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Mobilizing the Insurance Industry

Mobilizing the Insurance Industry

In an industry that's always been known for being conservative, a bold move to adopt state-of-the-art technology has resulted in one company projecting an overall 17-21% increase in annual revenue as a result of its m-business initiative.

Conventional wisdom holds that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. This analogy extends, more or less, to the insurance industry and its use of technology. Overall, insurers, especially property-and-casualty insurers, have been slow adopters of information technology. While the integration of mountains of customer information and the conversion of batch-based legacy systems into real-time e-commerce systems has been underway for some time, industry pundits agree that the pace of change, compared to other sectors of financial services such as banking and brokerage, has been torturously slow.

Today, however, large geographically dispersed workforces, increasing competition, and mounting pressure to reduce costs and improve services are forcing insurers to embrace mobile and wireless technology in order to succeed in today's fast-paced, hyper-competitive market. To this end, the ubiquity of PCs, the proliferation of laptops and mobile devices, and advancements in mobile computing technology are driving an industry-wide transformation.

By enticing this old dog with a juicy morsel of meat (profits) and adding another hungry dog or two into the mix (competition), it appears that he can be transformed into a rejuvenated canine eager to perform. Bearing this out, a growing number of insurers, once thought of as technology laggards, are baring their technology teeth, developing and deploying anywhere, anytime computing solutions.

Producers Lloyds Insurance Company...
Mobile Computing for Crop Insurers
The Challenge

Of all the segments of the property-and-casualty insurance industry, perhaps none is more steeped in tradition and staid business practices than crop insurance. Producers Lloyds Insurance Company was formed in 1975 to specifically address the crop-insurance needs of the agricultural community. They sell and service several different crop-insurance products to farmers in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, including Multiple Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI), Crop Revenue Coverage (CRC), and Crop Hail Insurance.

With a growing army of field agents serving a geographically dispersed base of customers, Producers was expending a considerable amount of resources - time, money, and personnel - maintaining their policy-management system. Keeping application logic and data that was spread out over multiple locations in synch and up to date was becoming increasingly arduous. Losing customers to monolithic national insurers, as well as formidable regional players, was becoming an increasingly real threat. In addition, if Producers wanted to offer access to policy information over the Internet - a key element of the company's growth strategy - it had to meet the 2002 crop year deadline established by government regulations.

"In-the-field quoting and support from decision-making software could close a sale that might otherwise slip away," says Larry Latham, treasurer and chief information officer for Producers Lloyds. "Having direct remote access to loss claim adjustment and payment status would give our agents a distinct competitive advantage. We also wanted to strengthen our relationship with customers by making it easier to do business with us. We felt strongly that providing Internet access to policy and useful agricultural information would help accomplish this."

The Solution
In September 2000, Producers Lloyds teamed with Emrys Technologies to develop and deploy a scalable and flexible mobile-computing solution that allows field agents and policyholders to use PCs, laptops, and a host of mobile devices to access the company's Policy Administration & Services System (PASS) and Online Policy Update System (OPUS) - a central data repository and grouping of server-based applications.

The Emrys Visions platform provided Producers with a visual development environment and a runtime application server that enabled the rapid development of real-time connected applications as well as applications that can run on mobile devices running Windows 95/98//NT/ME/2000, Windows CE, Pocket PC, and the Palm operating systems.

The platform's sophisticated n-tiered architecture ensures full GUI functionality and high performance regardless of device or bandwidth constraints. In addition, an "always-on" mode allows remote access to key applications even when end users are working in a disconnected environment. All client-side applications are self-updating from the enterprise server, ensuring that all policy-management information is consistent, accurate, and up to date.

After downloading the Emrys-enabled mobile-computing software from the Producers Lloyds Web site, field agents can securely access PASS via their home PC, laptop, or mobile device. These most frequently used applications include quoting, policy creation, forms preparation, and claims status.

Producers' OPUS will be available to policyholders in time for the spring 2001 crop year. It will allow farmers to establish a secure connection with Producers for online management of crop-insurance information such as initial quotes, policy information, and claims status.

Surmounting the Bandwidth Barrier
A prevailing myth in today's information-driven economy holds that data-intensive business applications require T1- or DSL-grade bandwidth to work properly, and that such applications cannot be effectively accessed via dial-up modems or wireless connections. While evaluating the Emrys mobile solution, Latham focused on a core, fundamental question: "Will this more immediate and direct access to policy information help field agents and policyholders make more timely decisions in an environment that is secure and, most important, fast enough to be usable?"

While it's true that today's wireless networks have limited bandwidth - typically 19.2Kbps or less, and that 56K modems have difficulty receiving and transmitting data-heavy files, techniques and technologies exist to mitigate these issues. Through the use of advanced caching and intelligent event management, the Emrys Vision mobile-computing platform distributes components of an application in a manner that enables both high performance and speed regardless of bandwidth constraints. Whether using a PC, laptop, or wireless device, end users of Producers' PASS or OPUS systems generally experience subsecond response times.

Satisfying Security Requirements
While the ultimate goal was to provide agents and policyholders with anytime, anywhere access to Producers Lloyds' PASS and OPUS systems, it was equally critical that the solution incorporate bulletproof security measures, ensuring that only approved end users could access the systems, and that only the appropriate information was made available to each end user. Using a standard Web browser to access information being pushed out from a server affords little security.

Instead, Producers relies on the Emrys View Manager, a secure application browser downloaded to the client, to bring the login user to the server-based application site where the link to back-end databases is established. In addition to being user-name and password protected, the connection is also IP-address specific and, as an extra measure of security, all data transfers between the remote user and application server are encrypted.

Supporting the Disconnected User
The vast majority of Producers Lloyds customers are located in remote, rural areas where wireless coverage can be spotty, if not completely unavailable. And we've all experienced the notorious unreliability of dial-up connections. At the outset of Producers' mobile initiative, one point was abundantly clear: nothing would be more aggravating and counterproductive than to spend 15 minutes entering critical information in the field via a laptop or wireless device only to have it lost because of a dropped connection.

Remedying this situation, the Emrys Vision platform incorporates advanced peer-to-peer technology to provide always-on capability. If perchance an end user can't establish a connection, or if an established connection is lost, he or she can access information and queue up transactions offline. The solution incorporates data synchronization and messaging technologies to enable the exchange of new information as soon as a connection is reestablished.

Measurable Bottom-line Results
With all IT investments, there comes a moment of truth where the gee-whiz factor must give way to measurable bottom-line results. The desire to remain competitive can drive companies to hastily invest in the latest technology while losing sight of real-world business objectives. In Emrys Technologies, Producers Lloyds Insurance found a technology vendor committed to their partnership and capable of delivering a complete solution.

Successful beta testing of the Emrys-enabled mobile solution was completed in April 2001, and full rollout to agents began in August 2001. Producers' policyholders will be able to interact with OPUS in time for the 2001 harvest season.

A Partnership That Works
"Clear communications and an unflinching focus on business-meaningful results ensured that our mobile computing initiative stayed on schedule, on budget, and on strategy," says Latham. "From conception to beta testing to full implementation, Emrys worked with us every step of the way."

Today, Producers Lloyds manages more than $200 million in assets, processes $25 million in annual premiums, and administers more than 20,000 policies. The Emrys-enabled mobile computing solution provides data and application interaction to more than 400 agents, and has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture as a secure means for selling and administering agricultural insurance via the Internet.

Through the efficiencies gained by the Emrys-enabled mobile solution, Latham estimates a 20% increase in agent productivity and a 60% reduction in the costs associated with supporting the company's mobile workforce. The ability to access accurate, on-the-spot information has had a tremendous positive impact on customer service. Leveraging the competitive advantage afforded by the mobile solution, Latham anticipates a significant improvement in the company's ability to attract and retain qualified agents. Looking forward, Latham projects an overall 17-21% increase in annual revenue as a result of its m-business initiative.

More Stories By Kevin Rachel

Kevin Rachel is director of field operations for Emrys Technologies. Founded in 1998, and located in Richardson, Texas ("The Telecom Corridor"), the company develops and markets software for the rapid creation and deployment of enterprise mobile applications. Their patent-pending technology
eliminates bandwidth constraints and provides
application functionality, performance,
and security for mobile users.

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