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Opinion

IT in the insurance sector - obstacle or enabler?
Rob Bamforth By: Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 1st November 2013
Copyright Quocirca © 2013
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The role of IT in many organisations is often hotly debated—is it an enabler or an obstacle to getting things done? With so much information in the public psyche from so many consumer technologies, more and more employees will not only have an opinion, they will also have direct and personal experience of good and bad IT products.

So surely, those with access to all the new hot technologies and cool gadgets—the IT department—will be revered as the well-informed guides to this golden age of connectivity? Er, no. More often than not, they will be bypassed in the stampede.

While it is not too surprising that this might happen for the consumer mobile technologies that have risen to prominence in recent years—smartphones, tablets etc.—what is more worrying is the lack of regard for the role of the IT department in the systems that support industry-specific needs and significant business processes. Bring your own device (BYOD) is no longer enough, now it becomes a matter of DYOT—do your own thing.

This was noted in research conducted recently by Quocirca in the insurance sector. Here, flexible systems well aligned to business processes were seen as vital to the business, but there were doubts about the role that IT might play in the provision of this. These reservations were not about the software used or product suppliers, but the internal IT department itself.

This highly conservative industry sector is changing in the same way that many others are doing or have done already. There is a drive for increasing sales, doing more online and automating or streamlining what were once manual business processes.

However, for a business to be 'agile' it needs to not only have the right IT underpinnings, but also has to ensure that these align appropriately with the business.

This is where an IT department needs to be well informed regarding available technology, but also have a good understanding of the key business processes and solid communication with line of business people, so that it can guide the business as to what is available, and how it might be best exploited.

Some examples emerged from the research.

For example, insurance companies are keen to drive up sales volumes and see brokers as their most important channel. Although they might extend their systems to this channel, relatively few have systems that can be tailored by these brokers. Why not? Doing so would not only build a closer relationship with what is admitted to be the most important route to market, but also allow brokers to streamline the IT tools to the way they operate, improving their sales efficiency.

The potential for increasing the online route to market was also being overlooked. However, unlike other industry sectors, where online tools are being used as a great leveller, in this case it seemed that smaller insurance companies were more reluctant to invest in online than the larger players.

Some of this may betray the more conservative nature of the insurance sector, where smaller businesses are often long standing partnerships, but also indicates a lack of confidence in the approach to IT.

Those tasked with IT management, especially in smaller companies, might find themselves bogged down in the day to day challenges of just keeping everything running, but a little more investigation and awareness of what the market has to offer would be worthwhile.

This would not only be good for the individuals concerned (i.e. become more valuable to the organisation, do more interesting work and, crucially, keep employed), but also the organisation itself.

The problem is that without decent IT guidance, those in the line of business might adopt a DYOT approach and just go for popular IT products that appears to fit the needs of the moment. Then it might not only miss out on longer-term benefits, but also find that the adoption process makes the organisation significantly less flexible in the mean time if it locks in and reinforces existing bad habits and poor processes.

Allowing IT to go out on its own and make expensive choices independent of the business is no solution either, so even in smaller organisations it becomes important to pair IT and business expertise together. That significantly lowers the risks of either missing out on new ideas or making bad investment decisions—and surely insurance companies are always interested in risks?

More details and results from the research into business process efficiency can be found in this free report – “What’s costing you dearly?”

This article first appeared on http://www.computerweekly.com

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