Try as I might, some article assignments just don't elicit a very fevered response in me when first assigned (I'm looking at you, standards). This is never the case when it comes time to write about claims.

For one thing, the sheer sprawl, complexity and interconnected nature of the process ensures that there are always new avenues to explore in my reporting. Another certainty is that there will be interesting technologies (some insurance-specific, others not) to investigate. Lastly, I know I'll be talking to some interesting people. Anybody who wants to employ the tired cliché of insurance professionals as buttoned-down and boring obviously hasn't spent much time talking to claims personnel (or may be just thinking of actuaries).

With this article, I wanted to look at how some of the more exciting new technologies will impact the claims process in the years ahead. Through the reporting process the answer I found is: a great deal. But not quite in ways I expected. To quote science-fiction novelist William Gibson, when it comes to claims, "the future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed." The technologies that will impact the claims process in the future (predictive analytics, telematics and social media) are known commodities and are already in use elsewhere in the insurance enterprise—often in limited ways in the claims process itself.

This brought to mind Malcolm Gladwell's recent take that the true genius of Steve Jobs resided in his ability to tweak the inventions of others rather than inventing things himself. To be sure, the innards of the personal computing industry had existed separately for some time before a couple of dudes named Steve in a garage thought of bringing them together.

In a similar sense, the path to a more efficient, more customer-friendly claims process revolves less around carriers developing innovative technologies than in synthesizing existing ones in novel ways to offer a more compelling product to consumers.

With claims representing the vast majority of insurance industry outlays, the business case for improving the claims process is airtight. Now the task at hand for the industry is to summon the creativity and lateral thinking necessary to bring the claims process into the future.

Bill Kenealy is a senior editor for Insurance Networking News.

Editor's Note: This INNFocus Report marks the first of five you'll see in 2012. The INN editors' goal is to collect the most timely, compelling, need-to-know business and technology information on a specific topic. Stay tuned for policy administration in March, channel management in July and underwriting in September. We'll finish the year with an INNFocus Report that will wrap up of the most popular editorial content from 2012.

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