Industry response has been mixed on Microsoft's Windows 8 system; see the glass-half-empty and glass-half-full takes from I&T sister site InformationWeek. With that in mind, this morning, I met with two members of Microsoft's financial services team -- GM Karen Cone and lead technology strategist Sean Foley -- and saw the OS for myself. I was particularly interested in getting some insight into which Windows 8 features might be most relevant for insurers.
- Platform flexibility. Legacy is still a big issue for insurance companies, and Windows 8 devices such as the Surface tablet offer an option to help wean users off legacy environments while providing a more modern computing experience for those users who prefer it. With the tap of a key, a Surface tablet switches from the tiled "touch" experience to the icon-based, point-and-click environment of Windows 7.
"It can interact with [legacy] claims servicing and policy admin systems" while also supporting newer, browser-based systems, Cone says. "But we're seeing certainly a lot of the independent software vendors getting to a point where they offer Windows 8 variations of claims servicing and policy systems. If it can come up and you can use it in the touch environment, it makes it more friendly and easier."
Cone says that when she first started using Surface, "about 90%" of her time was spent in the Windows 7 environment. "But I've got it down to about 60% now," she says. Similarly, insurers are going through adjustment periods between systems that are powered by older computing platforms and newer ones that take advantage of the wealth of new computing experiences available today.
"We all thought mainframes would be gone by now, but the truth is that insurance organizations have grown over time, acquiring multiple different companies and have very broad use of technology," Foley adds. "We accommodate all of those together. You can still run legacy stuff in windows 7, then you have the touch-enabled, full-featured apps."
- Use case flexibility. Insurance companies aren't like banks and capital markets organizations where everyone pretty much works at a desk traditionally. Advisors might take meetings with clients in coffee shops or at their home, and claims adjusters venture into dicey situations all the time.
"There's a far greater urgency with insurers for portability -- it makes it so much easier to work with independent brokers as well as out in the field," Cohn says.
But the two types of field forces have very different needs from technology: distributors benefit from dazzling, next-generation items that can help them display illustrations of how complex products work in a way that's easily grokable by prospects -- that is, the focus is on content presentation. But claims adjusters value simplicity and a streamlined experience where they are able to easily create content.
"Brokers and agents tend to be more comfortable on more recent devices, but adjusters need something that they're comfortable with," says Cone. "If they want to use a keyboard and type they can, but if they want to write by hand we're trying to support that environment as well."
Cone and Foley said that with about 1,500 devices currently certified on Windows 8, it should be easy to find something that works for your end users.
"The Surface is a great device, but it's one device," Cohn says. "Our strategy is to work with OEM providers. We find it's particularly important in insurance to have options."
- Partnerships. With Microsoft already ubiquitous across enterprises, the company has already made available some insurance-specific applications. Hyland built a version of its OnBase Insurance Field Adjuster App for Windows 8 that is already live. And with usage-based insurance on the minds of many auto carriers, Microsoft is well-positioned to offer that as well. Microsoft technology underpins .
"We are having a huge amount of conversations around Windows 8 and usage pricing," Cone says. "We work together with insurance companies to embed it and to capture the data.