It seems as if the whole world is going mobile. As the famous group, The Who, sang some years ago, “…The world’s my home… When I’m mobile.” Although they were not referring to the mobile technologies so prevalent today—with the likes of smartphones, tablets and GPS devices—the concept still applies. Rapidly evolving technologies are changing the way we interact, exchange information, transact business, manage our schedules and spend our leisure time. The fundamental question for our industry is: Are insurers on board with the mobile trend?

The answer is a qualified yes. Many insurers are capitalizing on mobile-phone technology for communications with adjusters, agents/brokers, business partners and customers. Mobile voice communications and SMS text messaging now play a vital role in both the sales and servicing process. However, most insurers have not embraced the full capabilities that mobile technologies can offer.

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Strategy Meets Action (SMA) recently asked approximately 50 leading insurers about their current mobile-technology usage and their future plans for using mobile applications. The participants represented a variety of lines of business and company sizes. The results of the research paint a picture of an industry that is merely scratching the surface of the real potential for mobile technologies.

One of the most telling results of the SMA research is apparent when one considers the mobile platforms that insurers say they now support. The most widely supported platform is RIM’s BlackBerry. While the BlackBerry device was an early mobile pioneer and is still in broad usage, particularly among business users, it is not currently considered to be the most advanced mobile device in the market, nor is it the most prevalent among end consumers. So, why is the BlackBerry such a widely supported platform in insurance? It’s helpful to look at how insurers view the support of mobile devices to better understand why. The current approach that many insurers take is one of accommodation—providing support for the devices employees, customers or agents already have. Not long ago, the BlackBerry was the most prevalent device. Some call this the BYOD (bring your own device) approach. Unfortunately, insurers have been unable to keep up with the rapidly changing preferences for devices, especially among consumers.

Despite the fact that the insurance industry lags behind other industries in support for mobile platforms and app deployment, there are a number of well-designed, innovative mobile-insurance apps that are in use by a subset of insurers. While it is too early to identify “killer apps” in insurance, the P&C personal-lines claims arena is one place where apps are growing rapidly. Other customer-service and sales apps for use directly by customers and prospects are gaining popularity among insurers that are trying to lead the pack. The innovators today are mainly the largest insurers, although some smaller insurers also have some very interesting and attractive apps in place.

Overall, most insurers tell SMA that they face two primary hurdles with advanced implementations of mobile technologies: one is business oriented and the other is technology oriented. On the business side, many insurers are struggling with how to evaluate and measure the business value of mobile apps. Although it may not be that difficult to design, build and deploy apps for quotes, first-notice-of-loss or product information, it does require money and human resources—and it means juggling priorities for IT resource. Mobile is not just about the mobile phone. Mobile is not just about sales. Mobile involves potential opportunities for applications that impact business processes across the entire value chain and encompass the use of smartphones, tablets, GPS devices and whatever is just around the corner. The challenge many face is how to evaluate return on investment. How can the actual take-up be estimated? Will new business leads be generated? How will usage affect customer satisfaction and retention? Typical for the insurance industry, the first to make market moves are usually those with deep pockets and a culture that thrives on innovation.

Frequently, the technology issues surrounding mobile-technology deployment dominate the initial conversations about mobile. How do we deal with information privacy? What about security? What are the capacity implications for our servers and our call centers? Many insurers are well down the path in terms of addressing and resolving these issues, but these are serious issues that must be considered by each insurer that wants to join the mobile pack.

It’s generally acknowledged that growth in the use of mobile technologies and mobile apps by the general population is skyrocketing. It’s probably all right that the insurance industry is not leading the pack in the deployment of mobile solutions. Other industries such as retail, entertainment, media and travel are investing heavily in new mobile capabilities, largely because the very nature of their interactions with their customers and partners is very different from customer and partner interaction with insurers. It is extremely important that insurers pay close attention to the experiments and lessons learned by others. Real business value and key competitive advantages are clearly there for the insurance industry—and they will emerge gradually over time as insurers learn more about the possibilities, address the technology concerns and experience increasing demands from customers.

The world is going mobile—and insurers are following the trend. A fast-follower approach might be a good strategy for most insurers, but it is clear that lagging too far behind will likely be a troublesome position. In the meantime, The Who’s old song captures today’s mood, “… goin’ mobile… keep me movin’…”