How Insurers Can Achieve Mobile Transformation in a Mainframe World

In adopting any new or disruptive technology that affects the mainframe the greatest challenge is connecting back-office processes to new applications without risking the integrity of mainframe data.

The amazing growth of mobile communications has businesses of every type strategizing about how they can harness the power of mobile technology to add value for their customers and businesses. Many insurance organizations recognize the need to blend distributed data with mainframe legacy data to develop mobile applications that satisfy growing consumer demand and improve their competitive stance ― but they are unsure about what is involved and how to proceed.

Like most data-driven financial firms, insurers typically rely on a robust mainframe or multiple mainframes to handle the vast amount of information and back-office processes required to operate the business. In adopting any new or disruptive technology that affects the mainframe ― the nerve center of the business ― the greatest challenge is connecting back-office processes to new applications without risking the integrity of mainframe data.

This article explores some of the key issues insurance organizations need to consider as they formulate plans and embark on initiatives to implement mobile applications that make sales agents more agile and efficient, as well as more responsive to customer demands.

Consumer Demand Driving Mobile Growth

Leading analyst firms have charted the emergence and rapid rise of mobile technology across the globe. The Cisco® Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update for 2013-2018 cites that global mobile data traffic is forecast to reach an annual run rate of 190 exabytes (EBs) by 2019, 57 times the total amount of mobile data traffic in 2010. Cisco also forecasts that there will be nearly 5 billion mobile users by 2018, up from 4.1 billion in 2013, and that smartphones, laptops and tablets will drive 94 percent of mobile data traffic.

Given this expected growth curve, it’s no surprise that consumer demand for faster, smarter mobile applications is ramping up. Armed with multiple devices, today’s consumers and mobile workers routinely expect to be able to access information and conduct business on whatever mobile device they happen to have at the moment. The widespread consumerization and adoption of mobile technology, which began with the retail industry, has now spread to retail banking, automotive, financial services and insurance companies.

A Forrester Research report entitled “The State of Mobile Insurance” cites: “Mobile as a communications channel is nearly ubiquitous, but mobile as an insurance channel is still in its infancy.” The report states that property and casualty insurers were among the first to invest in mobile, predominantly offering car insurance quotes and applications. Health insurance companies are also seeing the potential in mobile, perhaps being driven by the US Government’s deployment of the Affordable Care Act.

So, while mobile insurance use is still fairly low, a huge market sector of mobile technology consumers is out there just waiting for insurers to provide convenient and easy to use self-service applications that save time and effort. Similarly, there is a vast network of insurance company sales agents and business partners who would welcome the speed and convenience of having real-time mobile support from the organizations they represent.

Implementing Mobile Apps: Risks and Challenges

The evolution of mobile, web and cloud applications and ubiquitous social media usage has opened the door to virtually unlimited possibilities for insurance organizations seeking to meet consumer expectations, empower their workforce, support their partner networks, and expand their market reach.

However, in their quest to leverage mainframe data and align legacy systems with a more distributed computing environment, insurance firms face numerous challenges and critical decisions. Uncertainty comes with any disruptive technology that threatens to change the way in which companies conduct business.

Does the mobile revolution present a crisis ― or an opportunity? That is the question insurers must ask themselves. In many ways, older business models are being pushed aside because of growing consumer demands and changes in consumer behavior.

To keep pace, insurance organizations need to adapt to how mobile technology works and how millions of consumers are now choosing to connect and transact business. Companies must find new ways of communicating and new ways of delivering mobile services. They must also look for new ways to obtain business intelligence and analyze customer behavior patterns so they can respond accordingly and continue to improve. Those enterprises that choose to remain stagnant and ignore the fundamental changes taking place will surely be left behind.

Advanced Technology Provides Solutions

With more people today using mobile devices as their primary means of accessing information and conducting personal and work-related business over the Internet, it makes good business sense to leverage the mainframe to enhance the speed and effectiveness of applications that serve these needs. Mobile insurance applications can be developed that help alleviate chronic communication problems and time-consuming processes that can harm relationships between insurance firms, their sales networks, and their customers.

Accessing legacy mainframe data to enable mobile, web, cloud and social applications is not as complex and costly as one might think. In today’s marketplace there are robust and powerful software solutions that can overcome the challenges and mitigate the risks of unifying business information across the enterprise ― even across disparate platforms, data formats and programming languages.

Many forward-thinking insurers have already implemented these proven technology solutions to access mainframe data in real time and create high value applications that empower customers and sales agents alike. And the good news is that this can be accomplished in ways that are affordable and easy to implement ― without any risk to mainframe data integrity and operation and with no coding required.

Using a well-designed suite of data unification and integration tools, insurance firms can quickly develop innovative applications for mobile, web, and cloud. Key features to look for in a data unification solution are agile deployment, flexible one-tool access to all mainframe data sources, and bi-directional access to non-mainframe data sources.

Mobile Applications Deliver Real Business Value

Self-service functionality is one of the most appealing aspects of mobile technology to consumers looking for insurance. They are empowered by the ability to use a mobile device to compare policies and obtain quick quotations from providers at any time and from any location.

Some automobile insurance leaders have already implemented applications that allow individuals to file an accident report, upload photos of accidents and license plates, and even file a mobile claim right from their phone. Enabling customer self-service can help ensure that incidents are reported immediately and accurately, so mistakes and misrepresentation can be minimized. Timely alerts to mobile devices can also remind customers when premium payments are due and allow payment to be made with just a few clicks.

Similarly, some large health insurance organizations provide customers with online access to their medical information from anywhere in the world. This kind of customer self-service is happening, not just in the US and North America, but across the globe as consumers worldwide become more reliant on their mobile devices.

While consumers increasingly research and gather information through web-enabled mobile devices, this in no way diminishes the role of insurance sales representatives and independent agents. There are many services insurers can implement that generate support and loyalty in this sector, whether the agents are employees, business partners or independents. Applications accessible through an agent’s laptop, tablet or smartphone might include:

  • Dedicated, easy to use web portals offering news, information, updates and an opportunity to interact in real time.
  • A “hot line” through which an agent can report an incident or check on the status of a claim on-the-fly and upload GPS information or photos documenting the incident.
  • An information service offering policy details or responses to an agent’s questions on behalf of a client or prospect.

Clearly, there is real business value in deploying mobile insurance applications. Self-service information and transactions provided to customers and agents in a fast, responsive and user-friendly format can reduce costs by decreasing the volume of phone calls and administrative staff required to handle the calls and ensuing paperwork. In addition, companies can garner valuable business intelligence from these day-to-day interactions and use the information to improve corporate decision making as they go forward.

Dusty Rivers // Dusty Rivers, Principal Technical Architect at GT Software, has an extensive 36-year background in global mainframe systems integration and has been recognized as an IBM Champion four years in a row for his leadership and contributions to the Information Management community. His expertise focuses on enabling global organizations to extend the use of mainframe systems into the world of Web services, clouds, and all distributed systems.

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