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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The changes and opportunities wrought by technology was a common theme among speakers at the 85th annual Insurance Leadership Forum at The Greenbrier.
The Insurance Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers and the Council of Insurance Company Executives, is held each year at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
"Children are growing up digitally wired but have analog parents and grandparents," remarked Gen. Colin L. Powell, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under presidents Bush and Clinton. Gen. Powell touched on technology during a stirring presentation on his life in public service, the challenges of his transition to civilian life, and his leadership of a national campaign to equip disadvantaged youth with the skills to succeed.
Other speakers who addressed the role of technology in transforming their industries included Edward D. Crutchfield, chairman and chief executive officer of First Union Corp. (see story, page 12), Max Taylor, chairman of Lloyd's of London (see story, page 13), and Scott D. Cook, chairman of Intuit Inc.
Technology was a direct theme of "Moving Your Organization Into an Online Future," a panel discussion held during the meeting.
Insurance agents and brokers shouldn't go online simply because the technology exists to do so, said panelist Chip Lawson, senior product manager at IVANS in Tampa, Fla. The best reason to go online is to gain a competitive edge, he said. This is achieved by using technology to provide better customer service, to lower costs and to cater to an increasingly computer-savvy customer base.
But moving online also can expose a business to a variety of risks, Mr. Lawson noted. Those include making a commodity of your product or service, spending lots of dollars for little revenue gain, reducing the personal service provided to customers, making mistakes or poor service highly visible, and exposing data to security threats.
Another panelist expressed concern that businesses are not using the power of the Internet wisely.
Too many companies focus on attaining the capability to access the Internet, such as through newer and better hardware, rather than on the skills needed to maximize the information obtained online, according to Russ Haynal, head of Internet Navigators, an Ashburn, Va., Internet trainer and consultant.
Many companies give their employees the tools to access the Internet, he said, but do not provide them with the training on how to search the Internet, proper "netiquette," or how to minimize risks to their organizations.
These untrained users waste company time by browsing irrelevant or personal sites, or by failing to find useful information, he said.
In addition to requiring basic Internet training before giving employees access to the Internet, Mr. Haynal also advised that companies encourage employees to have such access at home. Not only does that enable them to practice surfing the Web on their own time but it also assures that unproductive searches are done on personal rather than company time, he said.
Making sure employees know their Internet use is monitored is another way to assure that online time during work is productive, he added.
Another technological development during the meeting was the unveiling of an overhaul of the Council's home page.
The site, www.ciab.com, offers information on the Council, its services and benefits, membership guidelines, information on leaders and officers, press releases and news on regulatory and legislative fronts. The site also features a locator that visitors can use to identify and obtain information on Council members by state.
The Council also plans to develop a private Web site, www.ciab.org, that will carry the same public information as its primary site but will also offer secure information available only to members.
The Council also announced several technology initiatives, including its endorsement of IVANS Inc.'s NetConnect service, which will provide an information pipeline linking agents and brokers with insurance companies, as well as providing Internet access and e-mail.
In addition to several presentations on technology, the Insurance Leadership Forum featured a "CyberCafe" throughout the week to expose agency and company executives attending the meeting to the latest in information technology initiatives, such as voice recognition technology.
"We are committed to deliver the finest electronic commerce capability and functionality to assist our leading agents and brokers in communicating online with their peers and with their clients," Ken A. Crerar, president of the Council, said in a statement.
Next year's Insurance Leadership Forum will be held Oct. 2-6. For information, contact the CIAB, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20004-2608; 202-783-4400; fax: 202-783-4410; Internet: www.ciab.com.