If you think twittering is for the birds, then think again. US President Obama and Stephen Fry (a renowned British actor) are both active users of the micro-blogging website – twitter.com. Earlier this month, Stephen Fry was stuck in lift in London and used Twitter to talk to his followers – all 180,000 of them – about his predicament. Ever helpful, his followers offered advice on surviving in broken lifts and generally uplifting comments. Welcome to the world of social networking.
But it’s not all fun and games. Recently, a US congressman took to announcing in detail his movements on a visit to Irag. This caused an outrage over the unintended security risk he caused for himself and his delegation.
Companies are using Twitter for their own purposes. You can follow the CEOs, hear what employees are saying about the company or interact as a customer. Twitter has caught onto this corporate surfing and has made mutterings about charging corporate users. Clear benefit of this channel remains unproven and such a move would certainly dampen corporate interest.
In the corporate world, Twitter is said to be able to play a role in customer feedback, queries or product questions. However, these activities could just as well be served in on-line forums which are better at structuring and associating data. Twitter boards can sometimes look like random streams of the unconscious that can only make sense to the Twitter owner. Most companies will allow you to submit queries to them via email but either don’t respond, or respond in a useless timeframe. I’d happily use alternative channels (email, twitter, skype) to communicate with companies instead of having to deal with those interminable call centres. But then the company must actually respond.
The Wall Street Journal noted “… some users are starting to feel ‘too’ connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills, and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they’re having for dinner”
I’m with WSJ on this one. Twitter is yet another communication channel in an over-communicated world. The technology may be a viable consumer communication channel but it competes with alternative and more established channels. My message to firms considering this is to get your other channels working first.
A lot of interesting ideas emerged during Celent’s CIO Roundtable and Model Carrier Summit last week. (See Mike Fitzgerald’s excellent synopses of both events here.) One of my favorites came from a CIO panelist, who framed his rationale for IT project investments in terms of their intended payback periods.
“You’ve got to have some long projects in your portfolio, or eventually you’re going to find yourself hopelessly out of contention for the affection of your customers and agents and brokers,” he said. “But you need some short ones too—things that have a six or nine month payback period, where you can make some progress that will show up on your bottom line in a hurry.”
In the context of the current financial crisis and the microscope that many insurers live under, this idea has never been more important. If you made the 9-month payback your sole project approval criteria, what would you be left with? Cleaning up commission reports, making subtle tweaks to your portal, and maybe improving minor flow issues on your customer service UI. All good ideas, but hardly enough to get you on the radar of independent agents/brokers, especially. And certainly not an effective long-term lever if your goal is to double back office productivity.
On the other hand, should you be betting the farm on $100 million, 5-year policy administration replacement projects? In the words of an old boss of mine, “We could all be dead in five years!” I think his point was that anything beyond the 12 month mark is suspect because, well, stuff happens. Not “might happen,” but “happens.” It just does.
In the perfect world, you can cycle the gains from your “short” investments back toward your “long” portfolio. Those nine-month projects should be delivering savings just in time for your next budgeting cycle.
But we expect that scenario to get harder this year, for two reasons. First, CFOs are getting wise to the game. When you send them a business case with a payback starting in month six, many now expect to actually capture those benefits from month seven forward. Unlike the good old days, just because you save the company some money, don’t expect that it will become your division’s slush fund.
The second reason is that most companies are committed to an SOA vision, where reusability is key. This means that the field of play for short projects is shrinking, or at least morphing toward longer projects. One-off solutions—no matter how smart they sound or how much money they save—are on the path to rarity, if not extinction. Of course there are still savings to be found as SOA infrastructure is developed. But those savings are probably the cornerstone of your larger projects and shouldn’t be double counted.
When discussing with most of my friends about my job and the insurance industry, I am often told that insurance is not interesting or is one of the least innovative sectors among the financial services industry. Of course, I don’t agree with them and sometimes I have to argue fiercely to demonstrate that their perception is exaggerated. Web 2.0. and its related-technologies are good examples where some insurance companies have already launched interesting initiatives. Based on contacts I have established so far, I have decided to work on a research, whose objectives are to provide some examples of Web 2.0. initiatives launched by insurers and to understand how the sector perceives and evaluates the value of Web 2.0. initiatives in the long-run. While the first objective seems to be relatively easy to achieve, I expect some difficulties with the second one.In a report published last year called “Capturing the Strategic Value of IT: A Review of IT Investment Evaluation Methods”, I have tried to analyze how insurers can prioritize IT investments and better evaluate the strategic impacts these types of investments can have on their business. Some projects related to social networking launched by insurers are typically the kind of investments, where the question of value is of highest relevance. Of course, entering the blogosphere or a presence in Second Life contribute to launching a signal of modernity and dynamism to potential clients. But do these initiatives really generate new sales or can the new perceived image of an insurer following such initiatives indirectly trigger more referrals? How do insurers evaluate the results of these projects and what factors and criterias are particularly important to them when deciding to adopt the Web 2.0. attitude? Even though insurers’ Web 2.0. initiatives give me some interesting stories to tell to my friends when they tease me about my job and the insurance industry, they do not answer the most important question: what value can they bring to insurers? You will therefore understand that I am very excited and curious to hear what CIOs, marketing managers or other people responsible for such projects within insurance organizations will tell me when I will raise this question! My expectations are high and I hope I will be able to provide interesting findings to my future readers.
Three cheers for my auto insurer, which gets unexpectedly high grades for a claim experience. (And no, for you conspiracy theorists, they are not currently a Celent client.) I recently had the misfortune of introducing the front end of my 3000-pound car to a 200-pound wild hog. At highway speed, it wasn’t good for either of them. But my car is insured, at least. While I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone, some good news about our industry crept into the story. Witness:
- A pleasant FNOL. I literally called my insurer as I was driving home from the hospital, and 10 minutes later the claim was in process. The reps on the phone were empathetic, helpful, and knowledgeable. Coverages, deductibles, and repair options were all sorted out promptly. Grade: A-
- Quick action on the fix. Even though my car was towed to a non-company lot, my insurer arranged to have it brought to their local repair facility, free of charge. Of course it was worth it to them to have better control over the repair, but it was also easy for me. Grade: A
- Updates every three days for the duration. How did they know I would have called them several times to make sure my car would be returned to me promptly? Experience probably told them, and they swapped out my inbound calls for some proactive outbound calls that they controlled. Smart. Grade: A+
- Good execution. The car was ready when they said it would be. It had two minor issues, so I’ll ding them for quality control. But the claim center reps jumped to resolve the issues quickly, which prevented a blight on an otherwise great experience. Grade: B+
From an analyst’s perspective, I think this is a triumph of technology, process, and customer psychology. Like many consumers, I’m suspicious what will happen to my premiums at renewal. But for now, I’m telling my friends and family that my insurer knows why I pay them.
In 2008, life insurers were deeply impacted by the financial crisis, especially within their wealth management divisions. Nevertheless, some insurers were very successful in generating new premiums thanks to their financial stability and low exposure to risks (e.g., sub-prime, hedge funds, etc.). That was one of the paradoxes of this crisis. Collateral effects for these “lucky losers” have been moderate, even for the IT divisions. But Operational Expense and Capital Expense IT budgets for 2009 have been reduced due to the bad economic climate, which I believe will last at least one more year. So, technology executives in insurance will have to face the dilemma of “doing more with less.” As I am one of these, my goals for 2009 are:
- Ensuring business continuity. IT services are part of the core business of life insurance. They have to be reliable and powerful to support day to day business, even in the worst cases like this economical crisis.
- Focusing on short-term customer needs but maintaining a long-term perspective. Customers are anxious about their investments and need to be reassured. They are looking for stability and low-risk financial products. Life insurance could be the right answer if we invest in building trust-based and lasting relationships with our customers that help to restore confidence in financial products.
- Keeping faith in the future and welcoming the “Internet generation” by implementing innovative life e-insurance services and advice. The Internet generation is getting older and will soon be interested in life insurance products. Insurers must be prepared to fulfil their needs by offering new ways of managing “virtual” relationships with this promising segment of “e-customers.”