There’s An App for That

Mobile devices and the apps people use with them are changing how consumers interact with information. The programming and development trend of creating small apps that accomplish a specific function will also change how business programs are developed.

phone-apps

Why aren’t our agency systems more like Facebook?

Facebook is easy to use, and it’s a robust tool. Grandparents can browse pictures of their grandchildren in a matter of minutes, while teenagers manage their entire social lives from the site. Furthermore, Facebook is free. So why isn’t agency software more like Facebook?

The insurance industry is not known for fast innovation. Yet all of us are competing in an environment where apps developed for the consumer and small business market are innovating at a breakneck pace. As a result, we’re seeing more and more of those consumer tools finding their way into the workplace.

In the not-too-distant future, agencies will be able to purchase only the apps that they want for their organizations. These apps will accomplish a single purpose and will communicate with one another. There will be an app for customer information, one for policy detail, one for claims administration, one for mobile access for both producers and clients, and who knows what else. The list of apps will only be limited by the imagination of users and developers.

Instead of having to purchase one monolithic expensive program that does everything for everyone, agencies will be able to build their own customized products that do exactly (and only) what they need.

Here are some lessons that agency system vendors need to learn from the vibrant and innovative consumer Web apps market.

  • Foster innovation through third parties. Open up your systems. Innovation won’t come solely from within a single company. By having open and documented Application Program Interfaces (APIs), a vendor encourages third parties to build upon and enhance their products. Salesforce.com is a great example of fostering innovation by opening a core program to outside developers.
  • Release early; iterate often. The release cycles of traditional vendor software are way too drawn out, which means the software isn’t as nimble or able to respond to new techniques and technology as it should be. If you are not slightly embarrassed when it is released you have waited too long.
  • Ease of use matters. Some agency software systems could be described as, well, a bit clunky, usually requiring extensive training to use. On the other hand, apps in the consumer space tend to be very well designed, with a great deal of care paid to making them easy to use.
  • Use social features to encourage adoption. Users can be resistant to fitting new tools or features into their workflow. By taking cues from the social features found in apps like Facebook, developers can encourage users to embrace new applications.

Part of the problem also lies with how agencies tend to adopt new tools. The ease with which information can be shared on a site like Facebook can run counter to many organizations’ internal cultures. The mindset of an agency (and the rest of the industry) must change from being rigidly hierarchical and siloed towards being more open, flat, and transparent. Companies now have the ability to change the way their employees work.

What can you do? Begin to understand apps by personally using an iPhone or Android-based smartphone, or use a tablet like an iPad or Galaxy Tab. Unfortunately, a BlackBerry doesn’t count, as its apps are so universally poor. As you start using apps, you will begin to understand the transformation taking place.

Today, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have transformed the way people communicate and collaborate, globally. In five years (or less?), how agencies communicate and collaborate with everyone will also be transformed because “there will be an app for that.”

Steve Anderson provides information to insurance agents about how they can use technology to increase revenue and/or reduce expenses. He speaks professionally to hundreds of agents each year on the future of technology, the social web, and how insurance agencies can establish their Internet presence.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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