Cambridge, Mass. — Today's insurance enterprises are no longer centralized data centers of servers with employees connected onsite via local area networks or terminals. In fact, the distinction between internal and external users has nearly disappeared. As a result, many IT assets are beyond the immediate reach of IT managers.

In a 2007 Insurance Networking News article, Mark Odiorne, chief information systems officer for Scottish Re Group Ltd., Bermuda, reflects on a trend among carriers. "Our workforce is very mobile. I have far more laptops in my organization than I do desktops."

A report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. confirms this trend applies to e-mail among a variety of enterprises. Wireless e-mail has been deployed, or is being deployed, by 85% of enterprises in North America and 70% in Europe, according to “Treating Wireless Email Headaches.” Growth is continuing in more regions, into small and medium-size businesses (SMBs), and deeper into enterprises as mobility extends down the corporate pyramid.

But with this trend comes headaches for IT managers. The wireless e-mail landscape is complicated—no e-mail system easily pushes e-mail out to all devices—and the result is pain and cost for IT managers. The report points to new devices, such as the iPhone and, eventually, those powered by Google’s Android, as exacerbating this problem further.

In the insurance industry, e-mail is just one process affected by mobility. Large digital photos, sent via wireless by adjusters, application management, device security, data integrity and bandwidth growth could cause problems. Colonial Supplemental Insurance, Columbia, S.C., experienced growing wireless access by independent agents. The carrier has a sales force of 6,500 independent contractors that require access to the corporate network. "They are required to use specific technology in the form of laptops, and printers and signature pads that we have tested with our enrollment applications," says Tim Sox, manager of enrollment technologies for Colonial, in a previous Insurance Networking News article.

Originally, the sales representatives used offline applications that were loaded into their laptops. However, recently, reps have been able to access online applications. Colonial implemented a mobile device management and security solution from Sybase, Dublin, Calif., to manage devices through the Web, and remotely administer and update the agents' computers—allowing them, for instance, to encrypt agents' hard drives and to disable lost or stolen laptops.

The insurance industry is just one among many industries around the world turning to mobility and wireless e-mail. Companies near and far, small and large, are deploying wireless e-mail; 61% of North American and 45% of European businesses with 1,000 or more employees have fully deployed wireless e-mail, according to the Forrester report. These rates, and growth will continue in other regions—particularly Asia Pacific. Today, only 30% of Asia Pacific enterprises have deployed wireless e-mail, and 40% say they have no deployment plans yet. Forrester warns that without support for wireless e-mail, many enterprises risk alienating the new generation of mobile employees, who have more robust mobile expectations of IT and may view the company as archaic.

In comparison with enterprises, SMBs lag behind in wireless e-mail adoption. Only 40% of North American SMBs and 29% of European SMBs have deployed wireless e-mail, but more than 30% of SMBs in these regions are in the process of rolling it out or are interested in deploying it, according to Forrester.

The Forrester report also details a number of cost considerations for IT managers who face mobile e-mail decisions:

  • During the next three years, plan to support up to three mobile operating systems
  • Profile your mobile users and identify who pays for what through your mobile policy
  • Manage and secure devices with mobile device management suites
  • Develop a plan for the future before you extend more applications to handhelds

Sources: Forrester Research Inc. and INN archives
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