LIMRA Gives Insurance Companies New Perspective on Customers

It's often been said that no business survives for long without its customers, and this is no exception in the insurance industry. With that in mind, a new development coming soon from LIMRA should be a very welcome development indeed. Specifically, LIMRA is bringing out a new program that will offer insight into customer experience by running a set of “customer experience measurements” geared toward the insurance industry.

LIMRA is already fairly well-known in the field as a provider of data analytics services and insight on how to appropriately use social media tools in consumer outreach. From there, it became something of a logical progression to see LIMRA take on customer experience metrics as well, as the three related to what's known as the “omni-channel” business model, in which customers have access to businesses over a wide array of contact points, from phone to email to Web chat and beyond. Making these various contact points work together to produce results for the customer, meanwhile, can be difficult due to its complexity, but with the right systems—like those LIMRA looks to offer—the complexity can be dialed down and the overall experience prove better for the customer.

The LIMRA program is set to start with life insurance companies, and from there move on to retirement and annuity companies, and ultimately health insurers, which is a particularly important part of the insurance spectrum these days. There's even word from LIMRA's Todd A. Silverhart that the model might well ultimately be applicable to the property and casualty insurance markets as well, which covers a substantial portion of the overall insurance spectrum.

The program itself, meanwhile, is set to examine points like pre-sale and needs analysis measures, the steps involved in completing the application, and the sale and delivery of the policy itself as well as claims administration, which is most of the insurance process. It will look for key points like customer loyalty, satisfaction, and an overall customer advocacy—or “net promoter”—score to help companies get a better handle on how the customer responds to a company's efforts, and what the company in turn can do to improve these measures.

Understanding these measures, and responding to issues that crop up accordingly, improves the likelihood of future sales and repeat business. Essentially, the better an overall experience the customer has with an organization—whether that organization is selling food, appliances, or even insurance—the more likely that customer is to return. Thus measuring the experience and responding accordingly becomes a huge part of ensuring the future of the organization, sufficiently so that some businesses have made the C-level reflect this by bringing in “chief customer officers” or the like to administrate the customer experience.

There's little room for doubt here that the customer experience is not only vital to a company's overall health, but it's also somewhat difficult to quantify. A customer experience has a tendency to change from one customer to another; one customer may find it annoying that there's never a customer service agent around to help in a shopping experience, while another is grateful to not be constantly pestered. But at the same time, there are often sufficient commonalities that can be derived to make for reasonable, actionable steps, and that's where things like LIMRA's new program come in to fill in the gap. Only time will tell how well it works, but it's likely to do some great things to come.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Telefonica to Showcase NFV at Mobile World Congress

The massive annual gathering of the wireless world, Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) (MWC), is about to commence in Barcelona.  It has already produced a blizzard of pre-show announcements designed to lure visitors to see demos of the latest and greatest with what at this show is a very limited resource, your time.  That said, you may wish to put on your itinerary a stop at host country service provider at Telefónica’s booth (Hall 3- Stand 3J20), to see a demonstration of end-to-end virtual networking, i.e., Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) along with a host of other capabilities in action.

The demo, at Telefónica’s booth (Hall 3- Stand 3J20), will show how having the content delivery application closer to the edge can dramatically improve end-user experience. The partners are emphasizing how the virtualized RAN using general purpose servers proves its feasibility and advantages in moving forward to 5G.  This is also a showcase for Telefónica’s UNICA Infrastructure which uses HP’s OpenNFV Platform, including carrier-grade HP Helion OpenStack, and is part of the service provider’s efforts to bring mobile networks towards the cloud.

The virtualized network demo includes:

  • A virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) that comprises a virtualized baseband unit (vBBU) to deliver cost-savings and increased network performance.
  •  Velocix (News - Alert) virtualized Content Delivery Network (vCDN) – an advanced digital media delivery platform fully equipped to minimize the cost of carrying over-the-top content and to launch new, revenue-generating premium content services, achieving a highly differentiated performance level and growing delivery or origin capacity in minutes.
  • A virtualized Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) that performs the authentication, mobility and session management of subscribers and the services they access, as well as the creation of and connectivity to services within the operator’s network and to the wider Internet on a massive scale, all with the quality and performance subscribers demand.
  • A virtualized IMS (vIMS) solution – a cloud communications platform that delivers a rich portfolio of multimedia services over IP networks with the best LTE (News - Alert) user experience: VoLTE, high quality video, integrated IP messaging, and app and web embedded communications.

The demo is a result of Telefónica and Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert)´s co-creation agreement to accelerate the shift to NFV. The goal is to enable the agility, efficient use of resources for rapid scaling and delivery optimization for services like video over LTE and provide Telefónica the ability to innovate in new services offerings and accelerate massive scale deployments.

As Telefónica notes in comments on the demo, “Telefónica is embarking in a major network and business transformation through UNICA, Cloud and Virtualization, and seeking a solution that allow to rapidly start to collect the benefits expected from this change: agility, innovation and efficiency in an unprecedented magnitude. Telefónica has a vision of a common infrastructure to serve both Telco and Service Platforms requirements (VNFs, Virtual Network Functions) – and that this common infrastructure will be cloud based…We also believe this architecture is a key tool to improve business agility and efficiency, and to address new revenue streams and business segment like Enterprise cloud services.”  

They also note as illustrative of the power and potential of the UNICA architecture that the demo will provide visitors with a show of one of the strengths of UNICA: its multitenant and multivendor compliance.  

It is good to be the host.  Telefónica is rightfully proud that it can highlight how it is at the leading edge of network transformation.  As Telefónica says, “This is just an example of the Telefónica development philosophy for Cloud, NFV and SDN, having an architecture solution that integrate products and solutions which allow a distributed cloud architecture, that is open to prevent vendor lock in, carrier grade, environmentally friendly, reliable, and secure.”  If Hall Three is not already in your plans, and you are involved with NFV, SDN and moving mobile to the cloud, you might wish to put some time for a tour of the Telefonica (News - Alert) booth.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

A New Take on Feature Film Post-Production

After researching several workflows, directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra decided to edit “Focus” — a major new Warner Bros. film starring Will Smith — entirely in Final Cut Pro X. The results were even better than they’d expected. Final Cut Pro X helped them deliver the movie on time and under budget, and it played and looked just as they’d envisioned it. “I’ve cut on all the other systems, and I can easily say I’m three times faster on Final Cut Pro X,” says Ficarra.

Google Wallet Acquires Softcard Technology, Partners with Three U.S. Carriers

February 25, 2015

Google has been putting a lot of effort into its Google Wallet mobile payments app, especially after the launch of competitor Apple Pay captured the public eye. In the interest of reviving Google Wallet, a distribution deal has been finalized with several wireless carriers—Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T—in the U.S. to start including its offering pre-installed on their Android offerings sometime later this year.

The company is simultaneously purchasing technology and intellectual property from Softcard, the carriers’ mobile payments company. Formerly known as Isis, Softcard is a joint venture formed in 2010 by the three aforementioned carriers to develop a cutting edge, independent mobile payments service, which didn’t end up reaching the market until 2012. However, this deal signifies that the carriers have given up on Softcard and relented to the main competitor Google as it continues pouring resources into Google Wallet and closing in on Apple Pay. Current users can continue using the Softcard mobile payments app until the transition to Google Wallet is farther along its way.

Google Wallet, which first launched its tap and pay feature in 2011, can be used on any carrier network using an Android device - running version 4.4 (KitKat) or above - to pay at locations accepting Near Field Communication (NFC) payments. The company plans to use the acquired technology and intellectual property from Softcard to improve Google Wallet’s general functionality. By partnering with such prominent carriers, Google will now have access to the distribution avenues it sorely needed to match Apple’s extensive network of bank partnerships.

Competition is also on the horizon from Samsung, which just last week acquired the payments startup LoopPay. Although Google has an advantage with the ability to pre-install its app on a range of Android phone brands, a few smart moves from Samsung can easily give the company the upper hand in as competitive a space as mobile payments.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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Hyperconverged and Hyperscale: A New Day in Storage Dawns

As data rapidly increases in today’s information-based economy, storage demands are increasing right along with them. The cost of hardware alone makes it too expensive to build out traditional storage infrastructure, making its rate of scale too slow to be an effective option. Being able to expand rapidly is a key element of any organization’s growth strategy. Enterprises today need flexible, scalable storage approaches if they hope to keep up with rising data demands.

Software-defined storage (SDS) offers the needed flexibility. In light of the varied storage and compute needs of organizations, two SDS options have arisen: hyperconverged and hyperscale. Each approach has its distinctive features and benefits, which are discussed below.

Hyperwhat? Defining Our Terms

First, it’s important to understand what came before hyperconverged and hyperscale approaches. Converged storage combines storage and computing hardware to increase delivery time and minimal the physical space required in virtualized and cloud-based environments. This was an improvement over the traditional storage approach, where storage and compute functions were housed in separate hardware. The goal was to improve data storage and retrieval and to speed the delivery of applications to and from clients.

Converged storage infrastructure uses a hardware-based approach comprised of discrete components, each of which can be used on its own for its original purpose in a “building block” model. Converged storage is not centrally managed and does not run on hypervisors; the storage is attached directly to the physical servers.

Hyperconverged storage infrastructure, on the other hand, is software-defined. All components are converged at the software level and cannot be separated out. This model is centrally managed and virtual machine-based. The storage controller and array are deployed on the same server, and compute and storage are scaled together. Each node has compute and storage capabilities. Data can be stored locally or on another server, depending on how often that data is needed.

In these ways, hyperconverged storage increases flexibility and agility – precisely what is needed in order to effectively and efficiently manage today’s data demands. It also promotes cost savings. Organizations are able to use commodity servers, since software-defined storage works by taking features typically found in hardware and moving them to the software layer. Organizations that need more 1:1 scaling would use the hyperconverged approach, and those that deploy VDI environments. The hyperconverged model is storage’s version of a Swiss Army knife; it is useful in many business scenarios. It is one building block that works exactly the same; it’s just a question of how many building blocks a data center needs.

So why, then, is there a need for hyperscale storage? It’s a new storage approach created to address differing storage needs. Hyperscale computing is a distributed computing environment in which the storage controller and array are separated. As its name implies, hyperscale is the ability of an architecture to scale quickly as greater demands are made on the system. This kind of scalability is required in order to build big data or cloud systems; it’s what Internet giants like Amazon and Google (News - Alert) use to meet their vast storage demands. However, software-defined storage now enables many enterprises to enjoy the benefits of hyperscale.

One of these benefits is reduced total cost of ownership, since commodity servers are typically used and a data center can have millions of virtual servers without the added expense that this number of physical servers would require. Data center managers want to get rid of refrigerator-sized disk shelves that use NAS and SAN solutions, which are difficult to scale and very expensive. With hyper solutions, it is easy to start small and scale up as needed. Using standard servers in a hyper setup creates a flattened architecture. Less hardware needs to be bought, and it is less expensive. Hyperscale enables organizations to buy commodity hardware. Hyperconverged goes one step further by running both elements—compute and storage—in the same commodity hardware. It becomes a question of how many servers are necessary.

Hyperconverged or Hyperscale? Your Choice

Running a hyperconverged storage model is essentially having one box with everything in it; hyperscale has two sets of boxes, one set of storage boxes and one set of compute boxes. It just depends what the architect wants to do, according to the needs of the business. A software-defined storage solution would take over all the hardware and turn it into a type of appliance, or it could be run as a VM – which would make it a hyperconverged configuration.

Fortunately, this is not an either-or proposition. Data center architects can employ a combination of hyperconverged and hyperscale infrastructures to meet their needs. Because those needs will change, and the flexibility that software-defines storage enables will continue to help organizations effectively manage whatever lies on the horizon in terms of data requirements. And these hyper solutions will do so in a cost-effective way as well – icing on the storage cake.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

How Engagement and Collaboration Drive Value in Workforce Optimization Software

Years ago I was in a sales role, working with local business owners to try to outfit them with the right hardware and software to support their internal processes. Once I sold the equipment or professional services, I then relied on service and support teams to follow through on the sale for implementation before I would return for training. If service and support failed to deliver on promises I made to the customer, my return for training was not always pleasant.

In situations like these, I generally would leave a client location while making a call to the service manager to find out why a customer order was not fulfilled properly. His first line of defense was to find fault with me instead of his team, regardless of the facts. While it didn’t happen often, there was little as frustrating as a support team not supporting the sales team as without our sales, they wouldn’t have much to do.

Such thinking is often a demonstration of the separation between sales teams and other divisions within the company. It didn’t help when the sales reps were given special treatment and support staff resented them for it. As one who was in the role, sales is hard and you have to talk to a lot of people before you can close a deal and get paid. Without internal teams backing you up, it was difficult to succeed. It was definitely an environment that could have benefited from workforce optimization software.

The biggest problem, however, was not a lack of resources, but instead a lack of interdepartmental collaboration. A recent CSRwire report highlighted the importance of this type of collaboration to strengthen your brand and keep employees. The goal is to work together toward a common goal and not just what is good for a single department or employee. The example in the article was the Best Buy (News - Alert) ‘Geek Squad Academy’, and how its agents work to pull employees from their regular duties to focus on special assignments.

For an outward focus, Geek Squad Agents travel the country, giving two-day workshops to underserved teens. While the program started as a Geek Squad-only initiative, it evolved into one that would involve employees from the retail channels as well. In doing so, it provided a common goal among the agents and the retail employees, enabling them to work together on an initiative that was bigger than any of them alone and meant more than a paycheck at the end of the week.

This is really the point of workforce optimization software – to provide a way for disengaged and unmotivated employees to find a common focus on which to build. While there are business goals involved, the key idea is to engage employees so they get excited about what they’re doing and the outcomes they achieve by banding together. In doing so, they not only produce great outcomes for the brand, but also a rewarding place to work.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

GENBAND fring Ups the Ante for CSPs: More RTC Possibilities Abound

GENBAND fring Ups the Ante for CSPs: More RTC Possibilities Abound

February 25, 2015

Communications Service Providers (CSPs) across the globe are on a mission to find the next best offering users want. The golden ticket is in real-time communications, across channels, and without boundaries.

GENBAND fring set out to answer that today with the announcement they are planning a massive Over-The-Top (OTT) alliance to create a platform for global CSPs.

Set to launch in July 2015, the fring Alliance will offer fixed, cable, mobile and MVNOs & OEMs a turn-key OTT service offering to provide texting, rich media messaging, voice and video real-time communications to their subscriber base.

Becoming a member of this alliance would allow the members to build a platform they not only share with others, but that they will also have ownership in – all while finally taking back market share from other OTT competitors.

“Service providers have been seeking ways to effectively compete against OTT players for quite some time now,” said Jim Patterson, CEO at Patterson Advisory Group. “The fring Alliance offers a very innovative way for the CSPs to not only compete, but also gain back market share, maintain consumer loyalty and reduce churn in the competitive OTT space.  This is a very bold move by GENBAND and it couldn’t have come at a better time for service providers.”

With the fring Alliance, service providers can white label offerings, create custom service offerings and even provide their subscribers with a single billing plan.

For consumers, the new alliance means they will be able to use a single phone number, even when roaming, and have access to advanced features like multi-party video, one-touch photo sharing, co-browsing, and more via any device and on any screen.

“By creating a Universal User Database, the fring Alliance brings together family and friends across carrier networks, while at the same time maintaining the subscriber relationship and building a social presence,” said David Walsh, GENBAND’s chairman and CEO.

GENBAND will be hosting a cocktail party in celebration of the fring Alliance launch on Tuesday, March 3rd at Mobile World Congress at 5:30 p.m. in Hall 2, booth 2131.

For more information visit

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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Ready, Set, Chat: Video Conferencing Do’s and Don’ts

February 25, 2015

By Alexandra Duggan
TMCnet Contributing Writer

Video conferencing is a continually expanding platform. From the healthcare industry to education and business, it’s opening doors to new and innovative ways to communicate. Video conferencing is quickly becoming a global communication standard, but if you're unfamiliar with video conferencing there are a few tips to help you succeed in your next virtual meeting.

Do your Research: There are many different kinds of video conferencing software, and some are definitely better than others. Before making any long-term investments, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. If you skimp out on software, it can affect all of your future interactions on video chat.

Prepare for the Conference: The most important aspect of a successful video conference is knowing the ins and outs off the features it offers. Before your meeting, make sure you test the audio and video. This can range from volume control to a microphone check to camera positioning. You want everything in place before the meeting so that you can give your all of your attention to your colleagues.

Keep your Workspace Clean: Not only do you need to make sure all of your equipment is up and ready to go, you also need to make sure that your surrounding work area is in perfect condition. Is there anything distracting in the background? Take it down. Is this clutter on your desk? Organize it. You want to give the best impression possible during your video conference.

Check the Lighting: The lighting where you will be video-chatting is key to having your meeting run smoothly, you want everyone to be able to see you clearly. It will be awkward for everyone involved if the lighting is dim and it looks like you're talking from your basement. Natural lighting is always the best bet, but if this isn’t possible make sure you have enough lights on to brighten up the room in time for your video conference.

Look into the Camera When Speaking: Just because this meeting is over video chat doesn't mean that you should treat it any differently than an in-person meeting. Make sure that you look into the camera when speaking, not at yourself, giving your audience your full attention. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

Does Your Business Have the Tools to Handle the Multichannel Customer?

February 25, 2015

By Rodney Kuhn, Founder and Chairman, Envision

Gone are the days when a customer’s only option for contacting a businesses’ customer service department was to pick up the phone and dial an 800 number. Thanks to the Internet, customers now have a variety of communications channels—such as email, live chat, SMS and social media—from which to choose.

Read more

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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Crash Logs in Xcode 6.3 beta 2

The new Apple crash reports service is now available in Xcode 6.3 beta 2. Apps that you’ve submitted with debug symbols to the App Store and to TestFlight will have their crash log data collected and aggregated into crash reports that will automatically download into Xcode. The enhanced Organizer window makes it easy to triage your crashes, jump directly to the offending code, and mark a crash as resolved. Learn more by reading Crashes Organizer Help.