Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wish you a Very Happy New You for this New Year!

What will you do on New Year eve? – Fire Yourself !
If you are wondering what I mean, read Ron Ashkenas’ blog at HBR.
Ron highlights how GM Management team could not break out of their routine and do anything different, even when they were witnessing imminent demise.  Somebody else had to fire them, because they could not do it to themselves.

It is similar to UnThink principle I highlighted in my last blog entry. It is so important to stop and think about what you are doing, what you are NOT doing and what you should do. You may rediscover yourself - professionally and personally.
Easier said than done!  I have read about this stuff many time before, but never really acted on it until recently, when I was all alone on a business trip. I found myself thinking about my career and my family, and I started analyzing behind a napkin paper. I spent more than 2 hours – just thinking. I believe, I know myself better now and I am quite sure what I want to do in my life.
I guess the act of recognizing this need of self-analysis is important. Rest your sub-conscious will take care of.

Wish you a Very Happy New You for this New Year!

- Amit Unde


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Insurers need to ‘UnThink’

KFC created quite a buzz with the launch of its "Unthink" campaign. By 'unthinking' their fried fast food, KFC is aligning to the choices of new generation, which is far more health conscious and even cost conscious (at least in these days). Keeping aside the recent marketing blunder (with free chicken and Oprah), I liked their ‘UnThink’ principal.

Should not every business do this? We are so used to our usual ways of doing business that we never really 'Unthink'. Although, we constantly strive to achieve efficiencies, and excellence in what we are doing, we actually never stop and question - is this a right thing to do?

Here are my thoughts on what (most of the) Insurers can 'Unthink' -

1) Online presence –
Most insurers do business through independent agents. The bulk of the business comes from agents, so the insurers tend to ignore the direct channel completely. Is this sustainable strategy? The value of Agent’s counseling can not be denied, however, there is a growing population who prefer to research, learn, connect and buy online. Their online world is now not just limited to computers and internet, it has expanded to mobile phones, and 3GS as well. You need online presence and strong channel partnerships not just for providing direct access for sale and servicing, but also for connecting consumers to your agents.

2) Risk Management –
The one thing the recession has taught us is importance of Risk Management. This year really distinguished the insurance companies who do risk management well from those who do not. Are your risk management techniques, actuarial models and financial tools modern enough to manage the risks effectively?

3) Innovation Strategy –
Do you ask for the Business case for every program or project? Well, UnThink. You might be just killing the innovation in your company.

3.95) Customer intelligence –
How much do you know about your customers? Do you know why they are with you and why will they stay with you? Do you know what you can cross-sell to them or to somebody in their household?
Your legacy systems and acquired systems might be holding you back by not providing a single view of customers and enough intelligence about them. It’s time to UnThink and challenge the status quo.

What’s with 3.95? Well, I like this number :)

- Amit Unde


Friday, December 18, 2009

Cloud computing or not – Should you really care?

I was reading a debate between Private and Public cloud computing installations on David Tweedy’s article on Business Insurance . It seems that every vendor is now replacing ‘ASP’ by ‘Cloud’ and jumping on the bandwagon. ( Not that it is completely wrong in every case.) Another interesting aspect is that the public cloud computing infrastructure such as Amazon, SalesForce is enabling relatively smaller vendors to provide a reliable, specialized and cheaper services to their customers.
It is all good, but I have a problem with the marketing hype and jargons surrounding all these offerings. The words like Cloud, SaaS, ASP confuses the hell out of you without realizing the exact benefits of the offered service. Really, should the business care if the hosted service is a perfect ‘Cloud computing’ or not?

I would say - yes, however, rather than going by the word, they should look deep for the meaning of the word. So, what makes a perfect Cloud computing environment for hosted applications? and what does it mean in business terms?

Here are some thoughts -
1) Hosting Model - When you choose a Cloud based application, you should not be worried about Technology infrastructure beneath the application, in fact, and you have no control over it. All you should worry about is the Service levels. This is same as the most of the traditional hosted ASP models.
2) Scalable, reliable Infrastructure - The application should be highly reliable, available 24 X 7 and should perform at the optimum level. In other words, the infrastructure supporting the application should be equipped to support your growing business needs and also those of all your fellow businesses, using the same hosted application.
You should ask your vendors questions to clarify how they are planning to scale their infrastructure, especially when they add more and more customers. A virtualized environment is typically deployed to dynamically scale the infrastructure.
3) Customizability (or in terms of jargon ‘Multi-tenancy) - It should be quicker and inexpensive to implement the customization that you need and it should not degrade the performance. In other words, the application should be built in such a way that the customization is considered in the basic architecture. For example, every time you ask for new variable, the vendor should not add a new table or column in their database. Such a design becomes unwieldy as you add more customizations or vendor adds new customers. A new paradigm of architecture called ‘Multi-tenant’ architecture is often used in Cloud computing environment to address these issues.
4) Security - Your business data should be secure from errors, hackers and disasters. Ask vendors about the database and data structure – whether the data is logically and physically separated, user access control, transportation security, storage security ( encryption mechanism) etc.

So, unless your vendor provides minimum of above 4 points, don’t let them claim their application as ‘Cloud’ based application. In my experience, many vendors do not satisfy 2, 3 and 4. If they are offering hosted service, they tend to call it ‘Cloud’ based service.

- Amit Unde


My Favourite advertisement made it to Time's Top 10

A cute dog worried about its prized possession, insures with Travelers. Very creative ad, and a great music by Ray LaMontagne,28804,1945379_1944054_1944082,00.html

- Amit Unde


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ignoring Blackberry for your Mobile app - Not a good idea !

I see that many insurance companies are competing to release Consumer facing applications on iPhone, but they are not doing it for Blackberry or any other smart phones. Is it really a good idea?

Contrary to popular beliefs, iPhone does not have the largest market share in Smart phones, but in fact, it is Blackberry (RIM), who is leading the front.

According to latest research released by ComScore, around 36 million Americans use SmartPhones. Out of which 41% market share is with Blackberry and 25% is with Apple. Apple’s growth has been good, but it is not taking it from the Blackberry. Surprising, the Blackberry growth in year 2009 is better than that of Apple.

It will be interesting to look at the age groups. I bet that the Blackberry is being used mostly by business executives, whereas the iPhone is more popular with younger generation.
Question is - What will be the target audience for Insurance companies and which phone they are likely to use?
I would not take any chances and support Blackberry platform as well.

Reference -

- Amit Unde


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oracle in Insurance

By the close of 2009 Oracle had acquired 56 companies--30 of which filled out Oracle's applications portfolio, and 26 of which spruced up its technology lines of business. As Oracle’s marketing team points out 100 of Fortune 100 uses Oracle and in Insurance 20 out of Top 20 uses Oracle Applications.
The strategy has given Oracle broader market leverage with a full stack of Technologies and also the domain specific offerings.

How does it matter to Insurance?

It has been over a year since Oracle created a separate global business unit focusing on the Insurance industry. It has provided some sense of how Oracle wants to integrate the acquired assets and the future direction – at least on the paper. Oracle has a full set of product servicing Insurance, starting from a Policy Admin system, Claims system, Rating, Financial/Billing, CRM, document generation, Data warehousing, Reporting to name a few. It also has a complete set of middleware technologies – thanks to BEA and Sun.
Oracle is already showing results. It has closed many deals with likes of Marsh and Farmers to set the tone for the coming year.

My take – I think, Oracle is serious contender in the Insurance industry. It's industry focus is a BIG PLUS.
It will be of advantage to mid-size insurance companies to be an 'Oracle Shop' and leverage synergies and volume discounts. Also, as Oracle has presence in almost every big organization, it will definitely penetrate more into many of those. I think, it’s time to stop ridiculing the Oracle for their aggressive acquisition strategy and start paying attention to how it can be leveraged.

- Amit Unde


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Data Dispensers - Interesting !

Coca-cola has come up with RFID based drink dispensers, which will give consumers choices of more than 100 beverages.. ! It will also allow experimenting by sending new drink formulaes to these machines..
It is not just drink dispenser, but also a data dispenser. It will collect the data of what customers are drinking and transmit it over night to its datawarehouse. The company will get valuable first-hand information on how new drinks are fairing in the market, the regional taste preference and also help managing inventory efficiently.

I loved the concept.I think, it is applicable everywhere - making 'Point of sales' to dispense quality near real-time data will vastly improve the business intelligence. No middlemen, no corruption of data !


Monday, March 30, 2009

Cut your losses !

I have been working with customers to help them modernize their IT systems for few years now. I have seen that customers are more receptive, if we prescribe to build over the existing systems rather than rebuilding from scratch. Though it is comforting to see optimal reuse of existing, practically, sometimes it makes better sense to rewrite than reuse, especially if the current systems are architected in a fashion that will hinder achieving the desired target state for the business. Most often, it is a psychological block that makes it difficult to move away from something that we have cared for a long time. It is like an affinity of share pundit to his or her loosing stock. They buy every time stocks go below and average out its price, but they end up losing everything at the end. It sometimes makes sense to cut your losses and invest somewhere else that is likely to give you most returns.