Agency Saved From the Storm By Cloud Technology

November 2, 2010

“In the midst of a disaster, our customers count on us to get our jobs done … No excuses!”

That promise by County Wide Insurance, a Trusted Choice agency in Dexter, Missouri, was severely tested on Jan. 27, 2009 when an ice storm ravaged Kentucky, Illinois and southern Missouri. The storm took an estimated 65 lives and cut off electricity to millions for days. The storm buried County Wide’s neighborhoods in snow and sleet and coated roads, buildings, trees and wires with up to two inches of ice. It disabled businesses and communities for miles around for several weeks.

“The storm was so bad that it took five hours just to get out of the driveway to reach the office,” recalls County Wide’s owner R. Alan Hedrick.

While it was a challenge getting to the office, it turns out Hedrick could have stayed at home and still run his business. That’s because County Wide operated with what is known as cloud computing.

Hedrick decided several years ago to fire himself as his agency’s technology consultant. Since his business was sitting on the New Madrid Earthquake Zone, Hedrick and his team felt it wise to find ways that could keep the business operating in the event of a disaster. So he turned everything over to the Atlanta-based agency technology firm, The Kotter Group, and its president, Adam Kotter.

The Kotter Group transitioned County Wide to its cloud computing product, The Hyper Desktop. The system proved itself when the ice storm hit.

According to Hedrick, with help from a generator and cloud technology, his agency staff was up and running and able to respond to the more than 200 claim calls they received that first day. “We were totally prepared to help our customers and were 100 percent operational during the massive storm. We made a promise to serve our customers when they need us, and that is what we were proudly able to do,” Hedrick says.

County Wide employees were able to assist customers with questions and claims, access records and financial information and continue to communicate with carriers and others—despite all the destruction around them — thanks to cloud computing and careful disaster planning.

Cloud computing is also called “virtual computing,” “hosted computing,” and “Software as a Service” (SaaS). Simply put, it enables users to access software applications from any Internet-enabled device. For agents and staff, this means that the agency’s insurance management system, customer records and the other tools used to run the business such as rater and carrier software are available anytime, anywhere through a secure password-protected Web interface.

The Kotter Group’s cloud computing service, The Hyper Desktop, kept County Wide’s information safe and secure miles away from the ice storm and allowed employees to serve customers in Dexter without delay.

“During a disaster, property and casualty agents must be able to respond to their clients’ needs,” says Adam Kotter. “Not being able to access client policies prolongs client distress and can be ruinous to the agency’s business.”

Kotter also offers an alternative service called the True Disaster Recovery service. With this, an agency continues to have its own servers and networks but Kotter backs up everything every night. In the event of a disaster, Kotter makes all of the information available to the agency via the Internet.

According to Kotter, pricing for cloud computing is based on the number of users and can cost an agency as little as $40 to $50 a month. Cloud computing relieves agencies of the expense of buying new servers every few years and paying tech people to set them up and maintain them. In addition, it means agencies do not have to worry about backing up systems and data—that’s taken care of.

“For a small monthly fee, you get all these IT services. As long as you’re connected to the Internet, that’s it,” says Kotter.

“I have no regrets, and the overall cost savings of not having our own equipment, doing our own backups, and having our own in-house tech are tremendous,” says Hedrick, adding that it has allowed him to get back to what really counts: sales.

Kotter says that tracks with his experience in talking with customers. It frees up the insurance agent to do what he does best. I’ve yet to meet an insurance agent who comes to me and says, ‘You know, gosh darn it, I really just wish I could mess with my computers all day.’ That’s not how he makes his living; that’s what I do.”

By the way, during the ice storm, County Wide did more than open its doors to help customers– it also converted its office into a warming shelter for neighbors with special needs.

Editor’s Note: Find out more about how cloud computing works, if it’s safe, and if it makes sense for your agency. Adam Kotter discusses cloud computing in an exclusive podcast with Insurance Journal’s Andy Simpson.

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