Mind the Gap. Are Insurers and Vendors in Latin America on the same page about SaaS and Cloud Computing Usage and Adoption?

Mind the Gap. Are Insurers and Vendors in Latin America on the same page about SaaS and Cloud Computing Usage and Adoption?

Almost with the end of the year around the corner we are yet immersed in some very important reports for all of us which, by the way, will be produced integrally with Latin American focus for the first time. The CIO Report and the Policy Administration System ABCD Vendor View Report are on their way.

From our past and recent discussions with Insurers and Vendors about different topics around technology, architecture, trends, features and functionality something has been driving my attention: It seems to be a gap in the perception about usage and adoption of SaaS models and Cloud Computing in Insurance, at least in Latin America. While the detailed reasons and how large is the gap between Insurers and Vendors will be part of a report next year, initial findings point in the direction that Vendors perceive more benefits from adopting these models while Insurer’s CIOs do not feel the pressure and do not have it as a priority.

A SaaS approach, applied to a Policy Administration System for example, appears as a perfect fit to the business model of many Vendors. SaaS enables Vendors to target small and medium Insurers as they can consistently manage a single scalable version of the solution and offer support very cost effectively with prices that fit smaller Insurers wallets.

On the other side, CIOs seem to feel more comfortable with on-site, self-controlled environments. Hardware and communications prices are more accessible to them providing more processing power and bandwidth for their dollars that a few years ago. In some countries even regulation presents a challenge to these type of offering as regulators still question where the system and the data needs to reside.

Something to consider is that Insurers in this region have yet not been exposed to much SaaS and Cloud offering so the perceived associated benefits and the price difference between traditional on-site and the new alternatives is still a discussion to mature.

Another aspect that might help to build the bridge and cross the gap is that core system replacement is starting to show increased trends and it will expose Latin American Insurers to new architected solutions with technology and functionality much more flexible and robust but at the same time more complex to administrate. Specially smaller Insurers will need to consider how to remain competitive, improve processes and deliver better quality products and services through diverse and new distribution channels at a cost they can bare.

Interesting times to come as we unveil what to expect in the region. In the meanwhile if you are interested in participating in the Latin America CIO Report or the Policy Administration System Report please let me know. Also feel free to reach me at jmazzini@celent.com with your comments and thoughts around SaaS and Cloud Computing usage and adoption.

Happy Holidays!

SaaS Activity in 2010 Insurance Software Deals

SaaS Activity in 2010 Insurance Software Deals

Every year, Celent conducts a survey of software providers which details the activity in the insurance automation market (http://www.celent.com/reports/north-american-insurance-software-deal-trends-2011-lifehealthannuity-edition and http://www.celent.com/reports/north-american-insurance-software-deal-trends-2011-propertycasualty-edition). The latest snapshot showed a 14% growth in SaaS across all categories. This increase was expected based on conversations we had last year with both insurers and vendors. It was good to get some numbers that defined the level of activity in this area. What was surprising was that billing was one of the leaders in the move to SaaS in terms of percentage of deals. Thirty percent of the reported insurance billing systems sold in 2010 were delivered through some type of hosted solution. This demonstrates both the desire of companies to upgrade their billing service and reduce the cost involved in delivering these new capabilities. Look for increased activity in this area in 2011.

EC2 Troubles Must Be Taken in Context

EC2 Troubles Must Be Taken in Context

Proponents of cloud computing aren’t going to like the fact that Amazon had issues that resulted in outages among its EC2 customers’ sites. The know-it-alls out there are probably already saying, “If Amazon has issues like this, imagine what would happen if you placed your bet on a less-experienced cloud vendor!” The gravitational shift toward the cloud for both core and non-core systems has surely slowed down.

But the fact is that most insurers have their own outages when they host applications internally, in some cases with more frequency and severity than we’re seeing here with Amazon. It’s interesting to note how some of the customers who are known to be affected have reacted. “We wouldn’t be where we are without EC2,” said one. So despite the horror of having their public-facing site go flighty for a day (or two–we’re hearing the problems are not completely resolved), there’s apparently a reserve of goodwill that has built up over many months of near-flawless operation.

Instead of putting the industry on red alert, Celent believes this event should focus the discussion on the relative reliability of various approaches, and the tradeoffs between them. Should you know your vendor’s architecture and reality-check their DR and failover strategies? Absolutely. You should also run the business case for change, especially if gaining scale quickly, moving nimbly into new markets, or handling seasonal spikes in activity are issues for which you have few answers. Outages caused by a vendor are never a good thing, but they are probably not your biggest, baddest problems either.

SOA Removes the Fog from Cloud

SOA Removes the Fog from Cloud

A lot has been made about Cloud computing recently; even to the point of asking if it is more fog than cloud. The focus of these discussions is strictly on the technology which is where they miss the point. It is reminiscent of the early SOA discussions.

Celent defines Cloud computing as the use of computing resources, typically a server or part of a server, over the Internet. The implications of this are: companies can leverage a vendor’s server offerings to build or expand their server capabilities; focus is on hardware, not software; and carriers need to package up an image of their software to install it quickly.

While technically speaking, Cloud solutions do leverage the Internet and virtualization, neither of which is new. However, if using these technologies is so easy, why do companies, especially insurance companies struggle with gaining the benefits of Cloud themselves? I believe the answer is identical to why many insurance companies were not as successful with SOA, lack of strong governance and understanding of the full picture.

Many companies when trying to implement SOA solutions, focused strictly on WS-* standards and SOAP, although inconsistently across the enterprise. Companies that have been successful in their SOA journey have realized that SOA is more than technology and standards; it also includes architecture, organization, governance, strategy and process maturity.

Insurers that believe Cloud, and more importantly, SaaS is nothing more than invocating functions over the Internet and using virtualization for cost effective infrastructure implementations will miss the benefits of Cloud and continue to struggle with application and infrastructure upgrades and cost savings. Similar to SOA, insurers must look at their architecture, organization, governance, strategy and process maturity to decide if a private cloud is more effective than a public cloud solution. The advantage that most Cloud vendors provide is that they will do this for you if you cannot or do not.

Cloud, technically speaking, may simply leverage the Internet and virtualization, old technologies, but do not be fooled into thinking that is all it is.

Is the death of the Insurance CIO possibly around the corner?

Is the death of the Insurance CIO possibly around the corner?

It was during a conversation over a year ago someone raised the possibility of the “best-before-date” of a CIO. He made the point that in 10 years time, IT would be a commoditised service consumed as and when it suited the business. He was really pushing the envelope – he meant all of IT from infrastructure services through to core insurance applications. I nodded sagely, as analysts do, and agreed with him in the principle but not on the time frame. 10 years… surely not.

The conversation was with a UK CIO of a mid-sized P&C operation and it’s been replaying on my mind recently. Against the backdrop of increasingly meaningful conversations about cloud, the idea of an IT organisation being commoditised to the point of removing the necessity of a IT management structure suddenly seems real.

There are two interesting case studies. Firstly, the UK Royal Mail moved from an internally managed mail system for 37,000 users, to an external public cloud by moving all the users to the Microsoft cloud. That’s a significant and meaningful change in strategy for a large organisation such as Royal Mail. The CIO said it was driven mostly by a need for agility rather than cost-savings. The Royal Mail had decided to focus on delivering parcels and letters, and let an external supplier deliver internal email via the cloud.

The second is an insurance specific test case. A UK insurer is testing a policy administration system in the cloud. This in itself is significant – this is a large insurer testing out the idea of a core system in the public cloud. It’s still under test but the insurer is excited about what this can mean for their agility in IT delivery.

With the growth of traditional sourcing models, it’s easy to accept that infrastructure could be moved from a private cloud with a traditional hosting company into a public cloud. What’s much harder to get agreement on is a vision of the world where core systems live in a public cloud. And there is good reason for this. Regulators, customers and insurers alike will have concerns over security and data privacy. There will be concerns about being tied to a large cloud provider with little interest in commercial issues. There will be (and have been in the cases above) some hand wringing over the gap in SLA’s delivered in the cloud versus what traditional sourcing models might offer.

The examples suggest an inexorable move towards the commoditisation of IT. It may well be too early to talk of the death of the CIO, but there is little doubt that the responsibilities of a CIO could shift towards supplier management as cloud offerings mature and become a viable solution to new outsourcing models.