Archive for March, 2008


Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a very cool thing. What is it? As with most innovations, it’s a way of looking at an old concept in a new way. What first was known as a “Web Portal”, now becoming known as a “Mash Up”, is SOA personified. A ‘service’ is a way to get information into the hands of the user. So if you are using Google Maps and want to get a listing of hotels in the vicinity of your location, the ‘service’ would be the hotel-finder integrated with the mapping software. Those two things combined makes the resulting content relevant to you, the searcher.

The same concept applies to insurance architecture. The key is knowing the purpose of the Web page, as defined by the target audience. (So be careful not to try to serve too many audiences with the same content, right? Instead create multiple pages or sites.) Once you have a clear audience, then you can clearly define the ‘services’ that audience might appreciate. For example, an agent portal. What services do agents want? Easy contracting for new states, new products, new lines of business? News? Training and Certification? Business Status? Commissions for sure. Hierarchy production reports – absolutely. These are all services. So a site designed to serve agents should leverage SOA all over the place, as much as possible, linking to the policy admin legacy back-end, commission-tracking system, perhaps a Learning Management System. The same concepts apply to affinity marketing sites, direct-to-consumer sites, etc…

But here’s the thing. Make one place the “source of truth” for agents or consumers. With i-frames and single-sign-on, the user should never have to ‘leave’ the portal/mash up/resource center. Browsing is tough enough without the distraction of jumping from site to site, even if the branding and look-and-feel are consistent. “Just bring the data into one place and let me do my thing.” It’s fairly simple to do, but it takes a rare combination of design and usability, technical know-how, and nimbility (speed-to-market, speed-to-change).

Geee, where can you find that rare mix ….

Some recent pic’s from the crazy weather up here… Click the image to see a larger version.

Ice Storm in Northeast Ohio
Then a school bus pulled up!

18 inches at once in Northeast Ohio
The morning after…
Click to see more

Next - Spring Break with the fam!


Terrific article about Agent Portals in Insurance Marketing magazine

Titled “Improving Your Agents’ Online Experience,” the article makes some key points. (Wish I could link to it, but the magazine doesn’t have a Web site — doh!).

“Independent agents, especially, view online capabilities as a key factor in deciding who to work with. Often the availability of online services can reflect on the reputation of the insurer and their ability to attract and retain independent agents.” That’s saying it like it is. I’ll just add a key word — “producing.” Attract and retain top producers — those savvy agents that can handle technology and maximize opportunity in a “Channel of Choice” era (John Kelly, Pru).

“What agents are not always able to from insurer-provided portals is better integration of the agent portal with the back-end policy administration and claims systems.” Can’t you just hear the IT department when marketing comes to them and asks to push business-status data to the portal for agent view and productivity purposes? “Sure thing. 2 years and $15k. But we need the $15k now in order for you to get on the waiting list.” Geez.

“…most agent portals suffer from poor usability, non-intuitive navigation, and poor ease of use for even the basic functions that are provided.” I’d be interested to know just how low the percentage is of how many agent portals have been put through usability testing. (By the way, IdeaStar now has a Usability Lab environment. So even though with our experience, we usually hit pretty close to the usability mark, we are still using a usability lab.)

“95 percent of your agents say they rely on email professionally.”
“66 percent rely on the company Web site.”

“Online access outranked sales training and product training as the most important service brokerages provide to agents.”

Interesting stuff. And these trends putting more pressure on the Web channel aren’t going down. See Get it done by a professional, not by IT guys trained for 20 years on back-end administration. Come on!

Archives to 2005