- Where Insurance & Technology Meet

The Digital Dilemma: What To Do With Persistent Analogs

Here is my “shoemaker’s son” confession:  In the emerging digital environment, I am still a bit of an analog.  While I appreciate lots of digital tools, I still cling  to some 20th-century analog artifacts.  So, to my suppliers, I ask:  As you move to the fully digital world, what will you do about people like me?

It’s not that I dislike the digital vision….

Those of us who came into the workforce in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s witnessed — and, in some cases, actively participated in — the building the foundations of today’s digital world.  Some of us learned how to code in FORTRAN and COBAL in the 1960s … and produced working code that still runs. I was plugged into ARPANET,  the predecessor of the commercial Internet, for a short time in the mid-1970s.

Along with whole bunch of my colleagues, I helped deploy personal computers in the early 80s.  Our prime motivation was to democratize computing.

Since the late 1950s, there has been a vision of a technology-enabled world which would improve communications, transportation, and business processing which would provide more accurate data, reduce mundane work, and enhance the quality of life. The universe of The Jetsons was fantastic, but not completely out of reach.

So why not fully embrace digital now?

Somewhere along the way, I learned the importance of Milton Friedman’s exhortation, “the business of business is business.”  As much as I know that change is required, when I have a deadline, and the choice is between Tried-and-True and Nascent-Next-Gen, I opt for the T & T.

Perhaps my problem is that I don’t have the time to learn to navigate whatever is the technology du jour.  Some have suggested that I fail to appreciate the value of the new technology for the long term.  However, in the current tempestuous business environment, I lean in favour of John Maynard Keynes’ exhortation in similar circumstances:  “In the long term, we are all dead.”

I do find some new technologies very powerful and helpful…

  • I have learned that LinkedIn is the very best Rolodex that I have ever had.  Simply because my contacts willingly update their contact points, current titles, and most recent activities.
  • Cloud storage devices have saved my bacon enough that I actually pay for the likes of Evernote.
  • Twitter is a great broadcast mechanism.
  • Social Aggregators – I use HootSuite – provide needed capabilities to curate massive amounts of content.
  • Emphasis on analytics is an important trend with one caveat (see below)

But I still carry some analog tools  …

  • I carry a composition book.  And I like white boards.  I have found nothing better for recording words and picture thoughts on the fly.
  • I prefer face to face, or at least conference call meetings.  All collaboration tools are far-behind second-bests. When important decisions are required, I will insist personal contact.
  • I still prefer vinyl over any alternative musical storage mechanism.
  • Assuming that audiences will be able to consume analytic content is dangerous.  A translation of statistical/analytical terminology (e.g., pictures with simple explanations) will be required for some time to come.

So what does this mean for Insurance Technology?

I don’t think I am alone.  Until we find our way into a completely digital environment, insurers and brokers will have to embrace a wide range of new and legacy means to reach all of us.  For example, brokers who switch to Facebook as their marketing platform will miss me entirely.  If that’s intentional, that’s fine, unless you are distributing policy documents.

And I don’t think its entirely generational.  Some of my friends in my own cohort regard me as a pathetic Luddite.  Some of my colleagues in younger cohorts see my use of social media as leading edge.

In short:  Analog lives.  And working in the real world at this point requires a mixed strategy.

What do you think?

Is digital so inevitable that analog can be left behind?  Or do you think we need a mixed approach?

Where are you on the digital curve – early adopter, fast follower, last to the party?  Do you see your position as changing over time, or fixed forever?


Editor’s Note:  Gartner’s Kimberly Harris-Ferrante will be presenting on the Consumer Digital Conundrum at the 2015 ICTC-wheel-plain-r60Technology Conference.