There’s no longer any question that the insurance industry is entering the digital era. Insurance companies are embracing digital platforms in various ways, from deploying mobile apps to telematics devices to social media to cloud.

But the game-changers for the industry may not be what companies themselves are doing. Rather, it may be what other industries are doing with digital. That’s what bears watching.

A new report out of Accenture, which documents the rise of new digital “ecosystems” that are opening up new revenue streams for companies, drives this point home. It isn’t just the availability of digital channels or apps that will benefit insurance companies. It’s what is happening to all other industries that also are creating change for insurers. The Accenture report speaks of the digital healthcare revolution, for example, which is raising “the quality of healthcare by addressing it holistically across many industries, from hospitals to insurance to apparel. Or, the concept of the “connected car” – vehicles that exchange data with “multiple partners and a wide range of innovators” – including insurers.

As industries of all types shift inexorably to the digital model, many assumptions – even those developed in recent times -- are going by the wayside. Accenture identified a number of key trends now shaping the world of digital:

The cloud is commonplace. “Cloud computing is no longer an emerging trend,” the report states. There are various forms of cloud computing – from software-as-a-service (SaaS) to platform-as-a-service (PaaS), from public to private. Cloud also has a foothold in many insurance companies.

Big data is useless without analytics. This is a key initiative across the insurance sector. The challenge now, Accenture points out, is that “companies are no longer suffering from a lack of data—they’re suffering from a lack of the right data.”

Decision-making needs to keep pace with data delivery. As mentioned above, enterprises have more data than they can handle. The question becomes: how quickly can data “be gathered, sorted, and analyzed in order to produce insights that managers can act on quickly”? The more an organization goes digital, the higher expectations will become.

Data needs a supply chain. Today, data ecosystems “are complex and littered with data silos, limiting the value that organizations can get out of their own data by making it difficult to access,” Accenture cautions. “To truly unlock that value, companies must start treating data more as a supply chain, enabling the data to flow easily and usefully through the entire organization—and eventually throughout the organization’s ecosystem of partners as well.”

The Internet of Things isn’t just for enterprises. “The real world is coming online, as smart objects, devices, and machines increase our insight into and control over the physical world,” Accenture says. “More than just an ‘Internet of Things,’ this new layer of connected intelligence augments employees, automates processes, and incorporates machines into our lives.” An immediate benefit is “organizations now get real-time connections to the real world that allows machines as well as employees to act and react faster—and more intelligently.”  We’re not just talking about amping up the connectivity of enterprises, Accenture adds. “For consumers, this provides new levels of empowerment. In addition to being highly informed, consumers can interact and influence the way they experience everything around them.”

E-commerce is so 1999. “Businesses need to re-think their digital strategies to move beyond e-commerce and marketing,” the report advises. The challenge within a digital realm is to manage and interact with customer at scale.

Work is about others. Work is no longer about grinding out reports or leads; it’s about collaboration between employees and directly with customers. “To increase productivity, enterprises must move beyond standalone social and collaborative channels and begin to embed them directly into their core business processes,” Accenture urges.

Defenses must be intelligent. Digital initiatives won’t succeed without unimpeachable levels of trust among customers and employees. This calls for a multi-pronged approach. “The move to active defense—risk-based approaches to security management, analytics-driven event detection, and reflex-like incident response—isn’t yet happening on a broad scale. IT’s core challenge: get current with best practices in security, get smarter about the new active defense possibilities, and get real about the journey ahead.”

Software-defined networking rises. Software-defined networking isn’t just about networks – it can transform the entire enterprise, Accenture points out. “Like other virtualization technologies, software-defined networking has the ability to radically change the flexibility with which businesses and

IT operate,” says Accenture. “You may think of networking as a low-level technology, but this aspect has the ability to transform enterprises”

Apps get smaller and more modular. “Enterprises are rapidly moving from applications to apps. Yes, there will always be big, complex enterprise software systems to support large organizations, and IT developers will need to keep customizing those systems, providing updates and patches, and more. But now, as organizations push for greater operational agility, there is a sharp shift toward simpler, more modular apps.

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