2003: Attack Of The Killer Acronyms

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In the 1978 sci-fi flick, Attack of the KillerTomatoes, the countryside is ravaged by rogue, man-eatingtomatoes that have escaped from the ubiquitous “secret governmentprogram.”

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I vividly recall one horrifying scene in which someone isstanding at the sink washing dishes when one of these bodaciousberries (yes, they are actually berries) issues forth and consumessaid dishwasher. I have since thought it wise to avoid washingdishespaper and plastic really arent that expensive, and my waterbill has dropped by pennies.

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But back to the movie: The giant fruit seem to be winning outagainst their human foes until the films hero figures out how toshrink them. (He does this by playing an insipid teenage balladcalled “Puberty Love”!) In any case, the ploy works, the tomatoesshrivel and are subsequently pureed by triumphant humans. The worldis safe once again.

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But who or what will save us from a more insidious attack on oursanity and our very businesses that has its roots in the technologysector? Im talking about the Attack of the Killer Acronyms!

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Irvine, Calif.-based IOGEAR, a maker of technology accessories,conducted a telephone poll of 500 California consumers on this verysubject in August. The survey found that 76 percent of theseconsumers “are fed up with IT acronyms that they dont understand.”According to IOGEAR, such terminology has prevented 54 percent ofthose surveyed from purchasing products.

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Of course, as a tech guru, I cant completely condemn the use ofacronyms. They do make communication simpler–at least as long aseveryone understands them. But there lies the problem–not everyonecomprehends the true meanings of important acronyms.

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Lets take a look at some of the technology acronyms our industryneeds to be concerned with for 2003, and talk about what theyreally mean.

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CRM. Long-time insurance technology observersknow this refers to customer relationship management, but a checkof the very useful Acronym Finder Web site (www.acronymfinder.com)yields a total of 47 possible definitions. Some of the alternativesinclude: clinical risk management, client relationship management,chief radio man, certified risk manager, and cause-relatedmarketing. Obviously, this combination of letters is way overused,which is not a good thing for effective communication.

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Ideally, CRM involves the use of technology to gatherinformation on customer wants and needs–information that is thenused to tailor products for groups, or even individuals. Its agreat idea made possible by powerful technologies, but in theinsurance industry it has been a colossal flop. According toindustry analysts, two-thirds or more of CRM projects fail.

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The primary reason for this failure is best summed up in thereal definition of CRM: “Cant Read the Manual.” The sadfact is that many of the companies that buy CRM software never goto the trouble to find out how to use it. Instead, they dump itinto the laps of their IT people, who do what they can to make itavailable to the company at large.

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Unfortunately, without buy-in from the top and fundamentalchanges in the way the organization does business, CRM software isabout as useful as a fire extinguisher in Hellresults will beminimal, to say the least.

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CRM is still being sold into our industry, but the ones who arereally making big bucks are the systems doctors who come in to fixthe damage caused by failed implementations.

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Advice for 2003: If youre even thinking about CRM, readthe instructions and make sure your organization is committed tothe sweeping changes necessary to make it work.

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ROI. With the failures of big-ticket items likeCRM and the languishing economy, “return on investment” became themantra for most technology product buyers in 2002, and who canblame them? Some companies, in fact, are requiring ROI within oneyear for any tech product or they wont buy it. This is unfortunateand shortsighted, especially in firms where fundamental techinfrastructure changes are needed.

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Certainly, if youve done this kind of updating in the past twoyears, tweaking systems with solid-ROI additions makes sense. Butif your tech infrastructure cant support the important technologiesnow emerging in the financial services market–Web services andwireless networks, to name two–now is not the time to go on thecheap. To do so could leave your organization dangerously behindwhen the economy does fully recover.

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Advice for 2003: The real meaning of ROI is“Replace Old Infrastructure.” Enough said.

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ASP. This particular acronym returned 89 hitson Acronym Finder, so lets be clear that were talking about anapplication service provider.

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Simply put, ASPs provide applications (software programs) tocompanies or agencies via the Internet or the companys intranet.The advantage to the firm is that it doesnt have to host theapplication in-house, and that software updates and patches aredone automatically by the provider. ASPs often cite reduced cost tothe customer, but there is some debate on that issue.

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There are a number of potential drawbacks to the ASP model,however.

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First, there is the possibility that a companys Internet linkwill go down (and whose doesnt at some time?), leaving the firmwithout the needed software. Second, there is the issue of Internetsecurity, which is very weak in many cases. Third, there is thereluctance by companies–and agents in particular–to put criticaldata in the hands of a third party.

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When ASPs were first talked about, I recommended that potentialbuyers exercise great caution. Now, several years later, Im lesscautious, but only slightly less. An ASP can be a real blessing toan organization that has little or no information technologyexpertise in-house. It can also be a nightmare if the link isbroken or if the information transfer provides an opening forhackers and other malicious creatures.

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Some ASPs have done their homework and have gone above andbeyond in implementing security measures. Some have also provided“basic” software on disc, so clients can still use the software, atleast on a limited basis, when the connection goes down.

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Advice for 2003: The real meaning of ASP is“Adopt with Some Prudence.” Take a hard look at the advantages anddisadvantages of this delivery mode. If it makes sense for you,make sure the ASP you choose has solid clients, solid security, anda solid backup plan for when the online connection isntavailable.

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AUGIE and AARG. Ive had a lot to say about theACORD User Groups Information Exchange over the past year or more.AUGIEs purpose, you may remember, is to help establish standardsthat enable insurance systems to speak the same language. The groupheld closed-door meetings and eventually came up with research onwhat agents want and need in the way of technology. Unfortunately,that research told us nothing we didnt already know.

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Now we have AARG (ACORD Agents Resource Group), a group thatseeks agent input into the electronic standards developmentprocess. Now, I could be mistaken here, but that sounds an awfullot like what the first group is doing, or should be doing.

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An ACORD spokesman told me that while AUGIE sets up initiatives,AARG is there to provide a business perspective–a vehicle to getinto the “nitty-gritty” of standards issues. Apparently, AUGIEdidnt do that.

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So, we have yet another sub-group formed to deal with somediscrete slice of the problem pie, while the entire confectiongrows moldy over time. Surely Im not alone in feeling frustratedover this situation.

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This rampant creation of committee upon committee upon studygroup upon study group is in large measure responsible for thephlegmatic pace of technology advancement in our industry. It is atextbook example of the well-known “paralysis by analysis.”

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Advice for 2003: The next time someone wants to talk toyou about AARG, just throw your hands in the air and scream theacronym out loud. In doing so, you will have expressed thereal meaning of the term–”Another Annoying ResearchGroup.”

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Senior Editor Ara C. Trembly is NU's resident tech guru. Heedits NU's “Technology Trends” special reports, as well as themonthly “Agency Technology: On The Cutting Edge” section. He may bereached at [email protected].


Reproduced from National Underwriter Property &Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition, January 6, 2003.Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


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