Looking into the future has long been a part of our culture. From books to movies to TV shows, we've always been interested in what could be and will be down the road. Today, with the rapid changes taking place in technology, those futures are closer than ever.  Some of it may be science fact and some may be science fiction.  But then again … you never know what is possible with innovation, perseverance, ideation, and talent!

In 1966, Star Trek had a whole array of gadgets and technologies that seemed impossible at the time. There were tablet computers, biometrics, wireless earphones, plasma screens, wireless telephones, tricorders and more. Today, those ideas that were SciFi in the 1960s are part of our real world today.

At a recent meeting of the Innovation Group Customer Advisory Board, we discussed with this group of industry-leading insurers and analysts what they thought would be the top technologies impacting society and insurance in the near and distant future. Their thoughts, combined with technology and insurance research and editorials, paint a picture of a dynamic future full of possibilities for those that are future-ready and open to the possibilities.

Customer Service DIY

The group agreed that customer experience excellence is far and away the most important objective of all companies. After all, no customers = no business. Part of today's customer service world requires that you enable your customers with the tools and capabilities to do things how they want to and when they want to.  Just as other industries have empowered customers with booking flights online, insurers must provide such capabilities. Whether it's updating personal information, paying a bill, quoting and buying insurance, filing a claim and uploading pictures, or monitoring the progress of a claim in the process, customers want to be in the driver seat and have the option to do it themselves. 

However, as Deloitte points out, you still need to have human support available. "One consequence of this shift toward DIY is that consumers who now contact associates are often: The “Have-Nots” who have no Internet and/or smartphone access; The “Exasperated” who give up on self-service options; and

The “Perplexed” who have incredibly complex challenges that don’t lend themselves to DIY."

Mobile Technology

Overwhelmingly, everyone agreed that mobile technology is transforming businesses including insurance. According to David Smith, Chief Executive of Global Futures and Foresight, there will be 7 billion connected devices by 2015. Compare that to the more than one billion landline subscribers today and you can see the business potential.

Mobile technology has come a long way fast, but its journey is far from over. Expanding capabilities for mobile will continue to evolve dramatically in the future.  According to InformationWeek, "Expanding mobile access beyond email to include core systems, like ERP or financials, is one common area of advancement. However, the next frontier lies with layering mobile on top of other technologies to get work done in ways not otherwise possible."  Commoditizing these capabilities makes them more affordable and practical for all sizes of insurers. Therefore, it could mean more advanced capabilities for writing policies, processing claims, customer self-service, claims prevention, risk management and more.

Data and Analytics – Use that Data

As we all know, data is growing at an unprecedented rate, both structured and unstructured, and we are trying to make use of this data in new ways.  Whether it is to better understand our customers, underwrite risks more effectively or help prevent claims, the potential is huge and only begun to be understood!  Many leaders agree that we have data and we're doing analytics, but ask if we are using the data to change what we are doing?  One executive commented “Data is at the center of innovation.”  Enterprise-wide capabilities that produce complete pictures of the insured not siloed snapshots from claims or policy systems. Also important is having the experts in place to analyze and use data which you can see in the rise of the title Data Scientist or as someone else recently suggested, a Data Artisan – someone who has both the art and science skills.

Making analytics more available and usable across the enterprise may be the next big thing. InformationWeek states that "A key trend to watch is the 'democratization of data,' the process of putting information directly into the hands of users. Technological advancements are making this possible in a variety of ways. One is the availability of analysis tools that reduce the need for technical expertise. But some of the most exciting developments are coming from technology known as contextual analytics, which delivers information automatically to users as they do their jobs."

Collaborative Capabilities

The rise of social capabilities has made collaboration possible. Social, in its true sense not just Twitter or Facebook, exists and continues to spread both internally and externally.  All parties involved would have the ability to communicate and work together towards final resolutions for underwriting risks or assessing claims, as an example. Insured, claimant, agent, adjuster, repair shop, and others could all communicate and share information more easily and efficiently.

As McKinsey & Company point out, "In the retail-banking, life insurance, and property and casualty insurance industries, social technologies can help improve service delivery, reduce costs, and enhance the customer experience. Consumers are increasingly open to using these channels for easier, more transparent interactions with their financial institutions. New processes are surfacing across a sector often typified by organizational complexity, siloed personnel, and fragmented processes that stymie collaboration, innovation, and efficiency."

Architecture and Agility

Changes keep coming … and coming faster than ever. CIO Insight points out that "agility is the sun around which all planets revolve. IT organizations must eliminate barriers to scale and find ways to build an infrastructure that can adapt and evolve rapidly." Demands for a variety of tools, platforms, mobile technologies, and personalized user interfaces all rely on a strong, services oriented and agile architecture and infrastructure. Without it, you will be stuck in the past.

Industry leaders at the meeting emphasized the importance of an agile, robust architecture that provides flexibility to respond quickly to new demands, challenges and opportunities which support organizational growth.  From product speed to market to customer experience flexibility, having the right architecture foundation is critical today, but more importantly for a fast-changing future.  Those stuck with disparate, legacy, and non-flexible environments will not be able to keep pace with change, leading to potential extinction.

There is so much to look at in the future that we can't do it all at one time. Next time, my blog will examine custom insurance, 3D printing, visions and roadmaps, and what else may be coming!

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