We keep hearing about how tech is driving new ways of working. Let’s face it, the last big fundamental change we saw in insurance organizations was the rise of computerization. Anyone who has seen the movie The Apartment with Jack Lemmon would observe that the insurance organization of 1960 consisted of large rooms with rows upon rows of underwriters, account managers, accountants and secretaries manually calculating and writing up reports. (In the movie’s Wikipedia entry, Lemmon’s main character, “Bud” Baxter, is tagged as “a lonely office drudge at a national insurance corporation.”)
This had all changed as early as 1980 (and definitely by 1990), with the endless rows of desks replaced by desks with computer terminals. Many jobs were being eliminated, but new ones were also being created. Many insurance organizations, in fact, were (and continue to be) supportive of continuing education and training to help their managers and professionals develop their computing skills. By the mid-1990s, it’s safe to say that most fundamental core insurance functions were automated and online, at least within a local area network within the walls of the corporation. But how many Bud Baxters were still slogging away doing rote, mechanized work, only in front of computer screens instead of piles of paper at that point?
Nowadays, however, the insurance organization and many other organizations may be poised for the next workplace upheaval, which may make Baxter’s job a bit more interesting as well. Managers and professionals have a great deal of information processing power at their desks and in their devices, and an abundance of resources both inside and outside the organization to help them with their jobs.
Dion Hinchliffe, a well-respected thought-leader about the new enterprise and a contributor at ZDNet (where I also contribute), recently took a look at what, exactly, this new tech-driven workplace should look like. Here’s the minimum of what today’s employees expect and need to get their jobs done:
Rapid upgrades of devices and applications: While many enterprises still struggle with Windows XP (released 13 years ago this month), “the consumer world is updating applications and hardware faster than ever,” Dion observes. Employees constantly see new technologies in their personal lives, they expect more of the same in their workplaces.
Search that works: Unfortunately, Google-like search speeds aren’t part of many workplaces. “Most enterprises have relatively awful internal search capabilities,” says Dion. “As a result, employees take far too long to find things, and search sessions often fail outright, despite the enormous IT investments in capturing and storing corporate data, which is then unable to be located.”
Social, chat, and rich media tools to communicate: Collaboration, chat, video are all ubiquitous across the internet. Organizations need to adopt those platforms as well.
Capable mobile apps: Today’s smartphones and tablets support new-age functions such as location, spatial orientation, optimization for touch, lightweight integration with popular productivity tools (Dropbox, Evernote, etc.) and social networks, voice interfaces, discoverability and delivery via app stores, Dion notes. However, most enterprises do not take advantage of these new capabilities.
Applications that are easy to use and 'consumerized': “In the consumer world, those digital services that are most successful are that way because they are enjoyable, effective, and vitally, simple to use -- and yes, have the best data/functionality as well,” Dion observes. These are not qualities seen in enterprise systems as of yet.
Easy new digital ways to buy and pay for things: There are no workplace equivalents to online services such as PayPal or Square, Dion observes. “Requisitions and corporate credit cards still rule the day, despite looking increasingly very outdated.”
Ability to use the digital channels, apps, and devices of preference to communicate and officially conduct work: Not common yet in today’s workplaces.
Zero artificial barriers to sharing files or data: “While security and privacy are becoming more challenging in the digital age, it's no excuse to make it very difficult for employees to share information, which in the corporate world is still largely done by e-mail,” Dion points out.
High availability of digital services: This may be a 24x7 economy, but many organizations don’t operate that way. “Most enterprises only have about three 9s of availability, and often less, which means more than a day of downtime a year, and often quite a bit more,” Dion says.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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