I've been in the publishing industry my entire life-literally. Raised by two entrepreneurs who started a family owned publishing company, PCI, in our kitchen. In fact, one of my dad's first ad sales jobs was with an industry publication targeting insurance agents with the initials RN. Sound familiar?Twenty years later, PCI is a thriving publishing firm which now employees more than 30 people and is considered a leading publisher in the telecommunications industry.

Like many companies, some of their products are very successful, while others could use some fine-tuning. A familiar scenario for most companies. So, after many internal changes and product launches over the years, they're now looking to grow through acquisitions and/or market diversification. Sound familiar again. Since they're a smaller company, a well thought out business plan to evaluate their expansion is imperative.

Could this be strategic growth? A term many of us have heard, but few have witnessed? But with pressure to constantly improve the bottom line, sometimes research prior to launching new products just doesn't get done the way it should.

Luckily, insurance carriers have reams of data and statistical support for new product launches. Enormous amounts of history on your customers: buying habits, health, lifestyles, cars, family...perhaps knowing more about them than they do. You can statistically calculate, predicate habits, and needs, of current and potential customers. How wonderful, having access to all that information. Being able to make calculated decisions to assist your company's strategic growth is a fantastic benefit of working within the insurance industry.

Lucky, aren't we? Well, we are, but it's not that simple. I've just described to you an ideal scenario many insurers are striving for and working diligently to achieve. While it may seem difficult, the key is to look toward the final goal, then break down the challenge into "bite size" projects.

To get closer to this ideal, some of you are launching sub-companies, or aligning with third party e-coverage companies, to free yourselves from legacy systems. These "new"companies you're creating can take advantage of technology the industry has to offer to obtain, store, and retrieve valuable customer data to give you the strategic advantage you're looking for. Once that data is accessible, the sky is the limit.

Our cover story profiles three industry CEOs who are continually striving to provide the right tools to give their company a strategic advantage. We think their insights will either confirm your own strategies, or give you ideas for new ones.

The take away is simple, but difficult to execute. Carriers must do two things to gain a true strategic advantage. First, gain usable access to your customer data. Second, plan till it hurts.

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