Business and technology are now intertwined such that one depends on the other, notes Roger Foord. If the technology is wrong, the business will suffer, but if the technology is innovative, the opportunities for business improvement - before competitors have woken up - are immense.
The problem is that technology changes at such a great pace that it is difficult to determine when the business changes should best be made without finding that even better solutions are on the horizon.
There have been two major revolutions over the past five years in the technology arena. First is the move towards PC based client/server requirements which have given the individual user within an organisation control over information without relying on a computer programmer, and second is the internet. These changes in our methods of working are not just for the "anoraks" of the world but are becoming part of everybody's daily routine. Although, as with the mobile phone, non-users may question their use, from a business and personal point of view they are crucial to modern living and working, as the announcement in January of the merger of Compaq and Digital confirms.
Personal lines insurers have already embraced the benefits of tele-insurance for those who want to use it, as have the banks, though both retain the option for personal service. From the international reinsurance perspective, the replacement of old technologies has been slower. Established use of mid and large range computers with fixed networks has been reasonably successful but is now standing in the way of new opportunities and technologies.
The London reinsurance market is probably content with its structure for business transactions, provided it does not involve electronic trading for new business, although electronic endorsements could and should have been introduced to avoid the many costly and minute changes made to slip details. The efficiency of the two bureaux, Lloyd's Policy Signing Office (LPSO) and the London Processing Centre (LPC) in agreeing electronic closings with a limited amount of "slip" information seems to be a positive way forward which will satisfy practitioners.
Electronic agreement systems for claims are now well established but, even here, the technology for "Class", the company electronic claims systems does not offer the multi- media options, such as images, of the Lotus driven Coss agreement systems used by Lloyd's.
Forcing IT solutions for quotations and placing at a screen on brokers and underwriters has never appealed to the London market, mainly because of the historic ability to meet face-to-face and the social opportunities this way of working offers. For North American brokers this attitude may be difficult to understand because of their own lack of direct personal contact. The technology which has driven J&H Marsh & McLennan's global broking system (GBS) would not typically appeal to a broker in the Lloyd's market.
At the same time, internationally, the introduction of new technology solutions offers global underwriters an improved method of communication compared with fax and letters. It could also reduce broker visits with the introduction of image, videos and video conferencing. These innovations probably cannot be forced on users, but will be judged when major brokers make them part of their normal procedures and start to see business and financial benefits.
Apart from concern over year 2000 problems and European monetary union, a number of technology driven initiatives in the reinsurance market are expected to start this year. IBM will be introducing its insurance risk network and LIMNET, the London market network body, will announce its plans and aspirations. At the same time the broker-backed world insurance network (WIN) and J&H Marsh & McLennan's GBS systems should start delivering some business results.
It was never expected that it would be easy to innovate in a market such as reinsurance, where one of its focal points - London - has not been desperate to take advantage of all the benefits offered by technology. Historically, from a business point of view, Lloyd's has always been the innovator and the world has followed. From a technology perspective, London should hope that the opposite is not the case, and that it can retain its style and character without losing its business to international reinsurers.
Roger Foord is a consultant with his own insurance systems solutions company, Roger Foord Associates, London. Tel: +44 (0) 171 929 1355. Fax: +44 (0) 171 220 7759. e-mail: 106111.1332@ compuserve.com