Sometimes, innovation takes time.
Some 30 years ago, I wrote an article for the front page of the second section of the Wall Street Journal that declared a revolution in forms. We were far enough along in the personal computer revolution that software companies were coming out with products that would let users fill out forms on-screen, speeding the process and eliminating the errors that occurred as someone had to interpret people's handwriting. Even more magical, the spread of local area networks meant that information could flow straight from my screen into a corporate database, with no never to ever print the form and have someone re-enter the data.
Everything I wrote was correct, and forms did take a major step forward, but, here we are three decades later, still drowning in forms. And the insurance industry is Exhibit A.
I realize that, in many ways, the need for clarity and standardization means insurance has to think in forms -- certainly, many regulators do. But there is so much inefficiency tied up in filling out forms, processing them and gathering them for use in underwriting and claims that I've been trying as hard as I can for years to drive people to consider the sort of automation that is the ITL Focus this month.
As you'll see from this month's interview with Nigel Walsh, a longtime consultant who is now managing director, insurance, at Google, he's pretty much moved beyond automation. His thinking is: Why automate a process when you can do away with it entirely?
He does acknowledge that automation can deliver loads of incremental gains, and the six articles I've highlighted this month lay out a number of possibilities for you to consider.
The whole experience with automation reminds of two lines I use often (apologies, if you've heard them before).
One is a Silicon Valley bromide: Never confuse a clear view with a short distance. That's something I did with forms and do all the time -- even though I know to never confuse a clear view with a short distance.
The other is one I came up with on my own: Let's burn all the fax machines. They, to me, are such a symbol of antiquated technology and of the inefficiency in our industry. Let's automate all of them out of existence, then turn our attention to doing away with all the forms that we use fax machines to send back and forth.
I may have been much too early about expecting forms to go away, but I'll eventually be right. Really, I will.