Mike Howard discusses how technology has changed in the workplace

Posted by eirenvargas on 23/02/2017 in Content


It was September 1998 and I was the proud owner of the latest must-have gadget, a Nokia 6110 phone. Netscape was the web browser of choice while doing searches on Lycos, householders were drowning in AOL’s bombardment of free net access discs and a start-up called Google had just created an office in a garage.

It was also the last time I left Horsham’s RSA building after a year’s stint in the Life and Health insurance department. Stepping back through those same RSA doors 18 years later was a surreal experience.

Headed for a role in the Digital department, I hoped it was going to be more advanced than the 1990s equivalent – a lone guy who would fix your PC and change the printer toner.The building itself was largely unchanged. The same escalator, lifts and the impressive chandelier in reception … but that’s where the similarities ended.

I was welcomed into a team of UX, content, design, analytics and product experts all using the latest digital tools to get their job done. The contrast with 1998 was stark. Back then the only way of communicating with colleagues was in person, on the phone or using a precursor to email comprising of tiny green text on a black screen.


We couldn’t use names and were instead assigned a number so you can imagine how tricky it was to contact ‘Andy in claims’ if you weren’t sure of his code. I laughed as I told my dad how things have changed in such a relatively short period of time. It triggered a flashback of his experience of advances in technology over his 40-year career in insurance.

Technological developments

In the 1950s the excitement was palpable as his team was briefed to prepare for a major new innovation, the impending arrival of ‘electronic machines’ to replace mechanical calculators. Previously staff rotated a crank handle clockwise for addition or multiplication, anti-clockwise for subtraction or division and held down different keys depending on the calculation being made.

The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC) filled a 20ft x 40ft room, weighed 30 tons and used more than 18,000 vacuum tubes – though the computer was the actual person who used the machine. Communicating between branches and brokers typically involved handwritten memos, while letters to clients were done using shorthand typists.

Advancements in technology saw dictating machines and Dictaphone typists eventually replacing these to lower costs. Cables or telegrams were used for overseas communications although the simpler Telex system soon took over. Staff would write messages in capitals, pass them to a supervisor for checking and then take them to the Telex Room for transmission. These checks were for brevity – not proofreading. No unnecessary words were permitted as it upped the cost of sending messages!

Using technology to collaborate

The mid-1970s saw the arrival of the next big technology game-changer – the fax machine. The concept was unfathomable. Place an A4 document or letter into a machine, type in a phone number and an exact copy would emerge at the other end in seconds – anywhere in the world. Jump forward to 2017 and colleagues and clients are communicating and collaborating instantly on documents while at their desks, on the train or even in the air.

Technology has completely changed the way we engage with our own teams, with colleagues further afield and with customers. Though the insurance industry itself has remained largely unchanged … until now. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the connection of everyday objects to a network, allowing them to send and receive data.
From houses to factories and offices to individuals, by 2020 experts estimate the IoT will consist of approximately 50 billion objects.

RSA’s MORE TH>N brand is one of many insurers already embracing the opportunities. SMART WHEELS uses telematics to get detailed historical data on young drivers’ speed, distance and turning and braking patterns to help guide premiums. A move towards usage-based insurance (UBI) means insurers can collect real-time data and perhaps offer discounts or rewards for safe driving. With driverless vehicles, safety and security will improve as systems will be able to detect imminent collisions and take action.

IoT is the future

It’ll only be a matter of time before insurers expand these possibilities into health and home insurance. IoT technology will give insurers more accuracy when trying to predict flooding or storm damage. Within the home, sensors could monitor for water leaks, the state of repair of the home and provide safety monitoring. In offices, warehouses and factories sensors could detect temperature, smoke, toxic fumes, earthquakes and almost any hazard you can think of.

A wealth of data will be available to underwriters which will significantly help with decision making. Wearable fitness devices will provide data to help health and life insurance underwriters determine risk and pet trackers could enable truly tailored premiums for dog insurance. Advances in artificial intelligence will provide new methods of interacting with customers whereby chatbots could solve customers’ simple problems, freeing call centre staff to tackle more challenging queries.

There are also exciting prospects for augmented and virtual reality. Policyholders could interact directly with loss adjustors, using a smartphone to relay images of a damaged vehicle, letting the insurer focus on the specific car parts that need replacing.

While it’s early days as far as this technology is concerned, the IoT is having a huge impact on not only the way we work but how we live our lives.

Considering how much has changed in the last 18 years, it’s a truly exciting time to be working at RSA as we embrace new technologies to benefit our customers and the business!

If you’re interested in joining one of our teams here at RSA Digital, get in touch!