Accelerating Change

By ALLEN MONROE

This is the first in a series of articles. Comments from readers are especially welcome, including requests for any particular topic or sharing of your own experiences.

Planning the use of technology used to be the nearly-exclusive domain of experts who spoke exotic languages, such as COBOL and FORTRAN. However, advances in semiconductors and fiber optics are bringing about massive investments in capital equipment, accompanied by rapid cultural change.

Increasingly, office employees and entrepreneurs are accustomed to using software that runs in familiar, graphics-based environments. Numerous risk managers are utilizing computer and communications technology to make them more effective in their jobs. A few ways significant payoffs are being achieved include:

Harnessing communications technology allows the risk manager to be in timely contact with a wide range of operations, and to take a more pro-active stance in loss prevention and claims management. Using more powerful analytical and communication tools may lead to involvement in a broader range of risk issues affecting the corporation. Proliferation of inexpensive desktop computers has created a mass market for powerful, reasonably-priced software. The two main types of package software being used by risk managers are "Vertical" software, designed specifically for risk management and the insurance industry, and "Horizontal" software, designed to simplify tasks such as document preparation, financial calculations, and organizing data. The uses of these applications span across nearly all types of industry.

Early versions of both types of software did not easily "integrate" with each other. The better systems were "menu-driven," allowing moderately-skilled users to navigate through the system. Adapting these systems for risk managers entailed considerable effort. Such tasks as merging data from the "package" system with information from the corporate data base were genuine challenges.

In the past few years, "graphical user interfaces" such as Windows and Macintosh have become industry-standard. Such environments use a "point and click" approach, largely eliminating the need for memorizing special codes and commands. Moving data between different software applications has become much easier.

"Menu-driven" systems of recent years required significant training, In graphical user environments, software designed by completely different vendors has a very similar "look and feel." This shortens the learning curve for non-technical people and makes it easy for them to develop many unique forms and reports. No longer is the user a captive to what the system wants you to do.

Today's software resembles powerful tools that can be used in a multitude of ways by people with little or no programming experience. Inexpensive software "suites" combine extremely powerful spreadsheet, word processing, database management, and communications for under $400.

Developing a Technology Plan. A "technology plan" can provide an effective tool for managing your application of computer hardware, software and communications technologies. The plan should identify your objectives, timing, and investment in equipment and software that will be needed to realize your objectives. As technologies change, and your needs evolve, the Plan should be regularly updated. Maintaining flexibility and compatibility with mainstream industry hardware and software is a vital consideration in the planning process.

Allen Monroe, president of Financial Risk Consultants in Larkspur, California, can be reached on the Internet at allen@riskinfo.com or (415) 927-8824.


Copyright ( 1995 RISK & INSURANCE. 747 Dresher Road, P.O. Box 980, Horsham, PA 19044-0980. Reproduced with permission of David Shadovitz, Editorial Director (215) 784-0910. Portions of the content herein first appeared in RISK & INSURANCE, in May, 1995.

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