At last month’s ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Microsoft announced its new “experience Insurance” Initiative, designed to help insurance companies differentiate their brand, increase market share and profitability. More than 35 vendors and Microsoft partners expressed support for the initiative during the conference.
In the following edited questions and answer series, the managing director of U.S insurance industry for Microsoft’s Financial Services Group, Kevin Kelly, discusses the new initiative and how it can help the insurance industry.
What is the “experience Insurance” initiative?
Kelly: Essentially, it is an initiative that will enable customers to better determine which Microsoft technologies and partner solutions are best for them, by understanding specifically which areas of business improvement they are best suited for. Its primary focus is to enable us to change the “experiences” that our enterprise customers are trying to create or achieve through the development and deployment of business-processing solutions. The initiative features a wide variety of activities, including sales training, partner development programs, customer advisory councils, “experience Insurance” briefings and in-market and Web educational events.
What does changing the customer, employee and operations experience mean specifically for the insurance industry?
Kelly: Well, we’re providing our insurance enterprise customers with the ability to assess and be prescriptive about improvements and innovations within the insured’s “experience”–the agent, broker, underwriter or claims adjuster’s “experience” or the data-center or CFO’s “experiences.” Instead of dealing strictly in technical solutions at the end of a business discussion, we wish to engage the customer in joint decision-making regarding the business value to be derived from Microsoft technologies and partner solutions. This program allows us to provide better advice and counsel to our customers.
What factors did you consider when you developed the “experience Insurance” initiative?
Kelly: We took a broad look at what matters most to our customers–what goals and objectives they have, long-term opportunities as well as more immediate, market-driven realities. Increasing regulatory compliance pressures, distribution-channel optimization, market segmentation, product refinement and customization all create tremendous pressure to improve. Microsoft is responding to these pressures by aligning our solutions, partners and capabilities around those challenges so that insurance customers can maximize their investment in our technology, reduce the cost of operations and compete more effectively in the marketplace.
Specifically, what does this mean for the insurance industry?
Kelly: The industry remains paper-bound, human-intensive and highly-fragmented from a business-process perspective. Microsoft’s entire focus is on merging the necessary business applications and architectural designs into a cohesive offering that enables business-process innovation. For example, at the point of sale and service, an agency or brokerage employee is wrestling with all kinds of paper, multiple carrier Web applications, their own agency-management system, their own sales-force automation programs, miscellaneous rating applications, internal reporting interfaces; the list goes on. It is a day-to-day nightmare with respect to productivity.
To counter that, Microsoft is bringing forth technologies and partners that knit together the agency-management system with a carrier Web service and a rating service, combining that with real-time communications with underwriters or customers–eliminating much of the paper, phone calls, faxes and sticky-notes with scribbled passwords on them, so prevalent in the process today.
What role are Microsoft’s industry partners playing in “experience Insurance?”
Kelly: Partners are central to the Microsoft strategy. Partners use Microsoft software technologies to create innovative applications that deliver enhanced, improved and innovated experiences to the customers, employees and operations personnel who use them. The industry is consuming more and more packaged Microsoft applications, and learning that they can be easily integrated with their existing systems.
For the past three years we have been developing a family of logically connected and integrated insurance processing applications called the Microsoft Insurance Value Chain. That program has grown from a handful of insurance application partners to more than 40 member insurance solution and service providers, all working toward the common goal of providing innovative straight-through processing for insurance on the Microsoft platform using Web services, XML and ACORD standards as foundational technologies.
Is Microsoft taken as being credible in the Insurance industry now?
Kelly: Our focus on maturing our platform, and reshaping our customer-facing workforce to attain the credibility and relationships that an enterprise provider must have to become a preferred provider of mission-critical applications and services, is something to which we are truly committed. Customer and partner satisfaction combined with solution evidence that has grown year over year is our only measure of success. Once, we had only a handful of small partners delivering solutions to small businesses, and perhaps departmental applications inside large enterprises. Today we have over 40 Insurance Value Chain partners.
How committed is Microsoft to the insurance industry?
Kelly: Insurance enables us all to conduct our daily lives in peace. Without it, none of us could drive our cars, own real property, conceive and run businesses, or perform any of the activities that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis. This vital component of the worldwide financial services marketplace is a critical industry for Microsoft. It has the most stringent demands for the use of technology and will benefit tremendously from the proper development and deployment of our technology. Microsoft understands this, and over the years we have increased the number of people, partners and investments made for the insurance industry in order to secure a successful future for our business relationships and our customers. The company has also created an internal group focused on understanding the long-term vision of its company wide R&D efforts and deciding how these efforts apply to vertical industries, such as insurance. The group is playing a key role in demonstrating how innovations based on Microsoft’s current and future technologies can come together to meet evolving business needs.