September 28, 2012

Cincinnati-based Great American Insurance Company recently won an Innovation in Action award from SMA, a Boston-based analyst firm, for its mobile applications. Sure, lots of insurers have mobile applications -- but as a specialty insurer, Great American wasn't simply able to take a me-too approach to mobile development. Here's how the IT department went from zero to 60 on smartphones:

  • Found a willing business-side sponsor: Of the many disparate lines GAIC writes, it was the equine department that first showed interest in getting on mobile. "There's going to be divisions that are more willing to be first" with new IT initiatives, says AVP of IT David Dalton. "But then you have to look at the user base. The thought process was that with equine, the insureds are more likely to have iPhones."

    • Laid the groundwork in core systems: There are many different back-end systems at GAIC across its many lines. But in the middle of the last decade, in each of them was built the ability to support next generation digital initiatives. "We saw with all the work we had done with all the new systems starting in 2006, like implementing a service-oriented architecture, that we had the ability to do these things," says another AVP of IT, Dan Pollack. "Our team also writes web services, so if it's got an API or a database we can call, we get to encapsulate those types of things. As long as we've got something we can get to it's not that difficult."

      • Applied lessons learned along the way: After finishing the equine app, the GAIC team moved on to create something for the trucking division. It then had two choices: Make a different app for each of its business lines, or find a solution that linked the remaining ones together. "This sort of started out smaller, and as we got going, stuff started snowballing in a good way," Pollack says.

        "At that point it was going to be that we could end up with 23 of the same app that does essentially the same thing," adds Dalton. 'So instead we made one where now, when the policyholder registers their policy we can determine what business unit [systems] it shows."

        ABOUT THE AUTHOR
        Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...