Mobility has quickly become the most expansive, accommodating and transformational technology in the insurance industry. Just take a look at some of the bold claims circulating recently, including the title of a recent report, "The Future of Insurance is Mobility," from Forrester Research.

This isn't hyperbole. Mobility will soon affect every corner of the enterprise, perhaps with the exception of compliance, says Ellen Carney, Forrester Research senior analyst and the report's author. "Those guys are stubborn. You can imagine it helping their business," Carney says." But their job is to protect the company from risk, and they do a good job. You always butt up against them in terms of mobile or social strategies, yet, that might change as younger people come in."

For internal purposes, mobility's capabilities are nearly limitless, and agents are the first place many insurers are looking to reap efficiencies.

Take video for example. Michael Helton, special projects coordinator of technology and training at Combined Insurance, says that rather than just dropping everything onto YouTube, BrainShark's video presentation software enabled the company to tie access to the videos back to the company's security and HR systems. The ability to track who has seen a video, when and where, satisfies corporate requirements, and the company's use of more tech-savvy tools keeps the work force happy. It's also something to show off to potential recruits. In doing this, the company hopes to see participation and interaction shoot up.

"The cost was right, it goes across a variety of platforms, and we can have security on it," Helton says. "We would like to see 100 percent participation from our agents when it comes to training, 100 percent feedback on existing training, existing products, sales systems and the entire process for us. How do we get the agent engaged in how we do business and how do we get the agent engaged in continuous-process feedback instead of just getting some of them to give feedback? This is one way we believe it will happen."

For this reason, the company and certainly its agents have been interested in this upgrade for many years. However, only recently has the advance of technology made it practical. Obviously the rapid advance of tablets helped, but improving connectivity capabilities is really what has made this possible; in particular, 4G connectivity.

"4G allows us to do a lot more. We have found with agents, sales agents in particular, they don't want to sit down and go through a PowerPoint slide. They want something quick, easy, hassle-free," explains Helton.

"When you're dealing with sales people, people who have five, 10 minutes between calls, you want to get them when they have those few minutes, and that's what 4G and tablets enable," Helton says. "The retention rates increase and it allows us to create a lot more content. In the last two years with BrainShark, I've created over 600 pieces of training content, which is a lot of information available."

But that's only one avenue within the new mobile way of conducting business. According to Carney, the insurers leading the way when it comes to mobile embed it in the way they do business. Paraphrasing one she had recently interviewed, Carney says there will always be a mobile story in anything the insurer does.

"How do you maintain your consumer-facing mobile efforts? How do you gain competitive advantage in such an environment? These are the biggest challenges insurers will be facing for some time when it comes to mobility," Carney says.

The first step with mobile has been establishing a presence, a platform, and getting used to supporting it and conducting business using it. Next is using these platforms essentially as data transmitters.

"It's become a much more hands-off process thanks to what the mobile device can relay back to the carrier-and then back to the consumer as well," Carney says.

Exciting, but intimidating for insurers is the level the playing field mobile presents; any insurer can reach consumers anywhere within minutes by way of an app. Here's where it helps to have either the resources of a large, innovative insurer to create user-friendly experiences or a regional niche you can cater and customize your services for.

The consumer-centric nature of this market will keep insurers busy, constantly coming back to the underlying question: How does an insurer get its platform in front of as many mobile users as possible? This is where mobile could become a competitive battleground.

"There's going to be a lot more tension on the part of insurers, saying: how can we use that mobile to do things other than pay bills and file claims, things that deliver value to the consumer?" Carney says. "Think about how these applications could go beyond pay-as-you-drive, and safe driving, to become some other kind of safe-data haven that could provide industry information, or information for government on roadway use or driving behavior and how it's changing over time. And it could tie back to intelligent transportation systems."

Mobile's Potential

Indeed, telematics have made clear the type of data potential that mobility carries, and with gamified apps that insurer's can use not only to promote safe driving or good health, but also to collect data on the users, the opportunities appear as endless as the challenges are daunting. To make sure they are up-to-date on mobile capabilities both within and beyond the industry, insurers are testing a variety of strategies.

Carney discusses the most ambitious of them: Companies treating themselves as venture capitalists, attending and sponsoring emerging technology conferences where they can scout creative ideas and invest in start-ups that may pay off down the line by supplying innovation.

"It's truly a transformative time in insurance that's being driven by this consumer technology," Carney says. The excitement in her voice is clear as she discusses the ways mobile can redefine how a business handles itself, reshapes internal operations, redefines customer relations through self-service, and collects enough data to make your head spin.

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