesaler will schedule meetings and allocate a few hours for drive time and meeting time, and occasionally the meeting will be canceled at the last minute. With GPS tracking, the wholesaler could activate the locator and find valuable producers in the area, bring up a broker's information, call and schedule a meeting, map the route and turn wasted time into a sales meeting.

A: Christy, Pyxis Mobile: Insurers will spend the coming years wireless-enabling enterprise applications, much as previous years were spent Internet-enabling software. The software and infrastructure exist to support this today. Looking forward we see advanced networks and devices enabling integrated voice, video and data applications. We also expect Bluetooth connectivity to foster innovative new devices and applications integrated with pens, cameras, cars and other media.

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

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