Tag Archives: application programming interface

5 Reasons to Stress API Integration

Historically, most independent insurance agencies have been slow to adopt new technologies, instead relying on their personal service to clients to differentiate themselves in the market. While it’s true that trusting an agent who has your security, protection and best interests at heart is a huge part of what makes the independent agent extremely valuable, customer expectations are shifting.

Modern consumers embrace a digital-first environment. They expect high-end technology and automation to support their shopping, entertainment and banking needs, and insurance quickly joined that list. About five years ago, buoyed by strong capital investment and a surge in insurtech startups, direct-to-consumer personal lines disrupted the industry by bypassing the advisory and guidance upon which the independent agent model was built. Now, it’s the commercial industry’s turn, as we begin to see similar evolution in distribution models on that side.

To remain relevant, independent agents must keep pace with the changing landscape of consumer behavior and the technological demand. Customer experience is more important than ever. When it comes to attracting and retaining clients, and delivering on expectations for speed, it’s critical to be efficient and digital.

API solution integration has become one of the most crucial components of digitization, enabling smoother workflows and increased efficiency and allowing agents to meet customer expectations for real-time, personalized service. By providing a framework for connectivity, application programming interface (API) protocols allow various pieces of software to interact, to share data, and to move data and tasks from one step of a process to the next. For independent agents and the entire value chain that supports them, APIs are game-changing. They give agents the combination of the digital-first approach customers expect, with personal attention and dependable service.

Here’s why APIs are transforming the industry for agencies, customers and insurtech providers.

APIs improve office workflow. As in every business, productivity and efficiency are critical in any agency. The ability to complete tasks faster, to save time and effort, not only means less work but also frees up more time for agents and customer service reps to spend collaborating with clients to better understand their needs. With something as simple as writing an auto policy, an agent may start and end the process in two pieces of software — first in the agency management system (AMS) and then in the underwriting system. This requires the agent to toggle back and forth, rekey data and perhaps even hand off the process to another individual. With API integration, the data is entered once, moves through the entire process with an electronic handoff from one system to the next, and can even be picked up by a second individual seamlessly. By cutting down on time and frustration, employees can spend their time on more productive, revenue-generating efforts.

See also: AI Still Needs Business Expertise  

APIs reduce data entry burden. The problem with lack of integration in most agencies is that it requires redundant data entry. And, each time customer data is entered increases the risk of error and inconsistency. For example, if a CSR enters client Amy Smith Jones’ name into the AMS with no hyphen, but the agent enters it into another system with a hyphen, there are two separate records for the same customer. Now, it’s impossible to see the client’s entire account, and there may be duplicate mailings and other communication breakdowns. With API integration, data is entered once — eliminating the time wasted in redundancy, reducing the risk of data entry errors and ensuring data consistency.

APIs improve customer relations and retention. Insurance customers expect personalized service and attention. So, when they call the agency for help, they expect that their agent is familiar with their policies and situation. But, in many agencies, simply handling an incoming call is a lengthy process. An operator answers the phone and determines how to route the call, and then the agent must ask some questions to find out how he or she can be of service. With an API integration between the phone system and the AMS, the handoff happens seamlessly. When the customer dials in, the system uses reverse phone number lookup to identify the caller and pops up the customer’s policies on the operator’s computer screen and which agent handles them. Now, the operator can greet the client personally and transfer the call quickly. When the agent answers, they already have information about the client’s account and can immediately ask whether the call is regarding the homeowners or auto policy. This is just one example of how an API-enabled, streamlined system not only eliminates extra steps but also provides the personalized customer experience that clients expect from their agency.

APIs demonstrate your digital prowess. As we’ve already established, consumers expect a certain level of modern, digital automation in practically every aspect of their lives. Using APIs to connect digital technologies gives your agency the forward-thinking image that attracts customers who value that quality. For example, even something as simple as mobile document signing technology that integrates directly with your agency management and underwriting solutions can streamline the process for clients. They can log in from wherever and whenever on their mobile device, sign as required and keep the process moving. Even with the personal service an independent agency strives to provide, there will still be clients who prefer less human interaction and a more digital approach, and APIs allow agencies to retain those clients while still addressing their automation expectations.

APIs allow tech providers to remain relevant. There are many solutions in the insurtech industry that solve a niche problem — fillable forms for commercial line submissions, for example, or digital signature solutions. Even some of the larger AMS platforms don’t address every aspect of agency workflow, and many depend on complementary software to fill those gaps. API integrations allow the entire insurtech industry, especially point solutions, to thrive by continuing to provide value in the larger scheme. For the larger platform providers, this saves time and money in developing those features and allows the smaller niche players to remain relevant.

See also: Growing Import of ‘Edge Computing’  

API integrations clearly benefit the entire insurance value chain, from carriers, underwriters and agencies to insurtech providers and consumers. The alternative — continuing to operate with proprietary systems that don’t adhere to industry standards, perpetuating inefficiencies and detracting from the customer experience — will keep the industry stuck in the dark ages and ripe for disruption by new solutions that radically transform the process and the customer experience.

Programs such as Vertafore’s Orange Partner Program are just one example of API programs creating a new model for the industry, enabling rich integrations that empower independent agencies to leverage a broad spectrum of solutions, not only within the platform’s ecosystem but also with a wide range of third-party providers. This type of open API approach ensures both technological consistency through integration standards and allows the entire industry to evolve and grow, while providing a more satisfactory experience for customers.

12 Issues Inhibiting the Internet of Things

While the Internet of Things (IoT) accounts for approximately 1.9 billion devices today, it is expected to be more than 9 billion devices by 2018—roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers and PCs combined. But, for the IoT to scale beyond early adopters, it must overcome specific challenges within three main categories: technology, privacy/security and measurement.

Following are 12 hurdles that are hampering the growth of the IoT:

1. Basic Infrastructure Immaturity

IoT technology is still being explored, and the required infrastructure must be developed before it can gain widespread adoption. This is a broad topic, but advancement is needed across the board in sensors themselves, sensor interfaces, sensor-specific micro controllers, data management, communication protocols and targeted application tools, platforms and interfaces. The cost of sensors, especially more sophisticated multi-media sensors, also needs to shrink for usage to expand into mid-market companies.

2. Few Standards

Connections between platforms are now only starting to emerge. (E.g., I want to turn my lights on when I walk in the house and turn down the temperature, turn on some music and lock all my doors – that’s four different ecosystems, from four different manufacturers.) Competing protocols will create demand for bridge devices. Some progress is emerging in the connected home with Apple and Google announcements, but the same must happen in the enterprise space.

3. Security Immaturity

Many products are built by smaller companies or leverage open source environments that do not have the resources or time to implement the proper security models. A recent study shows that 70% of consumer-oriented IoT devices are vulnerable to hacking. No IoT-specific security framework exists yet; however, the PCI Data Security Standard may find applicability with IoT, or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Risk Management Guide for ITS may.

4. Physical Security Tampering

IoT endpoints are often physically accessible by the very people who would want to meddle with their results: customers interfering with their smart meter, for example, to reduce their energy bill or re-enable a terminated supply.

5. Privacy Pitfalls

Privacy risks will arise as data is collected and aggregated. The collation of multiple points of data can swiftly become personal information as events are reviewed in the context of location, time, recurrence, etc.

6. Data Islands

If you thought big data was big, you haven’t see anything yet. The real value of the IoT is when you overlay data from different things — but right now you can’t because devices are operating on different platforms (see #2). Consider that the connected house generates more than 200 megabytes of data a day, and that it’s all contained within data silos.

7. Information, but Not Insights

All the data processed will create information, eventually intelligence – but we aren’t there yet. Big data tools will be used to collect, store, analyze and distribute these large data sets to generate valuable insights, create new products and services, optimize scenarios and so on. Sensing data accurately and in timely ways is only half of the battle. Data needs to be funneled into existing back-end systems, fused with other data sources, analytics and mobile devices and made available to partners, customers and employees.

8. Power Consumption and Batteries

50 billion things are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2020 – how will all of it be powered? Battery life and consumption of energy to power sensors and actuators needs to be managed more effectively. Wireless protocols and technologies optimized for low data rates and low power consumption are important. Three categories of wireless networking technologies are either available or under development that are better suited for IoT, including personal area networks, longer-range sensors and mesh networks and application-specific networks.

9. New Platforms with New Languages and Technologies

Many companies lack the skills to capitalize on the IoT. IoT requires a loosely coupled, modular software environment based on application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable endpoint data collection and interaction. Emerging Web platforms using RESTful APIs can simplify programming, deliver event-driven processes in real time, provide a common set of patterns and abstractions and enable scale. New tools, search engines and APIs are emerging to facilitate rapid prototyping and development of IoT applications.

10. Enterprise Network Incompatibility

Many IoT devices aren’t manageable as part of the enterprise network infrastructure. Enterprise-class network management will need to extend into the IoT-connected endpoints to understand basic availability of the devices as well as manage software and security updates. While we don’t need the same level of management access as we do to more sophisticated servers, we do need basic, reliable ways to observe, manage and troubleshoot. Right now, we have to deal with manual and runaway software updates. Either there’s limited or no automated software updates or there are automatic updates with no way to stop them.

11. Device Overload

Another issue is scale. Enterprises are used to managing networks of hundreds or thousands of devices. The IoT has the potential to increase these numbers exponentially. So the ways we currently procure, monitor, manage and maintain will need to be revisited.

12. New Communications and Data Architectures

To preserve power consumption and drive down overall cost, IoT endpoints are often limited in storage, processing and communications capabilities. Endpoints that push raw data to the cloud allow for additional processing as well as richer analytics by aggregating data across several endpoints. In the cloud, a “context computer” can combine endpoint data with data from other services via APIs to smartly update, reconfigure and expand the capabilities of IoT devices.

The IoT will be a multi-trillion industry by 2020. But entrepreneurs need to clear the hurdles that threaten to keep the IoT from reaching its full potential.

This article was co-written with Daniel Eckert. The article draws on PwC’s 6th Annual Data IQ Survey. The article first appeared on LinkedIn.