“I want to be strategic with my technology and use it to gain an edge, but when I adopt new technology I never seem to get the return I expected.”

It’s telling that I hear this statement so often from agency principals. Some brokerages are similar in size, geographic reach and line of business, while others are positioned in wildly different ways. Some seem to get it right, but there isn’t an obvious pattern to their success. Luck? Unlikely. Superstar technologist? Sometimes. But that’s really just a surface-level advantage. When the Chicago Bulls were dominating the NBA during the Michael Jordan era, the Bulls’ team-first strategy clearly went beyond the concept of “give Michael the ball.” That’s because basketball is a game that demands strong fundamentals. Growing an insurance agency or brokerage is no different.

I’ve peered under the hood of agency and brokerage operations across our industry. As insurance agents and brokers, we give advice and mitigate risk through value-added services and bind coverage. These are the basic rules of the game. Technology gives us the ability to perform these functions more effectively, but only when we build on the fundamentals.

The systems your firm uses may have been purchased individually, but they operate as an integrated whole. Even though these systems may not know about each other, they affect each other.st

I’ve designed a model that I use when evaluating a firm’s resources while building a strategic technology roadmap. It categorizes vital technology systems in a way that emphasizes the importance and order of operations when implementing technology. It can be easily referenced to determine how to get where you want to go. Stray from the map, and the chances increase that the new technology will turn into a dead end. Follow the map and reach your goal.

THE FOUNDATION
The infrastructure layer contains all of the technology functions and devices that are required to be in business today. Computers, telephones, networks, Internet access, word processing—it all goes here. This layer is compulsory and is a commodity. If it doesn’t work flawlessly, the value and success of all other systems and technologies above it will be significantly reduced.

If your firm suffers from slow networks, unstable computers or spotty telephones, you will not provide stellar customer service regardless of your agency system. If your email system doesn’t work consistently, your fancy iPad app won’t keep your customers happy. This is like a team that can slam-dunk on every attempt but can’t get the ball past half court. We’ve entered an age in technology where high availability and effectiveness are easier than ever to achieve. If your firm is experiencing issues in this layer, stop where you are and fix it. Now.

AUTOMATED TRANSACTIONS
The next layer is directly related to placing and servicing coverage. The agency management system sits here. Benefit management systems, surety systems, claims management, certificate tracking and issuance—they all live in this category. As you can see, these systems require a solid infrastructure. While the infrastructure enables success, it doesn’t guarantee it. Successfully creating a transactional system relies on having a well defined process. How do you approach, track and reward production? Do you have defined workflow for your marketing, renewal and endorsement activities?

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to have one renewal workflow for your entire agency, but you do need to define each one. The same goes for production. It’s not necessary to pay your producers on a simple commission structure, but you do need to define all of the ways you want to calculate it.

You then can configure a transactional system to efficiently process your business. Are your servicing teams happy with the way customers are managed? Are you consolidating financials from many sources while manually calculating the end result? Are you tracking and paying producers from an Excel spreadsheet or other manual process? Stop here. Get it fixed before you proceed.

FACE TIME
This is the holy grail of agency technology. Customer-facing technology can help skyrocket your firm’s growth. It’s the great equalizer that enables smaller firms to run circles around the largest brokerages and can truly convert your technology investment into an agency growth machine. It’s flashy and sexy, but proceed with caution. Until you’ve perfected the underlying layers, there’s more risk than reward here. Do you really want to connect your customer to a poorly implemented agency system with inconsistent or inaccurate data? Do you want your largest trucking customers’ drivers to launch your on-the-road claims app on their iPhone at 1 a.m. while your agency system is down for maintenance? 

To achieve this technological interaction, you must go off the grid with your vision. Anything you create will ultimately need to interact with your underlying systems. This is the slam dunk that we all want to achieve. But first perfect your dribble and work on your layups.