This year marks the 50th anniversary of the life insurance industry’s first policy administration system. IBM’s Consolidated Functions Ordinary, 1962 (or ’62 CFO) offered a set of programs intended to provide insurers with automated transaction processing and recordkeeping across life insurance contracts. I envision the innovative programmers of the ’62 CFO dressed as though in an episode of Mad Men, smoking cigarettes at their desks, and using the latest technology to develop the world’s first core system for insurance. Policy admin systems have evolved since the ’62 CFO, but I remember a functional simplicity in the green screen user interface of that era that seems to have been lost. Have the user interfaces of policy administration systems become too complex? Are we overcomplicating insurance processes simply because today’s technology gives us the ability?
In today’s more modern systems, green screens have mostly been replaced by flexible web-based views. Software vendors strive to offer end-users as many buttons, dials, and widgets as possible so that their system can be described as the most “feature-rich.” Users are inundated with choices and functions that are often irrelevant, while data is exposed, often for the sake of exposure rather than for a strong business need. Older systems are updated with an additional user interface layer, slowing the responsiveness and making the overall system more complex. In a noble attempt to improve the user experience, I would argue that today’s solutions have created a user interface that often decreases productivity, increases the amount of training needed, and complicates customer service interaction — hardly a good recipe for ease-of-use and process efficiency.
We all know the shortcomings of the early legacy systems and the limitations they impose on the operation, as well as the cost burden. While I do not assert that we need to embrace the revival of monochromatic green screens, I must admit that there was business efficiency and an elegant simplicity to their design. Users carried out processes with a series of logical keystrokes, and system screens guided users from the beginning through to completion in a linear approach. Once these steps were learned, users could process rapidly and effectively. Granted, I realize that these traits were a result of technological limitations rather than brilliant design, but we need to rethink the end-user experience with some of these very characteristics in mind in order to improve policy administration software today.
The late Steve Jobs was notorious for his demand for good design and ease-of-use in products. Jobs passionately believed that features and functions should never take precedence over simplicity and practical design. Devices like the iPhone and the iPad have changed the way we use technology and revolutionized the way in which we work, play and communicate. There’s a reason so many Apple devotees wait in line for hours to get the latest gadget on day one: they know it will work, will offer useful capabilities, and — best of all — will be simple to use.
[For more on Chris Doggett's views on the next wave of insurance technology, see Of Worms and Monkey Wrenches: The Need to Standardize Policy Admin System Business Rules .]
The insurance industry might consider these Apple iProduct best practices to recognize that users now expect their interaction with technology to be well engineered and beautifully designed – even when it comes to policy administration systems. Core systems need to adapt by providing a simple and elegant interface that will resonate with today’s users.
Our industry certainly does not need a return to the business culture, smoking habits, or mainframe processing of the 1960s, but there may be some lessons that we can learn from those pioneers of the ’62 CFO project. We need to retract from the complex user interfaces of modern systems and provide a simpler user experience for quicker training, ease-of-use, and more effective processing. For user interfaces, less truly is more. With thoughtful consideration for design, we can leverage today’s technology with the functional simplicity of the past and change the policy administration experience for the better.
Happy 50th Birthday, PAS.
About the Author: Chris Doggett is founder and CEO of Adminovate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.