I recently had the chance to spend a truly remarkable time visiting China. The trip was pure pleasure … an opportunity to spend time with our son and daughter in law, a Chinese national, and her family. The trip spanned the ultra-modern and “Westernized” city of Shanghai, the inland manufacturing hub of Hefei, the ancient villages of Anhui province and a lot of ground in-between.
This is in many ways a country of contrasts. It is concurrently an ancient land with a clear fix on tradition with functional technology thousands of years old and a land that has embraced leading edge technology to support explosive growth. With 1.3 billion people, 24 million of them living in Shanghai alone, it is easy to see why finding “better” or more efficient ways of doing things is top of mind. The congestion and traffic are truly impressive, making time a commodity that is highly valued and the much vaunted “drive for education” is very much in clear evidence.
American and German brands are very much present too, with traffic jams full of Buicks and Fords, going bumper to bumper with VW’s and Audis.
But what may be the most striking thing of all is the absolute degree to which mobile technology dominates daily life. In every village and city, in every train station and traffic jam, wireless devices are at the fingertips of every generation one sees. Young children and grandparents alike are doing the business of daily life on mobile devices that appear in a dizzying array of form factors and colors. Heads down on trains or, perhaps at once both humorously and frighteningly, while weaving through downtown traffic on scooters, the devices are a way to simply get things done.
The other interesting feature was surprisingly fast and omnipresent Wi-Fi access. Even at the chalet once used by Chairman Mao as a retreat in the peaks of the Yellow Mountains, I was able to jump online and check on email (so I didn’t completely disconnect from life back in America!).
Are there lessons learned from all this? Absolutely. While mobile capabilities may be of varying importance to different insurance lines of business today, there’s little doubt that this is the future. Once “spoiled” by the ability to do anything (and everything) on a piece technology customers can slip into a pocket, it seems that going back to fixed position desktop devices is an unwelcome step into the Way Back machine.
While it may not represent the same kind of risk as a burning PAS platform or responding to an avalanche of regulatory changes, it should nevertheless be top of mind for CIO’s and their IT organizations as they participate in business strategy developments. There may be a reasonable runway in front of some carriers now to consider options and approaches … but there’s little doubt that mobility is the future. In some parts of the broader financial services world, IT organizations are already considering the notion of deploying mobile platforms first (or at the very least, concurrently with other form factors). Time is a terrible thing to waste!