Brokerage Ops the Jan/Feb 2013 issue

Profiting from False Prophets

Technology is not the answer. It’s only a tool to help you find answers.
By Chris Gagnon Posted on January 25, 2013

When I joined, I did not find many people on Facebook who had relevance to my career. Now the population seems endless. With the proliferation of social networks geared for business, such as LinkedIn, the ease of finding connections has skyrocketed. In fact, plenty of relevant information is now finding me.

Before social networks, we had to spend time to look for information, validate it and act on it. The process assured a level of credibility to our ideas before we committed resources. Now headlines flash on every website and app that I frequent, seemingly dangling the answers to every imaginable agency problem.

The Internet has always been the great equalizer. Some bloggers have gained the sort of credibility once reserved for senior reporters at established news agencies. Anyone can create a website that appears to represent a multinational corporation. As a leader, you now have more access to this seemingly relevant information than ever before. So how do we validate the actual relevance of this information? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff and assure that we are planning and executing strategy based on facts?

Technology is an exciting topic. When done right, it can change business models and create an impenetrable value around your agency that’s hard to replicate. Advances in smartphones, apps and social media are starting to prove their value in the business world. We all dream of the advantage these advances can create for our firms. This optimism makes us susceptible to initiatives that cost a lot and rarely pay dividends. Let’s face it—in our industry there are a lot of creative thinkers but few technology innovators.

Everybody wants to put iPads in the hands of producers. Everybody wants to create a social media strategy for your agency. “Build an app” is the answer to more and more business problems these days. So where do we go with these great ideas? The answer is conspicuously missing from the equation. Without relevant experience and guidance, the outcome is predictable.

You hand an iPad to a producer, who whips it out in a prospect meeting and…walks through the same PowerPoint he would have shown on his laptop.

What’s the payoff for the cost of the iPad? What’s the benefit to the prospect? You set up a Twitter account for you and your top producers, and what do you tweet? More importantly, does it provide value to your customers?

Social media and the blogosphere are full of articles and advice encouraging you to jump on the bandwagon of every emerging technology trend. But while they are heavy on the “what,” these articles tend to be light on the “how” and “why.” Don’t get me wrong—apps can provide value. Social media has relevance, and mobile-device strategy is a critical component of your IT roadmap. But effective execution requires more capability than many of the proponents possess. The ability to execute and navigate through existing agency technologies is critical.

So how do we wade through this unending sea of thinly masked opinion? How do we innovate in our agencies while keeping this innovation realistic, relevant and obtainable? There is no magic bullet.

Technology can create amazing capabilities for your agency, sometimes achieving an illusion of magic. But it’s not that easy. Technology is a complex set of algorithms, automated processes and tools that work in concert. One solution will never trump or solve your agency’s inherent problems. An app that improves customer service can change the world, but that app is only an entry point to the systems, processes and service teams that already exist at your firm. If your service process is broken, your app will not fix it.

I am always open to new applications of technology. In my daily consumption of information I’ve learned who approaches a new idea with an understanding of the depth, breadth and gravity of running an agency. Just because an article appears in your news feed in LinkedIn doesn’t mean an agency expert wrote it. Take a look at the source. Click through to the source’s profile and gauge his or her experience in our world.

While every agency does the same basic tasks, each agency is different. A solution for one agency does not always translate into a solution for all agencies. Does the author demonstrate an understanding and respect for this complexity?

Far too often industry-specific articles that expound on innovation and creativity just rehash an existing concept or technology. This isn’t always a bad thing. An article drawing attention to advances made in the banking industry may have direct application for insurance agencies—but be careful. Just because a similar industry has experienced value from a new technology doesn’t mean the groundwork is laid and your success is guaranteed.

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