On demand is in demand
Vertafore's mobile initiative delivers much-needed tools to on-the-go producers
By Nancy Doucette
If you're like agency principal and producer Kevin Ross, CIC, chances are you have your tablet device with you every waking moment. Ross, who's been in the business for more than 35 years, represents the third generation in the Holyoke, Massachusetts-based Ross Insurance Agency which was founded by his grandfather in 1925. Kevin says all of his responsibilities center around the client and bringing new business into the agency.
He says he bought an iPad about a year ago so he could show clients and prospects the Partners Page on the agency's Web site (www.rossinsurance.com). The page showcases agency commercial lines clients, many of which offer discount coupons to consumers who visit the page. “I like to show our new commercial accounts what we can do for them in addition to being their insurance agent—how we can help them grow their business,” Kevin explains. Personal lines clients appreciate being able to come to the agency Web site when they need that occasional service provider, such as a caterer or handyman.
Agencies everywhere pride themselves on the customer service they provide, but as Ross Insurance demonstrates with its Partners Page, some understand that they need to do something extra in order to differentiate themselves.
So Kevin was delighted when he was invited to be a beta tester for Vertafore's recently released ReferenceConnect with mobility. “Prior to ReferenceConnect with mobility, I wasn't a regular user of ReferenceConnect™,” he confides.
The office staff frequently uses the desktop version of ReferenceConnect—an online reference library containing content from 40 publishers—but that didn't help Kevin when he was visiting clients or prospects. He felt like he was missing some on-the-fly customer service opportunities.
“Producers are one of the least-served audiences for technology,” notes Christopher Ries, director of product management for Vertafore, which delivers software and services to the insurance industry. “Producers need a mobile platform. There's big demand.”
Responding to the BYOD phenomenon
“It's astonishing to think that the iPhone was just introduced in 2007 and the iPad was introduced in 2010,” Chris continues. With the introduction of the iPhone, numerous other devices and operating systems quickly became mainstream in the marketplace. According to research and advisory firm Gartner, 2011 sales of tablets and smartphones outpaced personal computer sales by a healthy margin.
“Mobility is a macro technology trend that's sweeping every industry—including insurance,” Chris says. And with a variety of devices to pick from, individuals who choose to bring their own devices to work and access enterprise systems are responsible for the “BYOD phenomenon.”
For his part in the “bring your own device phenomenon,” Chris says: “I have my corporate-issued laptop but I also have my iPhone and iPad. I bring my iPad to all my meetings and I'm using it throughout the day.”
Although not a 20-something himself, Chris points out, “If you've grown up with Facebook and the iPhone, staying connected is important. I've seen studies that show that some millennials [born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, many of whom are pursuing their first “real” jobs] will choose not to take a job based on the technology platform.”
These considerations were certainly taken into account as Vertafore fleshed out its mobile strategies for ReferenceConnect, Pipeline Manager, and AMS360®. However, Chris observes, “There's always the initial buzz around a cool technology, where people say: 'I gotta' have it!' For us, the question is: 'What do you need to use it for?' So we're focusing on the business needs of various users in the insurance industry.
“Producers—because they're out selling insurance—are a key user audience. They're visiting clients and prospects so they need to be able to do research in the field, prepare for a meeting, review a commercial lines policy or a to-do list, manage their pipeline, or review staff activities. There are a lot of business needs.”
Additionally, he adds, Vertafore took into consideration the “native capabilities of each device. A desktop PC allows high performance of a lot of detailed tasks. A tablet provides a blended environment where a user can do some fairly in-depth activities, but it's a more simplified experience. A smartphone lets the user do quick micro tasks.”
Have it your way
What Vertafore is now offering as part of the ReferenceConnect subscription is a mobile optimized Web site, explains Shane Watts, CSM, CSPO, product manager for ReferenceConnect. “From a technological standpoint, we didn't want to get between you and your information. You don't have to download anything.” he says. “We didn't want to dictate: 'You have to be on this device; you have to download this app; it only works on this browser.' It doesn't matter whether you're an Apple or an Android fan. We made a product that—no matter what your device is—will work for you. When you log in to ReferenceConnect, it automatically detects if you're logging in from a tablet or mobile phone and will offer up the mobile optimized Web site version. The screen can be stretched or shrunk, depending on what device you're using.
“Producer Tools, which appear on the right side of the screen for the desktop version of ReferenceConnect, are front and center on the mobile version,” Shane says. “Access to the risk profiles, risk surveys, coverage checklists, recommended coverages, coverage analysis, and markets are right there. Anything that is in the desktop version is accessible on the mobile version.”
Adds Chris: “The technology needs to be invisible to the process. It should work magically and not intrude on the lives of the individuals using it.”
The technology certainly isn't intruding on producer Kevin Ross. “I use my iPad and ReferenceConnect with mobility at home in the morning while I'm having my coffee and preparing for the day. And throughout the day, I have it handy at my desk—right next to my desktop computer. I'd much rather use the mobile version of the program,” he states.
Chris notes that ReferenceConnect with mobility helps producers become “something of a subject matter expert 'on demand.' It's a way for a producer to have a little more confidence when visiting a client or prospect.”
Kevin says he leaves nothing to chance, even when he's writing a new account in a risk category that he's written for years. “Over the years I've written many restaurants but I like to refresh my memory—there are different restaurant classifications—SIC codes, GL codes, workers comp codes. No matter how many times I've written a certain type of account, I want to be sure I don't miss anything.” (E&O insurers undoubtedly commend that approach.)
He says he recently won a machine shop account, thanks in part to the classification cross reference tool that is part of ReferenceConnect. While reviewing the incumbent agent's policies at the prospect's office, Kevin suspected that the workers comp wasn't classified correctly. He opened up ReferenceConnect with mobility on his iPad and confirmed that in fact the workers comp was misclassified. He returned to the office, checked the rates and contacted the underwriter. He ended up saving the machine shop some money. “If another agent has misclassified an account and we discover that during our data gathering stage, we can get it classified properly, and save that business some money. That's a homerun for us,” Kevin says.
Chris reports that Vertafore is “iterating into the mobile space through a couple different levels. Our first priority has been to make sure as much of our portfolio can run in a Web browser as is appropriate. The Web is even more ubiquitous than mobile,” he points out. “Not only is it easier for agencies to deploy software through the Web versus an installed desktop application, it also allows more flexibility if someone is working from home or the field.”
He notes that Pipeline Manager has been mobile enabled since before Vertafore acquired it in June 2011. (See “Productive production” in the January 2012 issue of Rough Notes.)One recent enhancement is the ability to enter new prospect information and update prospect information “ 'on the go.' It's more interactive,” he says.
With the June 2012 release of version 6.5 of AMS360, Chris says producers “can do all kinds of things on a tablet device.” Before visiting a client, for instance, the producer can confirm the client's address before entering it into his or her GPS. Additionally, the producer can access dec pages and review a client's policies, make sure all current activities have been processed, and update contact information.
When we spoke with Chris in early August, he said Vertafore was already well into its 2013 roadmap planning discussions. “While I can't give away the details of what will be emerging, I can say that there are several themes that will be influencing our entire portfolio next year: mobility, integration, and a best in class user experience.”
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