Fireman’s Fund Insurance wants to make sure that real-time remote access to data for its agents and sales staff doesn’t become a fire drill. The Novato, Calif.-based company launched a project this month focused on using a thin client and a thin pipe to deliver data into the field with the goal that users spend less time on data access and more time on one-on-one customer service.

While Fireman’s uses the Web today to deliver applications to mobile users, access requires high bandwidth for the applications to be responsive. After exploring broadband, the company hit on an innovative gateway that can deliver data to end users via e-mail. Recently, the company began Phase 1 of a pilot project using startup ClairMail’s gateway software, which lets users access data by sending an e-mail from their mobile device or by clicking on a link in the address book.

“The beauty of the technology is that you can transmit data over low bandwidth and it is quickly adapted to any environment,” says Jim Dunn, CTO for Fireman’s Fund. “It’s not like writing a new application [for the mobile device]. It is taking current applications and writing scripts and writing a transaction that responds with data. You can apply it to any kind of data.”

Fireman’s Fund plans to do just that. Phase 1 is focused on two applications: billing inquiry and policy views. The pilot, which began with 100 users, will give employees in the field real-time access to data from those applications. Phase 2 will launch in July and is expected to bring independent agents into the mix of users. Eventually, the service could be deployed to customers looking to check on policy information or access other data.

“The Web in the last decade has helped people access information when it was convenient for them,” says Gary Butler, vice-president of corporate service operations for Fireman’s. “Wireless helps with access, but using mobile devices leapfrogs that. From that perspective, this is a fantastic way to engage with our customers.”

The ClairMail gateway acts as a relay point by taking in messages, running scripts to retrieve back-end data and then returning information.

For example, an adjuster in the field would send an e-mail to the address given to the ClairMail gateway. In the subject line, the adjuster would write “policy verification” and the policy number. The e-mail is sent to the gateway, which uses the sender’s e-mail address to authorize the transaction, and a script is triggered using the subject-line data. The script signs on to the policy application with the adjuster’s user name and password, retrieves that data and sends it back to the gateway, which deposits it in an e-mail and returns it to the sender. The entire transaction from device to the back end is encrypted.

ClairMail does not require any software on the client side, so it works with any mobile device. In addition to e-mail, it also works with SMS and instant messaging.

“It’s such simple stuff, which is another thing we like about it. And it’s very intelligent,” says Dunn.


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