Is the insurance industry ready for cloud? Absolutely, says a new thought-leadership paper recently published by Accenture. It's all starting with Software as a Service, and many carriers are well on their way to embracing Infrastructure, Platform and Business Process as a Service, the consultancy observes.

In doing so, “carriers will do what they do now, just more effectively. For example, when a natural disaster occurs, carriers will be able to rapidly scale up back-end claims processing in the cloud to handle demand and process claims in the field via a mobile workforce.”

But it doesn’t end there. Through social platforms, along with a greater understanding of customer needs through real-time capabilities, cloud may finally move the industry closer to its customers; as opposed to having its products viewed “as a tax, as something they do not want but must pay for—many times, a bitter pill to swallow.”

Cloud platforms provide the scalability needed to quickly process and analyze data streaming into companies. “Real-time data collection from multiple sources will become core to insurance carriers’ business and a primary source of innovation,” says Accenture. “Real-time data will not only allow carriers to offer better pricing and better estimate risk. In addition, the data will serve as the basis for the new services and products by which carriers will reinvent themselves.”

As a result, carriers will develop a “test and learn” culture, Accenture adds.

To get from here to there, Accenture makes these recommendations for getting started:

1. Redraw the line between core and non-core. “Set aside long-held assumptions regarding what you do as your core business.” Accenture cites analytics as an example of an application that has been regarded as non-core, but is actually essential to business success. “The cloud offers new ways to bolster those capabilities, such as using neural networks to identify high-value customers at risk of switching carriers or spotting fraudulent insurance claims.”

2. Consider what cloud services can be delivered as new lines of business. “What about the idea of offering analytics-as-a-service to insurance carriers in other market areas or to other industries (e.g., nuclear power plants)?”

3. Lock in business process constellations of partners. “Expand your partnership circle to include companies with which you have never had a reason to build a relationship before.”

4. Create a “data supply chain.” Data sources are ballooning,” Accenture points out—through increased merger and acquisition (M&A) activities and new sources of collaboration such as social media, digital marketing, gaming, telematics, and blogs. Business units all over your enterprise will be creating, consuming, and sharing data with each other, making it important to focus on data responsibility instead of data ownership. This shift has created a data supply chain, and it is the CIO’s responsibility to work with business units to coordinate data responsibility from creation to distribution.”

5. Look beyond the cost play of cloud. “The first steps into the cloud are almost always about reducing costs. However, you should look to leverage the cloud to simplify your core architecture and create business agility as well. You need to build a test-and-learn culture that will provide fertile ground for innovation as you prepare to move up the cloud stack.”

6. Build or acquire “high-octane” data security. “Cyber-attackers are becoming more sophisticated. And in mobile transactions, insurers have little control over devices and the applications and operating systems that reside on them. Turn to data platform technologies and analytics for security management.”

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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