Compiled by our Technology Task Force and distributed during the first-ever SC Agent Technology Conference in May 2008, updated for 2010.
Any product named on this page is meant to be a starting point for an agency's own research into products that would be the right fit for their operations. It is not an endorsement of any of these products.
This information is grouped by:
Technology Time/ Cost savers
Big "I" Virtual University
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Automation, aka Real Time
When they talk about "Real Time," what they mean is:
Real Time is the ability to click on a button fron a client file in your agency management system for immediate access to carrier information on that client. Transactions such as quotes, billing inquiries, claims inquiries/ loss runs, policy views and endorsements are made immediately with no waiting. Workflows are dependent on the agency management system, not a carrier's web site, so no need to remember so many passwords.
Your client is on the phone and wants to know how much a certain coverage is. Get quotes from every carriers you represent (with CR capabilities) and compare the all on one screen. You don't need to remember passwords because the logins are automated.
Download is the movement of customer policy information from a carrier to your agency management system after updates have been made in Real Time. It is crucial to create documents such as certificates of insurance, binders, Auto ID cards, summaries of insurance and applications as soon as a change has been made. Having this information at your fingertips also helps with cross-selling and management reports.
Find out your carriers' Real Time capabilities.
Agents Council for Technology, www.iiaa.org/act
When looking for information about automation and technology, your best bet would be to start with ACT. Established in 1999, ACT is a part of our national association, and is a partnership of independent agents, companies, technology vendors, users groups and associations to provide a candid, action-oriented forum to address the critical workflow and technology issues facing the Independent Agency System.
They have web pages dedicated to technology hot topics of Real Time, Download, Advanced Agency Workflows, Going Paperless, Agency Web sites, Search Positioning & Web 2.0, Sales & Marketing Technology, Agency Security/ Customer Privacy.
ACT also issues monthy articles on technology issues and archives them on their web site. For a sample of the material you can find, check out their May 2008 issue by one of our Tech Conference keynote speakers, Angelyn Treutel, CPA, Top 10 Reasons to use an Agency Management System.
ACT also has a separate site dedicated to specific carrier/vendor Real Time & Download information at www.acttech.org
Get Real Time Resources/ Tools, click here.
Another great resource is the Get Real Time campaign web site, getrealtime.org. This campaign was launched in 2007 to promote Real Time and Download as the tool to improve the competitiveness of the independent agency distribution channel. Participants include independent agencies and brokers, carriers, technology providers, user groups and agent industry associations.
The web site is another compilation of resources, case studies, vendor links, carrier Real Time and Download links, user groups and campaign materials, but one especially important aspect of this site for the 101 user is the Resources/ Tools page. There you can download the "Real Time Implementation Guide" and the "Real Time/ Download Reference Document" as a starting point to bringing Real TIme and Download to your agency's operations.
AUGiE (ACORD-User Groups Info Exchange), click here.
Most everyone in the industry has heard of ACORD, the nonprofit association on whose mission is to facilitate the development and use of standards for the insurance, reinsurance and related financial services industries. But did you know that this insurance data standards group has a division for improving data communication and increasing workflow efficiency?
Known as AUGiE, this group's web site is another compilation of documents and resources as well as an archive of their yearly reports, but for the 101-level user it would be best to start with their free tools and documents. This resources page also links to ACORD's POWER of Change®, which was also covered at the SC Agents Technology Conference.
- Workflow tools
- Cost savings calculator
- Real Time Study
How it works: Each day the company systems identify policies that have incurred transactions. Those policies are transmitted as a file from the company's system to the agency's IVANS mailbox or Internet Download server. Daily, the agency initiates a communication session to retrieve the data for the management system.
What sometimes happens: If the fields don't match clearly enough for the computers to communicate effectively during the daily session, some items will not be retreived properly and marked as "items in suspense." Correct policy effective dates are also important. If the computer thinks the dates are prior to current, which is usually because the dates in the management system were input incorrectly, it will download as history.
How to avoid items in suspense: Many agencies perform audits on their download process. One of our Technology Task Force members has supplied a copy of the audit form used in her office. It is mainly used as a checklist for things that might be causing items to go into suspense. It also reminds account managers to stay vigilant with information accuracy.
Links for more information:
Agents Council for Technology
Real Time Campaign
Best Practices Guide to Agency Business Processes & Info Management
Symantec PC Anywhere
Building an online presence -
utilizing Web 2.0 for the future
Yahoo Small Business
Online insurance education
Big "I" Virtual University
Technology Time/Cost Savers:
Increase efficiency by up to 25% simply by adding an extra monitor to an existing workstation. Larger workspace allows for easy multitasking and “drag-and-drop” copying of information between programs. Most newer workstations come with the needed hardware and software. If yours does not, contact your IT person. There are also many articles and tutorials found online to help you do it yourself.
Easy first step: Desktop Faxing
Set up your computer so that faxes come in as emails for easier distribution, which saves time and paper costs. Windows users have a program built in that might fit their needs, or you can try these other possibilities:
- Shared Fax by Microsoft support.microsoft.com/kb/325807
(Comes standard with Microsoft’s Small Business Server)
- Faxsys supported and recommended by AMS. Applied and other vendors will have their own recommendations
Easy, inexpensive step: Desktop Scanning
Inexpensive desktop scanners can be used to make paper items digital for emailing/faxing documents electronically. We have used Fujitzu Scansnap or Visioneer. It will come with software or you can purchase it inexpensively from the following sites:
Next Step: Front-end Scanning
When you are ready to go to the next level you can scan documents or mail for office distribution when it comes through the door. We recommend a high-speed scanner to do this, such as Canon 3610 or 4010. Your agency management system may have some functionality in this area as well. It is highly recommended to use dual monitors prior to implementing front-end scanning.
Take the leap: Completely paperless office
There are many products out there that allow agents, brokers and carriers to digitize, standardize and automate your processes to run more efficiently and cost-effectively. The professional version of Adobe Acrobat 8.0 will go a long way at first, and you might also want to investigate docStar, who exhibited at our SC Agents Technology conference.
GoToMeetings, www1.gotomeeting.com, is great for agencies with branch locations to train employees. Trainer and trainees can participate from anywhere and follow along on their desktops.
VoIP– Voice over Internet Protocol
To put it simply (and we ARE oversimplifying) VoIP is internet phone. It cuts costs significantly, and is especially great for agencies with telecommuters or branch offices. One noteable aspect of VoIP that agents really like is the ability to check their office voice mail by going to a web site. For more information, contact your office or mobile phone providers.
Gives you the ability to get to your workstation when you are out of the office. Access email, internet favorites, programs and your agency management system.
Go to my PC single user, access thru the internet, www.gotomypc.com
Citrix - multiple user, great for telecommuters, www.citrix.com
Symantec PC Anywhere www.symantec.com
Building an online presence:
Think of your agency's online presence as another door to your office. Clients and prospects "stop in" to find out more about your business, meet your staff and decide whether they want to talk more. By encouraging them to "come on in," you can sttract new business.
Start by building a quality web site. Reflect your agency's brand, show all the ways your customers can interact with you, provide easy ways to "self service" such as online forms and links to carriers, track clicks, etc. with Google Analytics, be personal, link to other local businesses and organizations and UPDATE REGULARY.
Broaden your reach. An agency web site is only the first step. Online presence includes Internet Yellow Pages listings, search engine listings, links from carrier web sites, Trusted Choice® web site and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Attract Searchers. Helping people find your web site when they perform searches on sites like Google and Yahoo for common insurance terms is called Search Engine Optimization. It is all about web site content and how many other quality sites link to yours. Participation in social media sites help with Search Engine Optimization as well.
Agents Council for Technology has done numerous articles on this subject, www.iiaa.org/act, some of which we have run in SC Agent & Broker magazine.
Successful Internet Search Engine Positioning
Web 2.0 - Empowering a cultural tranformation
Google Apps website & email hosting, security, click here.
Yahoo Small business web services website & email hosting, online merchandising and marketing, job posting, click here
Using Social Media:
Why should my agency participate?
Because Social Media is already what independent agents do best. Social media isn't about making the hard sell, but connecting with your online friends and followers regularly, as you would at any other networking event, so that when they have a need for insurance they remember that they have an agent "friend" who specializes in that.
Because the people are already there. The largest demographic of social media users is not teenagers but people age 35-50, and the fastest-growing demographic is women age 55 and older. People are already using these tools to keep in touch with family and friends, and sometimes they discuss their insurance needs among other things. Using social edia allows you to get in on the conversation.
Tips on getting started:
- Create a domain name. The domain name should be something that will be easy for the consumer to remember. It also should reference your agency, or the service you want them to know about, insurance. There are a number of domain registrars on the internet, Microsoft Office Live is very easy to use. You can search for the domain name at this site to see if it is available, and if it is you can reserve your domain name at this point.
- Once you have your domain name you will need to host your site. Microsoft Office Live is also a web host, so while you are in the process you can also create your hosting site as part of the process. The web hosting generally runs on average around $7.00 a month, but some services such as Google Apps and Microsoft Office Live will provide hosting for free. These services also include built-in web editors and templates to get you started, and no prior web development knowledge is needed.
- Now you can then tap into the social media sites such as: Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, and You Tube. All of these sites make it easy to set up a company “micro-site” that will enable you to be visible to members.
- Update Regulary. The key is to make sure you are actively updating all of these sites with fresh content. No one wants to view a site with information that was last updated in 2007.
Consider using video: Believe it or not it's not that expensive
Interacting by video with a visitor is also an effective way to keep them interested in your page.
- Keep the message short (45 seconds – 2 minutes) per video that will tell them why your agency is different than others, or simply educate them on a topic of insurance.
- It’s not that big of an investment. Flip Camcorders are portable HD (Hi-Definition) camcorders that will allow you to create a video in seconds, and then plug directly into the USB port of your computer.
The camera comes with the easy to use software preloaded on the camera, and will allow you to edit your video and upload it directly to your social media account.
Big "I" Virtual University — www.iiaba.net/vu
The Big "I" Virtual University is perhaps one of the most under-utilized benefits of membership.
Research Library— Divided into three subject areas:
- Insurance—find selected sample forms, coverage analysis that cite expert interpretations and court cases, as well as articles and practical information about coverage issues.
- Business— find articles and business tools, including information about the highly-acclaimed Best Practices program, as well as critical professional skills to help your agency grow and prosper.
- Technology—find expert information on hardware, software, the Internet and technological gadgets and programs that will make you more productive online.
“Ask an Expert”
To help in the times when your questions can’t be answered in the Research Library, we have assembled a faculty of leading experts from around the country. Simply fill out a short form and our experts will work to get you a response within 3–5 business days, but often sooner.
Wide variety of quality online classes that can be purchased by both members and non-members, including certification and designation programs, as well as beginner, intermediate and advanced classes. Check SC Course Catalog for CE credits.
VUpoint email Newsletter
Free email newsletter packed with articles covering all realms of insurance agency information needs, with access to archives.
Take a Powerpoint Tour of the Virtual University!
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