The next three to five years are going to be exciting ones as five new technologies really take hold. Last week, I wrote about autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT). This week, I’ll focus on robotic process automation, drones and blockchain.

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) – There’s something strangely familiar in the idea of humans working alongside friendly looking robots, something very much like a science fiction movie. The reality is that we are already employing RPA for things like programming software, but the robot is inside the computer, not an external animatronic creature seated at the next desk.  Going forward, that robot will be providing recommendations for an investment portfolio—in fact this has begun on a limited scale already.

As with a human, it takes four to 12 weeks to fully train a robot, depending upon the complexity of the task. Training is done in a live environment, at least for the trainer.

In RPA, a computer drives existing enterprise-application software the same way a human does, but within certain parameters.  Typically, it will replace bulk, routine, repetitive, rules-based tasks that are usually initiated by a digital trigger and supported by digital data, freeing employees to handle more interesting work.  Though work of this kind cries out for automation, its small scale doesn’t justify a large IT expense or even a business process management project.  Robots can perform these repetitive tasks faster and more accurately than humans, so it makes sense to let them handle it.

Other advantages that make RPA an emerging disruptive force include scalability, cost savings and local control.  It also can integrate and bridge legacy systems.

Drones – Drones and the information they transmit in real time are poised to change insurance through much of the value chain.

They can speed up and improve the accuracy of claims processing.  A recent USA Today story states, “The days of the harried insurance adjuster climbing a ladder to poke at your storm-damaged roof may soon be history as insurance companies look to drones as the new wave for property inspections.”  They could prove even more of a boon in catastrophes where an area is not initially safe for adjusters to enter, but where carriers are under pressure to quickly assess the potential claim payout and reserve appropriate assets.

Insurers also may use drones as tools to evaluate a property before coverage is written and to assist property owners with risk-management evaluations.

Adopting drones is not a simple task. Regulatory approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is needed to fly all commercial drones, which can range in size, weight and features. Over the past year the FAA has cleared the way for several insurance companies to begin testing drones, but there is still a lot of evaluation and decisions needed before drones are in common use.

Blockchain – So much is being written about blockchain and its currency offspring, bitcoin. Blockchain is a technology in search of new applications, and each day brings more announcements of alliances and projects surrounding the technology as organizations grapple with its potential.  See my blog post “Will Blockchain be the same ‘bust’ as the Internet” for my take on this technology and its insurance implications.

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