Alfa Insurance, a Montgomery, Ala.-based multiline P&C carrier, says on its website that its vision is to "focus on effective use of technology to enhance the productivity of our people and increase our knowledge of, and service to, our customers, while investing resources in product and geographic expansion." The company, which operates in 11 states, is living out that maxim in its approach to mobile development, according to Walter Overby, VP of corporate internet and e-business for Alfa. Overby talked to Insurance & Technology about how and why its mobile strategy quickly evolved.
Insurance & Technology: What were you seeing in the marketplace that convinced you that mobility initiatives should be a priority?
Walter Overby: The more we looked at our competition, the more we realized other companies were deploying mobile apps and even using them in their commercials. So our executive management gave us approval to move forward and gave us a tight time frame to move forward with our next iteration.
I&T: What did you have on mobile at the time of that directive?
WO: We originally contracted with the University of Alabama -- they have a program called Capstone where grad students and seniors work a project that lasts no more than a semester -- and had them develop an iPhone app. It had some nice small features to it -- you could find an agent or a towing service -- but you couldn't do things like report claims or pay your insurance policy. We knew it was kind of a baby step, but it was a way to get us exposed to mobility.
I&T: Where did you go from there?
WO: We wanted to innovate with our app, so we looked through the different features companies were offering, then we looked internally to see what's table stakes and what could we do to differentiate themselves. We had a small group of Alfa employees that made up a variety of demographics all using smartphones and they came up with what we wanted to provide. We were trying to look across all industries, not just insurance because we believe that there may be some features and functionality that might innovate our app in a different way.
I&T: When it came time to develop, who took on the project?
WO: We have some talented people internally in our IT staff, but with the vast number of projects we have going on these people were committed. We spent some time looking into external companies and settled on Kony. They had experience in other industries and had done some work in the insurance space, and they could both do the development and host it for us.
I&T: How did the process work?
WO: At certain points in the process, Kony would come back with a video that would show the app and how it worked. It worked well for us -- by being able to visually see it and how it would work, we were given the ability to make changes as the development was going forward.
I&T: You mentioned Kony would be hosting the app -- how does that work in terms of data integration?
WO: The data still resides here at our corporate headquarters. What happens is a request goes from [Kony partner] Rackspace to Alfa to get authentication and data. There's lots of communication going on multiple ways. We may insource it down the road, and if we do, we believe that it will not be a difficult process.
I&T: After this process, how will you attack mobile capabilities going forward?
WO: We maintain a mobile roadmap which outlines where we're at and where we are going. We look at functionality and features in general that are being hosted in and out of our industry, and we survey existing customers and non-customers to find out what they felt like is most important with a mobile app. We want to do is find out what customers want on a mobile device and provide that service.