The acceleration from a policy- to a customer-orientated industry comes down to a single word: Control.

In the past, insurers controlled the data and the devices that accessed it. Now, consumers control the devices that have the ability to access an insurer’s data, and many insurers are scrambling to allow this new generation of consumers to do so in a controlled yet fulfilling way.

Policyholders who are on their smartphones, tablets or laptops hours a day using the Web, e-mail and Facebook have a completely different set of expectations. Those expectations are all about access anywhere, anytime and from any device. Most insurance carriers are not in a good position to securely offer it.

Some insurers are. They have CIOs who are proactively engaging with their business peers to lead discussions around what IT and technology can do to enhance customer experience. Those CIOs tend to be more open-minded about the kinds of technologies, devices and access paths allowed through current and future infrastructures. They see this is as an opportunity to prove their business and leadership acumen by showing up with some innovative ideas.

CIOs who try to fight this trend will tend to be viewed as obstacles rather than partners. Some CIOs tend to be their own worst enemies in the face of these kinds of changes, clinging to the things that have made their governance, auditing and infrastructure lives easier—often at the detriment of what their business really needs from them.

The CIO and IT division are in the perfect position to lead the charge on consumerization, if that’s where the company wants to go.

In terms of architecture, the technology stack is evolving so as to allow discrete separations of access, data and business rules layers. This allows for easier virtualization and/or native Web 2.0 access points and initiates the process of supporting mobile devices.

Most insurers are not particularly adept at technology innovation, so consumerization has insurers reacting to what their customers and partners are demanding. Most insurers lack a holistic plan about what to do with this new trend, and particularly, how to leverage it. The few that do struggle with the daunting task of refactoring their technology platform and data access streams to quickly take advantage of this trend.

Insurers that attempt to apply a static sort of ROI or ROE metric to consumerization-based initiatives will struggle to do so. Rather, insurers might want to think about such initiatives as investments in R&D, from a technology, service and market perspective. Initiatives that get some traction in any of those three areas can be formalized and run through the usual insurer project mill, and those that don’t get filed under lessons learned.

Perhaps the biggest one is that consumerization, like the cloud, virtualization, SOA, agile, etc., is not a silver bullet, but rather another arrow in the quiver that insurers should leverage for their own particular best interests.

Consumerization writ large might be seen as more of a social trend than a technological one. It’s not likely to go away or be replaced with some new technological innovation. Rather, it is more of a fundamental or generational shift in the expectations of the policyholders and employees of the future.

Insurers are going to have to address it at some point or another. This one feels like the sooner the better—if you want to get more control over your data and your fate.

This commentary originally appeared at Insurance Networking News.

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