Offering Experiences: The Emerging Basis of Competition

Can you imagine running into Steve Job’s office at Apple and exclaiming: “Steve, I just realized that the new basis of competition is being able to provide world-class experiences for our customers !” Either he would laugh you out of his office or call Apple’s security to throw you out of the company. Steve Jobs already knows that offering experiences is the way for companies to achieve stronger competitive differentiation and larger market share.

Apple, of course, is not the only company that has been pursuing this strategy. In our world of insurance, USAA, Progressive and Chubb are three insurance companies that immediately come to mind as companies providing a world-class experience for their clients.

But what about your insurance company? Of if you are a producer, what about the insurance agency or broker you work for? Does your firm provide a world-class experience? Is it planning to offer a world-class experience? (By the way, it is your customers, producers and other stakeholders who would be the ones deciding if your company offers a world-class experience.)

Let’s assume that either your company wants to offer a stronger experience or offer an experience in the first place. (Yes, every firm offers experiences. It is just that most of the stakeholder interactions are labored, awkward or otherwise painful.) What technology firm might you consider contacting that would enable your insurance company or agency / broker to offer experiences for your policyholders, prospects and others?

edgeIPK.

Who is edgeIPK? My question exactly. On Wednesday, January 27, 2010 Wendy Corman, the newly appointed president of the U.S. division of edgeIPK and her colleagues were gracious enough to brief me about edgeIPK and show me a demo. The purpose of this post is to get across the highlights of that briefing.

Please note that I am not saying you should rush out and purchase edgeIPK’s products. But given that three of their insurance customers are Allianz, Zurich and Willis, you might want to consider reaching out to edge for a conversation, a demo and potentially creating a pilot for one of your lines of business. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to go their web site, find the contact information and call them.

So, what does edgeIPK offer? Edge enables insurance companies the ability to wrap and extend their functionality simultaneously to multiple delivery channels in multiple formats. That means, your insurance company can provide the same look-and-feel to producers, policyholders, prospects or others regardless of the nature and form of the interaction.

Say what? Edge enables insurer or broker functionality to be delivered in a consistent look-and-feel to the web, to mobile devices, and to laptop computers. A critically important point is that edge is ‘target platform agnostic’ so it doesn’t matter if the insurance company or broker is reaching out to people who use IE, Firefox, Safari, or other browsers. Nor does it matter what version of those browsers the target audience is using because edge (supposedly according to Wendy during the briefing) keeps up with all the browser versions and ensures the content can be correctly rendered for the target audience.

Edge capabilities can be used by marketing, distribution and call center staff in the home office as well as field office, agency or broker staff. Edge realizes insurers conduct business on a global stage and so supports multiple languages and multiple currencies. As they told me during the briefing, edge can easily handle our UK cousins use of ‘u’ everywhere as well as our US spelling. Edge supports Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin, I believe) and many other languages.

Edge uses their open presentation platform to quickly configure screens for the home office or field office user or agent or broker. Edge can configure composite screens from different applications which is particularly useful for home office call center representatives or agency support staff.

Edge focuses solely on the presentation of the information required by the insurance company or agency for their target markets. It is part of their skill set to keep up with the growing number of widgets and widget libraries. Occasionally edge will even create their own widgets for their customers when necessary. Edge also deals with security and performance to ensure that the insurance company’s target audience – regardless of end-device or browser – experiences approximately the same level of performance.

Yes, edge is new to the United States. They are in the process of building both sales and services teams here in the U.S. But based on my thirty-plus years in the insurance industry, I believe they are worth a look. Edge gets it: with the evolution of the web, the growing number of devices that clients and field personnel use, and the absolute mandate for insurance companies (and agencies and brokers) to provide a consistent look-and-feel for their policyholders, prospects and other stakeholders, edge provides the software to make that all happen.

Insurers do not have to replace their legacy systems or purchase new core administrative systems. Edge wraps around all of those systems and enables insurers to bring their ever-increasing number of Moments of Truth to the level of a world-class experience.

I’ll be checking back with edge and their insurance customers periodically to see  how edgeIPK is doing in the insurance space.  But to repeat, based on what I saw and heard (and given that Zurich, Allianz and Willis are world-class organizations themselves), I suggest you call edge and see what they can do for your company.

Building a Social Media Analyst

A magic wand has been placed in your hands. With it, you can build what you think of as a good social media analyst.

What are the major areas of knowledge you would gather together to construct a social media analyst you would look to for research, analysis and advice?

A recent Digital Tonto post  (about their recommended 2009 reading list) got me thinking about this. I agree with some of their ideas (particularly social media analysts needing to know about network theory, including power laws) on this and have added some others. I’d suggest a good social media analyst should have knowledge about:

1. Networks and network theory
2. Power laws (and the long tail)
3. Anthropology (particularly applied to communication and collaboration within digital communities)
4. Marketing and advertising within digital communities
5. Commerce initiatives within digital communities, including the acceptance (or rejection) of the hard sell within digital communities
6. Insight about the evolving web – or at least, which new capabilities (e.g. semantic technologies, augmented reality) will emerge in the next 2 – 5 years.
7. ?

And aside from reading a lot of Marshall McLuhan (that should go without saying), what would you add to this mix of domains a good social media analyst should have? Why?

Naughty or Nice

Iggy ran into Santa’s office and was almost out of breath when he got there and sat next to Robby. Robby, of course, had arrived on time and he and Santa were enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate – with those little peppermint marshmallows – and munching on some just-out-of-the-oven sugar cookies he loved so much.

Santa merrily chuckled when he saw Iggy plop down and waved off his tardiness.

“Don’t worry about it. Here, have a cup of cocoa and some cookies. Let’s get to it. You two know I need your help deciding who has been naughty or nice in the insurance industry space.”

“What do you recommend? I had asked you, Robby, to think more about the insurance industry and you, Iggy, to think about the technology companies supporting insurers.”

Santa reached for another delectable sugar cookie covered with the many-colored sugar sprinkles. “Tell me who should get what so we can finish our N & N list.”

Robby said he did have some thoughts:

  • Let’s give the life and annuity insurers a large dose of hope for 2010. They are going to be regulated up one way and down the next in 2010. Plus the retirement crisis hasn’t really pushed sales as high up as it should have. probably due to the recession.
  • For property and casualty insurers, predictive analytics and other modeling capabilities would be nice stocking-stuffers; plus a large dollop of reality of the necessity of federal regulation. The marketplace has moved well into a national – and really international – framework.
  • For state insurance regulators we need both lumps of coal for those who think insurers exist primarily as whipping posts so they can remain in office – and lumps of sugar for those regulators who understand without reasonable capacity as defined by actuarial standards, insurers won’t be able to do business in their states in the first place

Santa put down his hot chocolate. “Anything else we need to put on the list for insurance industry players?”

Robby said there was one last item and it was a big one: “we need to leave a large saw for all insurers so they can clear a wide path in their companies to apply enterprise risk management practices and systems.”

“That’s a good one,” Santa guffawed. “And Iggy, what should go on the list for technology firms supporting the insurance industry?” Santa asked as he got up from his desk and poured More hot chocolate for Robby, Iggy and himself.  

“To begin with,” Iggy said “I want to give technology companies a large tub of white-out or white tape.” “Why,” Santa asked. “Because everytime a really new concept comes along, too many technology firms just relabel what they were already selling and say they are now offering the new concept.”

“I also want to give some of the outsourcing companies sets of small scissors to help them cut out all of those CMM levels and professional designations from their business cards.”

“Isn’t industry training important? Isn’t capability modeling important?, ” Santa asked.

“Of course it is but we know from talking to insurance professionals they really care about their outsourcers having actual, demonstrable insurance industry experience and referenceable clients whose company names carry some weight.”

“That can’t be all, ” Santa exclaimed, blowing the excess heat from his cup of chocolate and putting more of those tiny marshmallows in at the same time.

“Nope, there’s more,” Iggy said and rattled off:

  • For technology firms new to the insurance industry, I’d put HBR Case Studies in their stockings. These companies have to come up with sharp and unstandable value propositions and ways to truly differentiate themselves from the existing technology players.
  • For technology firms who are in a specific niche – say billing or even predictive analytics – we should give them a financial planning manual to they can prepare themselves to be acquired … or maybe directions to the nearest white knights.
  • For technology firms who are creating products or services based on new technologies (say, semantic technologies), I want to give them a 48-month annual calendar because selling something new to the insurance industry is going to take a very, very loooooong time.

And that’s it, Santa. Iggy reached for two more of those sugar cookies.

What would you add to either Robby’s list for insurers or Iggy’s list for technology firms to help Santa decide what to pack in his bag in 10 days?

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 7:34 am  Comments (2)  
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Rabkin’s ROI Has Moved !!

You can now find Rabkin’s ROI in the Blog page of my company web site www.marketinsightgroup.com I will be adding new posts to the blog at this new location going forward from today.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 7:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Web Information Discovery Strategies

We all know that the digital marketplace is  continually creating ever-increasing amounts of digital content. And with a plethora of content comes at least two problems: a paucity of attention and an inability to find or otherwise leverage the growing amount of digital content.

Three firms – one we all know extremely well – and two others are using two different strategies to resolve both problems: 1. get in the middle and 2. wrap.

Google uses the ‘get in the middle’ strategy by putting themselves between us (the folks looking for information) and the sources of information. We don’t need to belabor what the technology company does and how it is broadening its footprint into areas other than search. Google is about finding information.

Two new companies – Wolfram Alpha and Book of Odds – both employ a ‘wrap’ strategy. Both of these web firms wrap information around other information, sort of like a donut with a jelly filling. And both firms are about leveraging information by presenting it to users in a context and in a way that seekers of information can relate … although that relationship is also about the context of the seeker (the seeker’s background, goals, objectives of seeking information and desire to continually investigate) as well as the context the information is presented.

Let’s first look at Wolfram Alpha. From their web site, the company says its goal is “making the worlds’ knowledge computable.” The About page discusses in part that “Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.” On the Examples page the web site has 29 categories from Mathematics to Physics to Dates & Times to Places & Geography to Colors. I suggest you click over and learn how the site works.

Now let’s turn to Book of Odds. Excerpting directly from the About page” ” Book of Odds is the world’s first reference on the odds of everyday life. It is a destination where people come to learn about the things that worry or excite them, to read engaging and thoughtful articles, and to participate in a community of users that share their interests and ambitions.”

And that learning is done in the context of news articles from a multitude of sources but grouped into four major categories: Accidents & Death, Daily Life & Activities, Health & Illness, and Relationships & Society. Seekers of information – and here we mean seekers of probabilities – will find articles both on the home page and on each of the four major category pages. In addition, Book of Odds also displays statements of odds that are not embedded in articles. People wanting to better understand how Book of Odds began can read a blog by the Founder. I also suggest you click over to the Book of Odds site to find out how that site works.

Both of these new web publishers are about exploration and discovery of information in a way that Google is not. Both are hoping to create additional value – beyond returning a site or set of sites that may (or may not) answer a seeker’s question – by establishing a context for the embedded information. Both are examples of Semantic Web or if you prefer, Web 3.0, firms. A new species trying to make a living in the always changing web terrain.

However, the challenge for both Wolfram Alpha and Book of Odds is generating sufficient and persistent profitability by:

  • Satisfying the information seeker in a contextual manner they expect or want
  • Encouraging the information seeker to continue their explorations and stay awhile, and most importantly
  • Triggering the information seeker to purchase something. Each of these new firms will be looking for a variety of revenue paths driven by the capabilities or results they provide the seekers who click over to their web sites.

Information discovery on the web is obviously so much more than search. But, and there is always a but, do you think Wolfram Alpha or Book of Odds has an opportunity to succeed as a stand-alone company 5 years from now? I’m not sure. Are you?

Shazam – Come On, You’re Impressed Too!!

I got an iPhone last year. Didn’t think I would ever “go Apple” for anything. Grew up in the insurance industry so I was used to and happy with IBM computing, including laptops. Later I got a Nokia and “hello, love!” Palm was my device of choice for contacts, calendar, notes and such. Happy as the proverbial clam.

Then a year ago, my Motorola cell died. What to do? I really appreciated Motorola’s form factors and designs. I looked around and increasingly more of my colleagues were getting iPhones. And I was already on AT&T and wanted to stay on AT&T (spent a little bit of time at Bell Labs before divestiture… the thrill of working at Bell Labs was as palpable for me as when I was fortunate to get to Arthur D. Little in the late 1980’s.)

So, I got an iPhone. And one of the ‘apps’ I heard about was Shazam. Sounded too much like science fiction: you launch the app, make sure the iPhone can hear the music and within 15 seconds (or 10 seconds depending on how you set it up), it analyzes the sounds and then tells you what the song is, the artist, and even enables you to buy it on iTunes?

Really? Of course, you all know the answer is YES. OMG as the younger generation might remark. OMG.

Pattern recognition. Not of numbers in a document or table but of sound waves (which are probably decomposed to numbers of a sort). And that is really magic.

Now, it doesn’t work for all music and it certainly doesn’t work for classical music (no, I don’t mean music from the 1950’s or the 1960’s). But most of the time, it recognizes the music.

So, what’s the Shazam application equivalent for insurance? Well, it’s the beginning of my weekend and I’m logging off for the next few days.

You tell me what equivalent applications the insurance industry could use.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 5:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Shazam – Come On, You're Impressed Too!!

I got an iPhone last year. Didn’t think I would ever “go Apple” for anything. Grew up in the insurance industry so I was used to and happy with IBM computing, including laptops. Later I got a Nokia and “hello, love!” Palm was my device of choice for contacts, calendar, notes and such. Happy as the proverbial clam.

Then a year ago, my Motorola cell died. What to do? I really appreciated Motorola’s form factors and designs. I looked around and increasingly more of my colleagues were getting iPhones. And I was already on AT&T and wanted to stay on AT&T (spent a little bit of time at Bell Labs before divestiture… the thrill of working at Bell Labs was as palpable for me as when I was fortunate to get to Arthur D. Little in the late 1980’s.)

So, I got an iPhone. And one of the ‘apps’ I heard about was Shazam. Sounded too much like science fiction: you launch the app, make sure the iPhone can hear the music and within 15 seconds (or 10 seconds depending on how you set it up), it analyzes the sounds and then tells you what the song is, the artist, and even enables you to buy it on iTunes?

Really? Of course, you all know the answer is YES. OMG as the younger generation might remark. OMG.

Pattern recognition. Not of numbers in a document or table but of sound waves (which are probably decomposed to numbers of a sort). And that is really magic.

Now, it doesn’t work for all music and it certainly doesn’t work for classical music (no, I don’t mean music from the 1950’s or the 1960’s). But most of the time, it recognizes the music.

So, what’s the Shazam application equivalent for insurance? Well, it’s the beginning of my weekend and I’m logging off for the next few days.

You tell me what equivalent applications the insurance industry could use.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 5:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Here’s Looking At You, Kid !!! Insurers Should Look Forward to Web 4.0

We all know the web is in a constant state of change, of evolution. I’ve thought of where the web has come from, where it is, and where it is headed in terms of groupings of capabilities. To me, right now, I see four groupings:

  • Web 1.o – what we had initially and it was all about content. Companies used these capabilities, such as they were, to provide brochureware to clients and prospects who clicked over to their company web site.
  • Web 2.0 – the sweet spot of where we are now and it is all about collaboration. I see the collaboration as having two major flavors – 1) collaboration between people expressed by social networking – and 2) collaboration between software programs expressed by web services
  • Web 3.0 – the contextual web and where we are headed next. The capabilities inherent in the contextual web are semantic technologies which enable the meaning(s) of text data to be understood, managed and analyzed.
  • Web 4.0 – the world of confluence where tangible assets and intangible assets come together in meaningful ways. We see the beginnings of that in some of the apps on the iPhone (and probably on the Blackberry but, alas and aghast, I don’t have one of those.)

Another instantiation of Web 4.0 is augmented reality – wearing goggles that have information available to the person wearing them to better complete various tasks. The Technology Review article the link points to discusses how mechanics can complete their jobs faster and more effectively.

But think about using AR goggles for insurance claims adjudication and management.

Using AR goggles, a claims adjuster could visit a homeowner who is claiming a loss and see both the actual home as it is now after the loss and the home as it was before the loss. The AR goggles could access information from the insurance company’s databases or sources from the web showing detailed information about labor requirements, building materials and costs.

More generally, the AR goggles could show the processes and resources needed to adjudicate the claim in a way that remediates the loss to bring the claimant’s home back to the way it was before the loss event.

Similarly, AR goggles could be used by claim adjusters for automobile claims.

Yes, augmented reality might be as far off as ten years from now but I wouldn’t be surprised if some industries – other than our slow-moving insurance industry – are using AR well before that. Would you?

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 8:13 am  Comments (2)  
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Here's Looking At You, Kid !!! Insurers Should Look Forward to Web 4.0

We all know the web is in a constant state of change, of evolution. I’ve thought of where the web has come from, where it is, and where it is headed in terms of groupings of capabilities. To me, right now, I see four groupings:

  • Web 1.o – what we had initially and it was all about content. Companies used these capabilities, such as they were, to provide brochureware to clients and prospects who clicked over to their company web site.
  • Web 2.0 – the sweet spot of where we are now and it is all about collaboration. I see the collaboration as having two major flavors – 1) collaboration between people expressed by social networking – and 2) collaboration between software programs expressed by web services
  • Web 3.0 – the contextual web and where we are headed next. The capabilities inherent in the contextual web are semantic technologies which enable the meaning(s) of text data to be understood, managed and analyzed.
  • Web 4.0 – the world of confluence where tangible assets and intangible assets come together in meaningful ways. We see the beginnings of that in some of the apps on the iPhone (and probably on the Blackberry but, alas and aghast, I don’t have one of those.)

Another instantiation of Web 4.0 is augmented reality – wearing goggles that have information available to the person wearing them to better complete various tasks. The Technology Review article the link points to discusses how mechanics can complete their jobs faster and more effectively.

But think about using AR goggles for insurance claims adjudication and management.

Using AR goggles, a claims adjuster could visit a homeowner who is claiming a loss and see both the actual home as it is now after the loss and the home as it was before the loss. The AR goggles could access information from the insurance company’s databases or sources from the web showing detailed information about labor requirements, building materials and costs.

More generally, the AR goggles could show the processes and resources needed to adjudicate the claim in a way that remediates the loss to bring the claimant’s home back to the way it was before the loss event.

Similarly, AR goggles could be used by claim adjusters for automobile claims.

Yes, augmented reality might be as far off as ten years from now but I wouldn’t be surprised if some industries – other than our slow-moving insurance industry – are using AR well before that. Would you?

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 8:13 am  Comments (2)  
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Thinking About Technology

Alan Kay defined technology some years ago as that which wasn’t around when you were born. Of course, he said it much better than that but the point stands. When you arrive in the world and become cognizant of your surroundings – including the technology that your parents use, you use, your friends use – you just think of all that ‘magic’ as normal.

Of course, we can project ourselves at many miles per hour or talk to family and friends across the globe; or see our favorite projected sights whenever we want (whether on television or YouTube or embedded in our social networking media); or text a message and expect an answer back instantaneously. We breathe, don’t we?

Those technologies are just part and parcel of our environment. They inform a baseline experience.

That baseline experience gets enhanced when the existing technologies are used in new and varied ways. That baseline experience gets enhanced when new technologies alter how we go about our daily life whether at work, play, or shopping.

Specifically the baseline moves up a notch or two or more when the application of current and emerging technologies alters  our interactions with other people, with how we conduct or affairs and, as importantly, with other technologies.

No company is an island onto itself. But you could be excused if you thought so because many companies behave as if they were impenetrable and highly fortified castles in their own right. You feel that when you ask yourself “how come I can do (fill in the blank) with that company but not with this company?”

The new baseline redefines your experience. The new baseline defines a new floor of your expectations. Companies that don’t meet those (new) expectations are competing on precarious ground.

What technologies or applications of technologies have heightened your baseline experience?

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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