By Nicole Kealey
Rich Internet applications offer insurers expanded opportunities to interact with customers, brokers and agents. Web-based tools and services are nothing new in the insurance industry. For years, consumers, brokers and agents have been able to get quotes, submit claims or check the status of claims online. While offering these online services has been an important way for insurance companies to serve target audiences, insurers must continue to innovate to remain competitive in today's changing market.

To move beyond traditional point-click-and-wait online services, insurance companies are looking to rich internet applications (RIAs). RIAs are highly interactive, expressive Web applications that are more responsive than standard Web page forms, and integrate seamlessly with back-end data systems. Common RIA functionality includes drag and drop, real-time data streaming and updating and other more dynamic, interactive features. For insurers, this means they can create online tools that transform user experiences for staff, brokers and customers.

RIAS in the Real World

Imagine enabling customers to securely submit details about car accident claims online, simply by clicking on an image of the car and highlighting areas to show where damage occurred. Instead of describing what happened with hard-to-decipher text and cryptic drawings, they can drag and drop boxes on-screen to illustrate the positions of all cars involved in an accident. The insurer gets complex information in a clear online form to satisfy compliance requirements, and claims adjusters no longer have the unenviable task of decoding drawings of an accident.
Insurance product configuration applications developed as RIAs help customers and insurance brokers navigate the process of selecting and customizing insurance products online. Without the hassle of page refreshes and back buttons, customers receive instant feedback on how their premiums might change based on different data inputs. Many consumers shop based on price and have limited time to make decisions, so fast results are critical. RIAs also connect to back-end systems so information used in the quote process is retained and used to pre-populate applications, further streamlining application processes.
In addition to accelerating application processes, RIAs can help address unique access challenges that brokers can face. They often work remotely, traveling to customer locations where Internet access is uncertain. However, they still need to accurately capture information and ensure that it is submitted in a timely manner. In these instances, "Web" applications that run outside the browser and enable the collection of information in real-time are ideal. Later, when Internet access is re-established, the information is automatically synced and updated. Instead of collecting information on paper, the information is entered digitally only once, reducing the chance for errors and simplifying processes.
On the business side, RIAs can help insurers address customer needs and quickly generate responses. Customer service representatives using RIAs during a customer call can connect to back-end systems to populate claim forms, and then generate legally compliant forms and related follow-up letters in just a few clicks, providing quality service while enhancing productivity.
Company executives can benefit as well, using RIA-based tools to present data in ways that make it digestible and actionable. Data visualization applications built as RIAs make it easy to pull data from multiple back-end sources, display it visually, drill down into the data for deeper insight, and even change data and have it automatically updated in back-end systems. With RIA dashboards, executives can turn raw data into actionable information for critical business decisions.

RIA Considerations

Like any new technology implementation, a variety of issues must be considered before moving forward with a RIA strategy.

  • Accessibility - When creating RIAs, companies must make sure applications will deploy consistently on all major browsers, desktops and operating systems.
  • Usability - RIAs should have simple, intuitive and responsive interfaces that let users get things done in less time with minimum effort.
  • Appeal - Currently, the design of forms and Web pages is limited to the established look and feel of the overall Web site. RIAs offer the opportunity to tailor applications with their own style using custom skins, drag-and-drop functionality and specific behavior. This gives insurers the opportunity to use design to demonstrate an understanding of different target audiences.
  • Rich media integration - To appeal to audiences that thrive on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter, insurance companies can enhance applications with audio, video, animation or other rich-media content.

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