Insurers carriers are modifying their IT spending habits to become more customer-centric, a new report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. finds.

Tech Opportunities In North American Insurance IT Firms reveals that a larger percentage of IT leaders now regard improving customer experience as a top priority, coming in ahead of improving claims handling or underwriting.

“Carriers are getting hipper and more creative in their business strategies as they seek to engage with the coming wave of new insurance buyers through mobile and social media channels,” the report, authored by Ellen Carney, states. “They’re also building skunkworks to look at evolving consumer experiences as they rethink just what customer engagement means.”

Indeed, this shift toward the customer is so profound that Forrester contends the term information technology is itself becoming outmoded. “North American insurers are also shifting from a historical IT stance and are becoming more focused on business technology (BT),” the report states. “What’s driving this industry to make the leap? The success of direct insurers such as Progressive Casualty Insurance and GEICO is making their insurance peers sit up and take notice.”

The report finds evidence of this in the fact that insurance IT leaders are increasingly called on to innovate and deploy technologies that foster growth. In a 2010 survey of insurers in the US and Canada, 87% of respondents said that improving IT’s ability and capacity to grow the business was a critical or high priority to their organizations.

This onus to innovate will only grow in the coming years as the lingering impact of the economic stalls premium growth for foreseeable future. “Recognize that this downturn is unlike any in recent memory, and it will drive big changes that insurance will need help in addressing. Post-crash America will demand greater workforce mobility, which will change home and even car ownership. That means insurers will be looking for innovations that help in replacing premiums lost from consumers renting, not buying.”

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