Mashups: Not Just for Music Anymore
Insurance Networking News, March 1, 2008
Similar to the music world where a new song can be created from bits and pieces of two or more different songs, mashups in the technology world follow the same basic structure. Taking disparate data from divergent sources and/or applications, a mashup is an amalgamation of this information, which, when put together, is a unique application tailored to the user/designer’s specifications. While most carriers and agents might not be fully cognizant of them, mashups, when crafted properly, can improve workflow, disseminate knowledge, improve customer service and marketing, save time and money and—potentially—permanently change the shape of the insurance IT landscape.
The term mashup is tricky—meaning many different things to many different people. According to G. Oliver Young, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. “A mashup is a way to combine data and applications in disparate applications into something that is more valuable than the sum of its parts,” he says. “So, in the case of applications, it’s combining two separate applications into one that becomes more valuable than the two separate applications. In the case of data, it’s combining two or more data sets into one data set that is more valuable to the user.”
Mashups can be very simple, such as Web-based applications capable of helping map a route from the home page of a new restaurant; or they can be incredibly complex systems, such as platforms where carriers can merge whole applications and data sources to create new applications.
Many insurers may unwittingly already use mashups of some sort. Some mashup applications leverage a company’s pre-established service-oriented architecture (SOA), which, if done properly, will facilitate ease in breaking up the enterprise into reusable data sources. This is important — the mashup can aggregate information critical for the insurer’s employees, and helps foster the spread of knowledge thought the company, which stands to benefit all lines of business.
“In many ways, think of mashups as that last mile of a service-oriented architecture,” Young says. “Now that you’ve got all these services enabled, what do you do with them? One of the great answers is with a mashup server, you can mix and match these services—now you can make an application or a dashboard or whatever it happens to be, and now you can make something that, as an end user, is completely customized to your needs.”
In contrast, there also are basic, customer-facing mashups. Many just being simple, graphical items hosted on an insurer’s Web site, mashups can be invaluable to attracting new customers and retaining old ones, which, in this new age of consumerism, provides added business value.
AT FIRST MASH
Mashups have been around for some time in different forms, surfacing around the days of Web 1.0, according to Michael Loke, senior management analyst with BearingPoint Inc., Melbourne, Australia. But for insurers, businesses and other customer-facing purposes, it wasn’t until last year when they began to garner mainstream attention.
“Some of the earliest mashups were consumer-oriented, like Housingmaps.com, which was the first mainstream mashup application that grabbed peoples’ attention, but in the last year or so businesses have really started to look at mashups as something that can actually provide business value,” Young says.
At a recent conference, an analyst from Boston-based Celent LLC reported that according to a number of CIOs polled throughout the insurance industry, utilization of mashups is not widespread. Based on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 meaning “no use of mashups,” and 5 being defined as “delivering good value,” the average for large P&C carriers was 0.5. CIOs from large life and health carriers ranked 2, while mid-sized P&C companies ranked 1. According to Celent, this means that while there’s definite interest among carriers in mashup technology, they’re currently watching and monitoring the situation, but in no rush to implement.
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