Lloyds uses technology to track oil spills and ash clouds

Insurance companies have always had high exposure to environmental disasters, and with BP's oil spill and Iceland's volcano 2010 has placed plenty of demands on their IT systems.

Insurance companies have always had high exposure to environmental disasters, and with BP's oil spill and Iceland's volcano 2010 has placed plenty of demands on their IT systems.

Lloyds of London is using technology to help its insurers get updates as they come in, with an interactive map that uses geo-tagging and mines the company's databases for relevant information every time something happens.

"If you see a news alert coming up, you will also find the Lloyds report on pollution risk, for example, or the exposure limit," said the company's CIO Peter Hambling. "It provides a way to get Lloyds' view on anything in real time."

The interactive map is part of the company's effort to respond instantly to events. The project is currently in beta and will go live soon, Hambling said.

"Each time a plane crashes, for example, it has an effect on the world of insurance. One of the challenges is to be agile enough to service whatever our customers need."

The company has made efforts to assimilate its technology strategy into the overall business strategy. Hambling and chief information security officer Marcus Alldrick will talk about the map project, and their work to comply with Solvency 2 regulations, at the Forrester IT Forum in Lisbon next week.

Solvency 2 will mean insurers will need to comply with a new, harmonised EU-wide regulatory regime. It replaces 14 existing insurance directives and aims to provide an easier way to ensure that insurers are financially sound.

Hambling is leading Lloyds' efforts to meet the requirements and said, "We would not be able to do this without technology. It needs high-performance computing."

The financial sector is well-known for relying heavily on rapid computing and having technology at the core of what it does, and Hambling admits that this might make it easier for technology to become a core part of the business strategy.

He says it's not just the nature of the business that has placed IT at its heart. It can be as simple as where people sit.

"The IT leadership team in Lloyds sit in the middle of the office. We have business people on one side and IT people on the other. We've found little things like that make big differences. It helps to build common areas of understanding and that builds better teams."

While the necessity of having immediate information means insurance will rely on technology, it's not just the financial sector that needs it. "Even corner shops need chip and Pin machines now. It's integral to how things work."

Alldrick advised other companies to focus on people, processes and technology. "It not just about one of those things," he said. "Working on all three is what enables the business to move forward."

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