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Enterprise mobility: practice allows insurers to blend convergence, collaboration and management.

The value of enterprise mobility--being able to work from anywhere at anytime with full access to whatever corporate systems are required--has been proven in the insurance world. However, enterprise mobility has evolved as insurance business solutions continue to evolve, fueled by increasing user expectations.

When the first personal digital assistants came out, we were ecstatic to be able to carry our contacts, calendars and e-mails around with us. The fact the e-mails were not up-to-date but were instead as current as your last synchronization with your personal computer (via a physical cable connection from PC to PDA) wasn't an issue. Today, if someone forgets his or her BlackBerry when going out to lunch, the perceived risk of missing an important e-mail the second it comes in can cause serious heartburn.

At an application level, enterprise mobility applications have broadened their horizontal reach and an increased number of vertical solutions have become available. Horizontally, mobile messaging has evolved beyond e-mail to include text messaging and instant messaging. Vertically, insurance applications have become more integrated into the insurance business process and have caused existing processes to evolve to take advantage of mobility solutions.

External technology drivers have had a continuous effect on the progress of enterprise mobility. Convergence, whether it be voice and data or wireline and wireless, expands the universe of mobile functionality. Voice-over-IP, the prime example of voice and data convergence, has made mobility easier. Take the example of being able to "take" your phone number with you when you travel across the country; the concept of a "virtual office" doesn't seem strange at all.

Wireline and wireless integration are part of an overall fixed-mobile convergence, which refers to technologies that enable use of a single device anywhere. For example, a device such as a dual-mode phone could access cellular service if available. If WiFi service were available, the phone would be able to access that, too. Users could then choose the least-expensive service, or the service with the strongest signal, to switch seamlessly between systems. As an added benefit, fixed-mobile convergence users would have a single voice mailbox.

One far-reaching benefit of enterprise mobility and the related technology convergence is the beneficial impact on employee collaboration. Instant messaging and Web conferencing are already key collaboration tools. Other collaboration applications, such as blogs and podcasting, empower the mobile worker--blogs as possible knowledge repositories and podcasting as sales, service or training applications.

The impact of collaboration and the impact of enterprise mobility on collaboration should not be underestimated. A recent Frost & Sullivan study entitled "Meetings Around the World," which was funded by Verizon and Microsoft, specifically correlates the impact of collaboration on business performance. According to the study, a company's "collaboration index" is a larger contributor to its overall financial performance and to its innovation and product quality than is the company's aggressiveness in pursuing new market opportunities.

With all the benefits available from enterprise mobility, it's important to not underestimate the importance of your information technology department and your IT infrastructure in providing the management and security necessary to support enterprise mobility. Funding this underlying requirement can be tied to the return on investment calculations associated with the new enterprise mobility applications being deployed.

However, the ability to integrate enterprise mobility infrastructure investments with other IT requirements can provide additional corporate benefits. The most basic example of that is the consolidation of security and business continuity where business continuity has become more reliant on overall corporate security. Spending in either one of these areas could, and should, be mapped across multiple IT initiatives including enterprise mobility. In the case of business continuity, there's no better business continuity tool than enterprise mobility.

As enterprise mobility grows even more in importance for both U.S. and global carriers, it will be essential that insurers continue to learn and adapt their business applications and business processes to the flexibility, efficiency and productivity enabled by enterprise mobility. Those that do won't regret it.

Gates Ouimette is a Best's Review columnist from Massachusetts. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Technology
Author:Ouimette, Gates
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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