June 13, 2013

For insurers, fast, reliable applications are all part and parcel of the hassle-free, readily available service they're expected to provide. Insurance-related online transactions like quotes, price comparisons and claims filings must perform easily, intuitively and consistently for all end-users, including insurance company agents, employees and consumers. In fact, research shows that 55% of agents believe that poor performance and availability would impact their willingness to recommend an insurer -- a strong indicator of just how important high-performing applications can be.

Kieran Taylor, Compuware
Kieran Taylor, Compuware

[Ease of use for distributors is of paramount importance: Life Insurers Deliver Agent Ease Of Use With E-Signatures, E-Apps And Automated Underwriting]

Consumer demands are rising. Most now expect excellent service no matter where they are located or what type of device they're using. For most, 0.1 seconds is an instantaneous, acceptable response, similar to what consumers experience with a Google search. At a slower response time of even two to four seconds, the risk for dissatisfaction increases. After 10 seconds, most consumers are gone.

Why Insurance Companies Are Prone To Poor Application Performance

Insurers are very prone to performance issues because there are a great many connection points and areas of potential failure between the end-user (i.e. agents, employees and/or consumers) and the data center. This is known as the application delivery chain, and any and all areas along this chain can experience problems and take an end-user from total satisfaction to complete frustration.

The first area is the data center itself, which is becoming much more complex. Most data centers have now moved beyond three-tier architectures, with some having 10 to 20 tiers. In addition, virtual and physical resources are mixed in many data center environments. Monitoring hardware is less effective than in physical-only environments, and traditional tools cannot monitor virtual servers.

The second source of problems is the Internet and modern applications, many of which are dynamically assembled at the edge of the Internet, in the user's browser or mobile application. The Internet itself is riddled with many performance potholes, including poorly performing CDNs and ISPs. Furthermore, many third-party components -- for example, instant quoting capabilities -- are assembled by the browser, and a performance drop-off for any third-party service like this can degrade performance for an entire website or application. Additionally, the mobile explosion forces insurers to ensure strong application performance across an ever-widening range of wireless browsers and devices used at the edge of the Internet.

Finally, cloud-based processing can result in application performance glitches. Cloud service providers (CSPs) rate themselves on availability, but end-users rate insurers on application performance. Leveraging a CSP essentially means handing over "the keys to the kingdom" to someone else, and few CSPs offer service-level agreements committing to specific levels of application performance.

Many insurers struggle to proactively monitor and manage application delivery chains, particularly the elements that originate beyond the firewall like third-party services. Many traditional application performance management (APM) methods fail because they provide only partial visibility, leaving insurers with huge blind spots including the Internet, third-party services and device/browser nuances.

These blind spots can cause problems insurance companies don't even know about, which puts them in reactive mode where application performance problems can only be identified after they have impacted end users. Today, most application access issues are still reported by agents or customers – by which time the damage is likely done. For the most part, these problems are not found by proactive monitoring.

How Insurance Companies Can Differentiate Themselves

For insurers, poor application performance can have a huge impact on business performance. For example, slow and unreliable applications can result in consumers taking their business elsewhere, costing the insurer not just the service or policy, but the potential lifetime value of that customer.

On the flip side, superior application performance can be a huge competitive differentiator. A new generation of APM tools can help insurers deliver high-quality employee, agent and customer experiences, thus protecting the continued growth and revenue of their business. More specifically, new generation APM solutions help increase agility and improve response time to issues impacting end-users, with the following capabilities:

  • Test and monitor all applications from the true end-user perspective across a wide range of browsers and devices;
  • Monitor all transactions, 24x7, in order to proactively catch performance bottlenecks, outages and other critical issues that may occur outside of routine sampling intervals;
  • Trace the root cause of application performance issues across the entire application delivery chain; and
  • Measure the impact of the issue, then prioritize it based on the impact it will have on the business.

Clearly, for insurers high-quality application performance is absolutely essential. Delivering round-the-clock service, with applications that work everywhere, all the time, is no longer an option. To boost end-user satisfaction, insurers need true insight into all end-user experiences at all times, combined with deep-dive diagnostics and tools to help triage problem resolution. Insurance organizations that proactively manage application performance in this way will be empowered to achieve competitive differentiation as well as marked industry leadership.

Kieran Taylor is Director of Product Marketing for the Compuware Application Performance Management Business Unit.