Tag Archives: core systems

Tech Pulse Quickens for Commercial Lines

The past 18 months have been interesting (to say the least) for anyone involved in technology strategy, planning or implementation. Ideally, a road map with prioritized projects and defined resource allocations directs the activity, and the company stays relatively true to its path. Unfortunately, the pandemic, with all its implications, has wreaked havoc on tech plans. Project priorities have often shifted, sometimes virtually overnight. Digital gaps have been exposed. Customer expectations have dramatically changed. And executives wonder what the new normal will look like.

SMA has conducted a series of market pulse polls throughout the pandemic, starting in April 2020 as the initial economic lockdowns and work-from-home mandates began to take hold. Our latest survey, conducted this May, assessed how plans are being reshaped as commercial lines insurers move forward in the second half of 2021 and formulate plans for early 2022. Whether we are moving toward a post-pandemic era in the U.S. is debatable, but what seems clear from the plans of commercial lines insurers is that tech-related plans are moving ahead full steam.

So, what does the big picture look like?

The commercial lines insurance industry has gone through three distinct phases over the last year and a half. In the early days of the pandemic, there was a tactical response to the lockdowns that affected employees, customers and partners alike. New virtual, digital capabilities became a priority to enable remote work and remote customer interactions. Then, as 2020 proceeded, phase two began. As it became evident that the pandemic would continue for some time, there was some deceleration of some activities or a pause in projects, and some of the more innovative initiatives were tabled until 2021. The third phase began in 2021 with an explosion of activity. It was almost as if someone flipped a switch on Jan. 1. Commercial lines companies began accelerating plans, launching a frenzy of tech-based strategy and implementation activity in the first half of the year.

SMA’s most recently completed survey shows that hardly any companies plan to retrench or pause project activity in the second half. There is a significant amount of rethinking for road maps and project reprioritizations. One exception to the reshuffling of priorities is in core systems. Any companies that had policy, billing or claims systems modernization projects in flight have continued to push forward. These projects are so foundational and have so much urgency and momentum that it would be unwise to pause or reprioritize them.

See also: The Digital Journey in Commercial Lines

So, the stage is set to be very active for the rest of the year as companies double down on technology initiatives. Although 2022 plans have not come into sharp focus just yet, strategy and budget planning are underway at many companies, and the early glimpse indicates that this accelerated digital transformation will not be just a one-year phenomenon. It may just represent the new normal. I personally can’t wait until 2022 to see what is in store for the industry!

For more information on commercial lines plans for technology, see our recent research report, “Commercial Lines Digital Plans and the Post-Pandemic World: SMA Market Pulse Insights.” The report also includes a view for insurers’ expectations for the workforce come January 2022.

Myth or Reality? Core Deemphasized

Many of you have been in insurance for quite some time, and it might sound amazing to even ask you to consider the possibility that core systems will take a backseat to digital projects.

Because of the pandemic, there was a real pause back in March to reassess what the priorities were. How would core systems need to interact? How would we keep pursuing core systems – as replacements, enhancements, in new roles, etc.? In this digital age, we feel tugs and pulls from the many different priorities that we have. Are we trying to cut some costs? Are we really focused on all of the digital engagement initiatives that we have underway? And where does core sit in all of this?

Well, I would suggest that the idea of the core taking a backseat is a myth: Core systems are not necessarily the drivers of digital projects, but they are the enablers. They are the core – the hub of many of the interactions with data from both internal resources and external resources. The facilitation of transactions connected via APIs is now the critical enabler for digital engagement.

When we look to our internal operations, how effective are our resources, our underwriters, our billing staff or our claims staff? Is the core system enabling them to move forward with their tasks in the most efficient and effective way? How open and interactive is your core system with bot technologies or robotic process automation (RPA)?

We must enable the balance between the digital workforce and the human workforce to be the most efficient that it can be.

There is a plethora of different technologies and initiatives out there focused on external digital projects. We now have digital platforms. We have new user interface (UI) initiatives. We have a whole new way of looking at our interactions with customers and agents.

How does your core system help enable the transactions? Is it open? Does it have access to the APIs? Is it efficient? Can it perform? Can it live in the new world?

We know empirically from our research this past year that core, because of the type of expense it is and because of its criticality to organizations, continues to push forward as a key initiative.

Whether you’re sourcing a new system, in initial deployment or in rollout, remember that core initiatives do not take place in a short time. They are significant investments.

We are balancing a new world of digitally engaged platforms with the enterprise core system needs that we have today. There is a fit and purpose for every type of solution out there. Some are meant to expedite product innovation, and others are meant to handle the thrust and bulk of transactions and the volume of significant blocks of business. The important thing is to make sure your core system is working cohesively within your digital structure and enabling you to move forward with the digital projects that you have underway.

See also: Cloud Computing Wins in COVID-19 World

Call to Action:

To counteract the myth that core systems will take a backseat to digital projects, my call to action is to really make sure you’re using a core system that has and can expose their capabilities via APIs – because the core system is going to have to live within the new ecosystems in and of itself.

It is not the entire ecosystem, and it is not the only solution that you’re going to have in play. This digital landscape requires much more from core systems from an interaction standpoint. Core systems must be able to interoperate with other technologies and enable interactions, and they must be as open as they possibly can be. We have to open up these systems to make them much more collaborative, available and accessible so we can capitalize on the gains made with cloud deployments, which will enable improved scalability and versatility.

Cloud Computing Wins in COVID-19 World

Through the countless discussions that have occurred these past two weeks with many insurers, there have been winning strategies that have shone through as insurers have been executing their business continuity plans. And there have been certain challenges on the other side. Were you a company that needed the support of people to be in the office to “load the tapes,” making sure all those batch jobs on the mainframe computer kept running? Did you have challenges making applications available to your now-remote workforce? Were your call centers still able to fully support agents and policyholders?

One of the greatest successes in this market has been the performance of cloud computing. I remember, back in 2012, discussing the advantages of cloud computing. As an industry, there was just experimental acceptance of this capability – usually relegated to sandbox environments and testing. Jump forward to 2020 – and we see that 84% of all core system buying transactions were cloud-based. Not only have we leapt forward in our use of cloud, but we are now in mainstream acceptance that core systems – some of the most critical systems in the enterprise – are being commonly deployed in the cloud.

Let’s consider for a moment some of the advantages of systems that are deployed in the cloud – just to name a few that have been experienced over the past two weeks:

  • Cloud provides a virtual computing environment that also enables virtualized managed services.
  • New environments can be created to dynamically test changes.  
  • Access is available – for all that need to use the applications regardless of physical location.
  • Cloud decreases the need for “onsite” resources – elimination of tape loads, etc.

Investments that insurers continue to make to transform their organizations are bearing fruit today (even though we do not want to have to go through a pandemic to realize this truth). The digitally enabled experiences that insurers are providing to their customers and distribution partners are critical. Never before has it been more important to provide full transparency to the customer. For some, you are experiencing the world as it was before COVID-19 – a world of transformation that was moving forward, understanding the importance of the digital experience, and looking at ways to provide these capabilities. Today we are in a state where these digital experiences are a reality.

See also: Will COVID-19 Disrupt Insurtech?  

If the events of the past few weeks find you considering cloud deployment for your applications moving forward, refer to our recent research report, Cloud and Core Systems: Top 10 Strategic Considerations, for insights on buying cloud-deployed software solutions. Cloud will be one of the levers that insurers can use to meet the digital mandate that is no longer for the future – but is here today.

Core Systems: Starting a Whole New Game?

Of all the software sold within the insurance industry, core systems continue to be the dominant purchase for hundreds of insurers. And just when you think the trend might slow – that every last insurer has bought the system that it will need to support its business – we see another cycle of buying begin. 2016 was a low point in core systems buying, with the lowest number of policy, billing and claims systems purchased in several years. Questions started to arise. Was the market finally saturated? Were these needs now filled? Would insurers start to move on to other projects?

As of this writing – and from looking at the insurer and MGA buying trends over the past two years – we see that this could not be further from the truth. Buying has been on the upswing since 2016, increasing by 13% in 2017 and 11% in 2018. And I have been asked a myriad of questions: What is hot? What is not? Are more suites being purchased than components? Or are we entering a new era of component buying? What lines of business are insurers looking to support with core systems? Will insurers really buy systems that are operating in a cloud environment?

See also: Security for Core Systems in the Cloud  

At the same time these questions crop up, we see an industry that has embraced the transformation journey. Many are looking to change their business models, create products that respond to new and changing risks and transform their organizations for the workforce of the future. As insurers look at their business needs and the technology that is required to support these needs, they find themselves looking at aging systems – not constructed for the technology era in which we now operate.

The fact is that we are living in changing times. The technology that supported us through the Y2K world is not necessarily the software that will sustain us in a world where transformational technologies such as AI, serverless computing, microservices and APIs are becoming more and more prevalent – and where software that operates in the cloud is a mandate.

This new era of computing is making its impact throughout the insurance ecosystem. All must respond – insurers and vendors alike. As we look at our latest research report, P&C Core System Purchasing Trends: Foundational Technology to Fuel the Transformation Journey, we see an industry in the beginning phases of the change.

See also: 6 Pitfalls to Avoid With Core Systems  

A few years ago, I wrote a blog at the beginning of the baseball season. I said that I believed we were in the seventh inning of a ball game. But we were already getting the idea that maybe there was a new game starting. From the trends we are observing today, we believe that a new game has begun, and we are just in the early innings. The new digital era we are living in, with the capabilities provided through the new era of computing, has changed the game. So, ask yourselves: Which game are you in? What systems are you buying to support it? Are they from the game that is just finishing? Or are they solutions that will support you in the new digital game that is beginning?

Why ‘Modern’ Is No Longer Enough

Insurers, I have some good news and some bad news. Insurers have made tremendous progress in core modernization, purchasing and implementing new core systems and beginning to adapt their businesses to take full advantage of modern core systems’ capabilities. This is genuine cause for celebration – insurers that have made or are making these efforts are advancing their companies and our industry in general.

As insurers were engaged in these core modernization efforts, though, the personal lines market and technology itself have kept moving forward. A core system that was top of the line in 2013 may be showing its age unless it has been continually upgraded to serve the capabilities needed in 2018 and beyond. This may not be the most welcome news for those still thinking about core systems with an average lifespan of 10 years or more, but this is our new reality.

This is especially true for personal lines insurers, which are typically the first to catch the core modernization wave. They have also tended to be the leaders regarding new computing capabilities. It was true for mainframe systems, client servers, web-based applications. Now, heading into the new era of computing, it is true with computing trends like microservices and serverless computing coming to the fore. This is not technology for technology’s sake – insurers need to be able to handle an increasing number of transactions, including multi-threaded calls, and that increase is approaching an infinite number.

See also: 2018’s Top Projects in Personal Lines  

Further pressure comes from the insurtech startups active in the personal lines market. The original, widely known insurtech startups in P&C insurance were focused on personal lines. As the insurtech movement has matured, startups’ focus has widened to commercial lines and workers’ comp as well as crossing product lines. However, startups have been active in personal lines the longest, and those insurtechs that have thrived have gained market experience and are beginning to focus on organizational maturity. That means that for incumbent personal lines insurers, their insurtech counterparts tend to be comparatively robust and mature when compared with the commercial lines insurtechs I discussed in my earlier blog.

A key characteristic of insurtechs is that they are digitally native companies. That means that they are natively fluent, with enormous quantities of data and digital interactions, and their technology is geared toward this.

Core systems that can be described as “digitally native” have an edge in the digital market going into the future. Even though digital has been a crucial focus area for years, the insurance industry is still learning what a truly digital business entails – and what technology is needed to support it. Insurtech startups have given the insurance industry new examples of how to operate in the digital world.

Few core systems are built with the digitally native characteristics, but the core systems marketplace is beginning to adapt. Continued evolution toward open APIs and new data sources will provide insurers with the opportunity to interoperate with the new distribution channels and directly with the customer.

Whether you are a large insurer that is trying to support new digital brands and new product models (on-demand, telematics and others dependent on high amounts of data) or a small regional insurer trying to power consumer service portals, the key question is data availability and digital connectivity with the consumer and agent.

So, for insurers asking themselves: “Do we really need to think about modernizing our modern core systems?” the better question may be this: “Are your modern core systems digitally native?”