Consider this counsel if contemplating conversion to the cloud
In 2002, when I first started looking into “the cloud”—the use of web-based computing using shared resources such as networks, servers, storage and applications—I had a gut feeling that it would pay off. I did my homework, too, before my agency migrated to cloud services for our management system.
For sure, moving to the cloud yielded benefits—immediately and over the long term. But the proverbial sun hasn’t always shined on the cloud as much as it does today.
In fact, being one of the first organizations in the independent agent channel to migrate to the cloud was a bit of a risk. “We knew you were crazy,” more than one peer commented to me, tongue-in-cheek, over the years.
The cloud isn’t just an idea anymore. Cloud computing is taking on the worlds of banking, healthcare and insurance by, er, storm. Today, for instance, about 60% of the customers of Applied Systems use the cloud.
No matter the stage of cloud computing at which you and your agency find yourselves—maybe you’re flying high or maybe you’ve never even considered it—I invite you to read about four things I learned on my trip to the cloud.
- Cloud computing puts you more in the insurance business and less in the technology business. Like many people in insurance agencies and brokerages, I’m an insurance professional first. I’m not an information technology expert, nor is it my ambition to be one. I work with computers and technology as a “defensive mechanism”—I know a good deal about these tools through learning and experience.
But I don’t really want to go into information technology as a full-time occupation. So a cloud solution made sense for me—and continues to make sense because I don’t have to manage the software.
- Getting off the ground takes some lifting. But you can fly. Since the time my firm transitioned to the cloud environment for our agency management system in 2002, our technology provider has been responsible for the software updates. This leaves me free to think about the other vital aspects of the job. And it means that customers are the primary focus of our day-to-day work for our agency team.
That freedom is exciting. So, too, is the speed we’ve discovered.
Indeed, the biggest gain for us was the speed of the system. But initially I wanted to know how much faster this cloud approach was going to work. In the beginning, almost 15 years ago now, on some days the connection speed was slow. For instance, I could tell when kids would arrive home from school, since the local Internet connection in our area slowed a bit.
No more. In today’s world, I don’t have any problems with speed, in part because I work in an area with fast Internet connectivity. As a safeguard, I have redundant connections in the office: The agency has both a cable connection and a separate DSL connection through the local telephone provider. If I lose one connection locally, my system will automatically switch over to the other side.
- Security is number one, so get help with that. Every agency principal has to think about data security. It’s basic to the business. So it’s relevant to ask questions like:
- Is the cloud secure?
- Will I ever lose data?
- Are my Internet connection and remote resources fast enough to support my business?
About 15 years ago, I started asking these questions when my independent agency was considering using an early cloud version of our agency management system. And I still ask myself questions like these regularly. For example, I made these queries more recently during a beta test of the new Applied Systems Epic agency management system product.
It’s important to repeat the process of checking on the security, privacy and connectivity aspects of any cloud computing solution, such as the one I use. For system security, I have the usual firewalls and antivirus programs to protect our systems and data. I use an outside firm to help me with what I need.
My management system provider has never had a security breach as far as I know. It’s my belief that the provider seeks the absolute best security to protect the data in my system and others.
- The cloud works when the local grid is out. Natural disasters have taught us that it’s important to have backup power. And, of course, at all times it’s essential to have a backup of the data in our agency management system.
The cloud can be there when you have to “call for backup.” For instance, when Hurricane Katrina went through New Orleans, agencies and brokerages in that community were wiped out. But since some agencies data was backed up on the cloud, what they had to do was find a location with Internet access and buy computers. This allowed these agencies to get back up and running faster than otherwise possible at a time of certain need for their customers. I’ve heard of similar stories for Northeast agencies losing power from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
That’s the benefit of the cloud from a recovery standpoint. I can be anywhere in the world and come back to the data center that I’m on. One of the intrinsic benefits of cloud computing is that your agency’s backup is not dependent on your own local servers, but on the data centers that your agency management system uses.
As your agency moves forward with technology, I’d encourage you to consider a cloud computing solution for your agency management system. Come on in. The cloud’s just fine.
Alan Harkabus is manager of small business, claims, and information technology/administration for A.B. Gile Insurance Agency in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Harkabus serves as 2016 chair of Applied Client Network (AppliedClientNetwork.org), a group of educators and advocates for users of Applied Systems software. With more than 55 affiliated local and virtual chapters, Applied Client Network identifies and responds to needs of users in developing new education, tools and materials to drive efficiency and agency value.