Are you Strategically Investing in Your Technology?
Working with scores of small and mid-size insurance agencies over the last twelve years has given me an interesting vantage point to compare agencies. I have noted the differences between healthy, growing agencies and those that are stagnant. One of the differentiators between the two groups is their approach to technology. Well run agencies, both large and small, see technology as a valuable investment to be leveraged for the improvement of their business. Those agencies that are struggling usually view technology as an expense that must simply be controlled and minimized. I have watched this differing perspective have a huge impact on agencies’ experiences. As you might expect, agencies who invest wisely in technology have more secure and reliable systems. But good technology investments also extend to better productivity which can improve sales and reduce service expenses. The result is higher profits and greater agency valuation. A healthy perspective on technology can even help your culture and employee engagement.
This article is the first of a two-part series. In this article, I will provide a perspective on how healthy, operationally mature agencies are investing their IT spend to achieve high performance. In the next article, I will provide some parameters for how much you should expect to spend to maximize the value you get from your technology.
For clarity, I am going to review five major categories of IT investment and discuss how healthy agencies approach each. The five categories are: 1) agency management systems, 2) office productivity software, 3) employee experience, 4) security and compliance and 5) proactive management and support.
Agency Management Systems
As your primary line of business application, your agency management system will have a profound impact on your operation. Healthy agencies are investing in proven agency management systems from vendors who have deep experience and a track record for deploying and supporting agency management systems. A complete agency management solution includes more than the traditional accounting, workflow and customer relationship management modules. As client expectations evolve, the tools must evolve as well.
Operationally mature agencies understand that state of the art sales automation tools allow them to differentiate from their competitors as their target clients shift to a younger generation with different expectations for conducting business. They know that younger clients have a higher expectation for serving themselves, so online tools that allow them to pay their premium, request auto ID cards, submit a claim and review their coverages are necessities. Likewise, as producers skew younger, there is greater need for quality mobile versions of the tools that allow producers to manage their accounts, quote and close business. Whether these additional tools are provided by your agency management vendor or a third party, a cohesive solution is a must, so these modules need to integrate well. Most thriving agencies already have their agency management system “in the cloud” hosted by the application vendor. If your agency still has its management system running locally on premise, then you should be planning for the migration to the cloud now.
Office Productivity Software
This category includes software for email, spreadsheets, presentations, document management, collaboration, as well as voice communications. Most agencies are committed to Microsoft for these solutions given the needs to integrate email and documents with their agency management system. Microsoft continues to innovate to provide a more feature-rich, dependable suite of solutions. Healthy agencies are moving to Office 365 or already there in order to get the benefits of the newest features in the Microsoft Office suite, facilitate the “work anywhere” capabilities of Office 365, and reduce their backend infrastructure costs for servers. These agencies also understand that their phone system is a critical part of office productivity and facilitates that “work anywhere” goal. They are re-evaluating the features of their phone system to ensure it has the flexibility to accommodate their workflows irrespective of where their employees are physically located.
In some respects, not much has changed in user requirements in the last decade. Typical employees in an agency, including CSRs and accounting personnel, still generally require fully functional workstations. Healthy agencies are investing in multiple monitors for efficiency, solid state hard drives for fast performance, and plenty of computer memory. Executives and producers are investing in laptops or combination tablets/laptops such as the Microsoft Surface to get the benefits of a full featured desktop without sacrificing mobility. Successful agencies also stay current on desktop hardware, replacing PCs approximately every four years. They make sure they are using a supported Windows operating system. This means they are well aware that Windows 7 will no longer be supported after January 14, 2020 and they are working now with their IT solution provider to upgrade to Windows 10 before they are out of compliance.
Security and Compliance
The fourth category requiring IT investment is constantly evolving. This is the area of security and compliance. Security threats are growing as are the toolsets and best practices for combatting them. As new regulations kick in at the state and federal levels, the requirements for compliance continue to increase as do the penalties for noncompliance. I advise agencies to work with security providers that are in tune with the specific regulations affecting the insurance industry, are forward-thinking, and are nimble enough to adjust to the changes in security regulations, threats, and tools.
Proactive Management and Support
The fifth and final category is proactive management and support. Most high performing agencies recognize that their IT dollar can be stretched if they engage a solution provider to provide proactive management and support of their users and technology rather than doing it themselves. Some of the attributes you should look for in a quality IT provider are a proactive approach to technology management, competence and urgency when issues arise, and a clear understanding of your agency needs. It certainly helps if your provider is a trusted advisor with strong credentials in the first four categories. Then, your solution provider can be the glue that binds all of these needs together.
Properly evaluating the value of any investment requires an understanding of both the costs and the benefits. Above we discussed maximizing the benefits by making wise technology choices. In the next article, we will look at the cost side of the equation. Stay tuned.