User expectations for mobile devices are high, but the lack of a coherent strategy can result in disappointing returns on investment. Insurance Networking News asked Wendy Aarons-Corman, president of edge IPK, a user experience platform provider, of about the challenge of designing from the users' perspective and ways to future proof your mobile technology investments.

INN: What's the immediate challenge for insurers evaluating or developing a mobile device access strategy?

WAC: Insurers have been more reactive than proactive in response to the rapid adoption of mobile devices. And while this response may address a specific and immediate want or need, the combination of being stuck in a reactive mode and the near-constant introduction of devices results in a series of siloed front-end solutions.

A sizeable investment has already been made to provide mobile access, yet the returns on investment have been minimal. Why? The "if you build it they will come" principle doesn't necessarily hold true. Just because an insurer is providing mobile access doesn't mean they're providing a good user experience. With the increase in social media, user expectations are high and continually changing. Insurers may want to learn some lessons from mobile applications from outside the industry.

INN: Why is it so important to focus on the users' perspective?

WAC: Different devices offer dramatically different amounts of real estate to accommodate functionality and information.

When getting into the requirements of the user experience, the insurer should understand what users want and need as they pertain to a business process and the associated business value.

First notice of loss, for example, is an obvious candidate for mobile functionality. To provide better claims service, an insurer may want to provide a mobile application that uploads the information relevant to an accident, such as where it happened, via GPS; what it looks like, via camera or smartphone; and who was involved, with their contact information. Looking at the business process and understanding the use and capabilities of the device is the best place to begin.

INN: Once a mobile strategy is in place, what's the biggest challenge insurers face?

WAC: The biggest challenge when it comes to putting a good mobile strategy in place is keeping it current. Insurers can expect the mobile device landscape to continue changing at a rapid pace. New hardware, like smartphones and tablets; new software, including browser versions; and user preferences, such as languages, will increase the number of challenges insurers face when it comes to providing support.

One area where insurers are learning, and learning quickly, is security. When functionality and access are easily available, systems become more vulnerable to hacking, making it extremely important for insurers to be proactively aware and put the proper protections in place.

Mobile access also sets a user expectation that the insurer will be able to make changes and deliver quickly, which is all-the-more reason insurers need to get out of the tactical, piecemeal approach to solving the mobile need in favor of a long-term strategy based on an assumption that things will change.

INN: What about development and maintenance of mobile apps? How should insurers proceed if they choose a platform-agnostic approach?

WAC: While user experience platforms (UXPs) are still relatively new to the North American market, they have been used in the European market for almost a decade and are time-tested and proven. The objective of a UXP is to provide the tools to develop and maintain the wide range of user experiences, as well as the plethora of devices, including mobile. These technologies enable insurers to focus on the functionality for the users. Back-office systems are left to do what they do best: process the business. A good UXP should be able to deliver functionality and information to any device, on any browser and in any language.

When a new device or a new browser version is introduced, the UXP provider is responsible for ensuring the UXP is able to deliver. The insurer then is able to focus on the insurance process and branding.

UXPs provide an agile approach to developing and delivering to mobile, or any, devices, eliminating the frustration of the traditional development cycle. If insurers continue to take the traditional coding or vendor application approach to supporting mobile devices, they may find themselves unable to effectively respond to the changing business needs, new devices and new revenue channels.

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