With hurricane season rapidly approaching, insurers and agents are bracing for the challenges that lie ahead. The good news is that the 2012 hurricane season for the U.S. Coastline and Caribbean promises to be less active than normal, at least according to a forecast released in April by the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project. Forecasters Philip Klotzbach and William Gray predict the 2012 season, which begins this month, will have four hurricanes, compared with an average of 6.5 hurricanes between 1981 and 2010, and 10 named storms, versus an average of 12 per year in the previous period.
Klotzbach and Gray also note, however, that, “Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them, and they need to prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted.”
With that caution in mind, we decided to take a look at what is happening in the world of claims estimating systems and how that will impact the way insurers respond to storms and other catastrophes that take place. Specifically, we sought to learn more about improvements in products and technologies, as well as the challenges going forward.
Orem, Utah-based Xactware reports that in recent years it has added several new features to Xactimate, its claims estimating platform, allowing users to take full advantage of mobile estimating, cloud computing, and roof-dimensioning solutions.
The company cites XactScope, its mobile estimating application that works in tandem with an estimator’s desktop version of Xactimate and enables users to scope, document, and estimate losses on their smartphones. With this app, estimators can capture room measurements, take photos, record voice notes, and research replacement costs all from their mobile devices. Xactware says it has continued to develop the app and make it available on the iPhone and iPad.
In addition, Xactware says it has added the ability to sketch complete loss sites and building structures.
“With the touch of a finger, estimators can quickly add rooms, doors, windows, missing walls, and more from their mobile devices,” the company says. “XactScope can even generate estimate reports that can be given to homeowners on the spot. This helps improve the speed and accuracy of catastrophe work by providing estimators with the ability to take a mobile device out to the field and then handle the loss on the spot.”
The company says that XactScope has also helped expand estimators’ ability to harness the power of cloud computing. Estimators can use XactScope to handle losses on their smartphones, print reports onsite for homeowner, and then seamlessly upload assignment details to their desktop version of Xactimate.
Xactware notes that roof damage is quite common in the aftermath of severe storms, and the company offers Aerial Sketch, a roof-dimensioning tool that allows estimators to draw detailed diagrams of complex roof structures using aerial images. Users download an aerial image, trace its features, and then convert the drawing to a fully functional 3-D roof sketch to start estimating repair costs in a matter of minutes.
In mid-February, says the company, Aerial Sketch’s capabilities were expanded to take advantage of high-resolution photos that aerial image providers made available earlier this year. Xactware notes that it has added highly sophisticated algorithms that enable Aerial Sketch to automatically detect and trace the perimeter, ridges, valleys, hips, and slope of a roof.
“Not only does this further improve the speed and accuracy of roof dimensioning, it also gives estimators more time to identify roof damage while onsite and determine needed repairs, whether it be replacing shingles, a slope, or an entire roof,” says Xactware.
The company says it has also made efforts to improve the experience of using Xactimate, such as adding tools that allow users to draw staircases and arced walls. Xactware notes that it has also simplified the control center interface.
“Many of these developments are geared specifically for catastrophe response teams, and Xactware actively solicits feedback from its customers’ CAT teams because we believe that if our tools can function in a CAT environment, they can handle an estimator’s daily workload,” the company states.
Improved Drawing Tools
Orlando, Fla.-based Simsol Software is announcing a new diagram tool, Simsol SmartSketch. One of version 5.0’s new power features enables users to import area shapes and dimensions from the building estimate directly into the Simsol drawing tool and connect them using SmartPoint technology to quickly create building footprints and floor plans.
“Version 5.0 has many additional software enhancements to simplify adjuster claims workflow,” the company states. “In addition to SmartSketch, Simsol will also announce the release of their brand new automated claim file backup system, Simsol Sync.”
A new feature to Simsol is the application’s SmartPoint drawing tool, which enables adjusters to “snap” together shapes of areas and rooms involved in an estimate and generate a professional grade diagram of the loss, the company says. Areas and room shapes are automatically generated by the estimating system based on measurements and dimensions entered by the adjuster. The resulting shapes and measurements are then imported into the SmartPoint drawing tool for proper placement on the drawing canvas.
“Multiple room and area diagrams are created in a fraction of the time it would take to draw similar sketches line-by-line,” the company claims. “Simsol believes adjusters should spend the majority of their time estimating and not spending a lot of their time drawing diagrams.”
Simsol Sync is an automated file backup and data storage system, the company explains.
“Unlike generic carbon copy backup software that you’ve seen before, Sync is designed specifically with Simsol claims files in mind. Other backup software programs are not aware of the inner workings of your Simsol software; therefore it’s not guaranteed that everything will be restored correctly,” says Simsol. “Sync works in the background so it stays out of your way while you get things done in your estimating program.”
In September, Simsol announced a partnership with Geo Tactical Solutions, Inc., a provider of intelligent-photo management hardware, “to deliver a complete end-to-end photo capture solution streamlined to meet the insurance industry’s unique workflow demands.”
The photo capture solution, based around Simsol’s software and Geo Tactical Solutions’ hardware offerings, enables claims adjusters to reduce the time spent processing and integrating photographs during claims-based workflows, the company notes. The solution allows an adjuster to pre-load specific claims information into the Ricoh G700SE-f digital camera and capture enriched claims images in the field when the shutter button is pressed.
“Once in the field, the adjuster simply selects the appropriate claim within the camera’s menu and then captures the images for that claim,” says Simsol. Images are embedded with the selected individual claim’s information. Back in the office, the adjuster can upload the day’s images into the Simsol software which in turn automatically places the photographs into the appropriate claims.
Simsol asserts that, “This process improvement will save countless hours per day for claims adjusters thereby allowing for improved efficiency, increased productivity and elimination of human errors relating to image association. All in all, the solution allows for an increase in error-free claims and overall claims processing time by streamlining a traditionally cumbersome process.”
Vendors noted that many of the challenges remaining for claims estimating systems reside in the human realm. Symbility Solutions, Inc., Toronto, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Automated Benefits Corp., recently announced a new online learning center in alliance with New Level Partners. This Web-based training platform offers a comprehensive portfolio of product learning tools that help users “acquire the knowledge and skills to quickly create accurate estimates and perform ahead of the curve, maintaining their competitive edge in an ever-changing environment.”
Symbility says its learning center “provides the most comprehensive, convenient, and cost-effective delivery of knowledge-on-demand resources available for Symbility’s Mobile Claims.”
Modules can be purchased separately or bundled together with an unlimited 12-month subscription. “All the materials are developed by Symbility subject-matter experts and provide hands-on experience with job-related exercises based on industry scenarios,” the company adds.
Proper training in the use of one’s estimating software remains a critical issues, says a Simsol spokesperson.
In the technical area, Xactware notes that one of the major challenges relating to mobile estimating and cloud computing is ensuring compatibility for the wide range of platforms available on the market today.
“Regarding roof estimating solutions, access to high-resolution images is key to getting the most use from the new version of Aerial Sketch. Aerial image providers have just introduced high-quality images, so it may take some time before they achieve total saturation throughout North America,” a company spokesperson says.
Ara C. Trembly is founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant. He is the author of “The Rogue Guru” blog and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, aratremblytechnology.com.