Insurance Company Deploys Pen Tablets

Nationwide says technology cuts adjusters' estimate times in half

Nationwide Insurance Co. in Columbus, Ohio, has deployed 1,500 pen tablet computers to increase the productivity of its agents who handle auto and property damage claims in the field.

Although pen tablet computers are still rare in the workplace, according to analysts, the devices from Fujitsu PC Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., were a clear hardware choice for Nationwide over laptop computers and handhelds, said Mary Johnston, chief officer of claims solutions in Nationwide's IT department.

Prior to the introduction of tablet technology last summer, Nationwide field adjusters used laptops, which meant they had to take handwritten notes on clipboards and then later enter the data into their laptops, Johnston said.

"Using tablet computers, the agents are right there with the customer, and they can touch the data one time, which is more productive . . . and gives us the ability to service customers twice as fast," she said.

Adjusters input data by tapping a stylus on an on-screen keyboard or by using a handwriting recognition program installed in the Fujitsu Stylistic 3400S. The device weighs 3.2 lb., and its dimensions are about 11 by 8.5 by 1 in. The adjusters input the data according to certain forms in software on each client and then connect via dial-up modems to centralized customer databases in Columbus. The 10.4-in. screens are outdoor-viewable, a key factor for Nationwide adjusters who work indoors and out. The $3,400 machines run Windows NT 4.0, which Nationwide use to run its casualty insurance software package.

Adjusters can take digital photographs of damages and use the tablets to upload the images to the corporate database. They can also attach printers to the tablets, making it possible to print claim checks for customers on the spot, said claims manager Elmer Nance. Most estimates now take five to 15 minutes from start to finish - half the time they took when adjusters had to take notes and transcribe them, Nance said.

Laptops would be too awkward to use in the field, Johnston added.

Handheld computers don't have large enough screens to display the car diagrams that agents use to pinpoint damages and costs for parts, Johnston said. Plus, many handhelds wouldn't have enough processing power to run the auto insurance software that itemizes hundreds of vehicle models, nor would they have enough power to compress photos.

Use of the pen tablets hasn't been an automatic fit. Nationwide had to rig up its own custom carrying case to hold agents' cameras, printers, cables and pen tablets. The case attaches with velcro to a steering wheel so agents can use the tablets while sitting in their cars, Nance said.

Also, he said, the handwriting recognition software requires a learning curve, which is one part of the three-hour training on the devices.

Because insurance claims estimate files are quite large, Nationwide has ruled out wireless usage for now.

The market for pen tablet computers is small, with Fujitsu commanding 70% of sales. Global sales last year were $528 million, according to IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Pen tablets are especially valuable in vertical industry applications where they replace a clipboard, said analyst Ken Dulaney at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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