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May 29, 2015

Peeling The Onion Router

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:17 AM

Peeling Away The Onion Router
How real is digital anonymity?

According to the research firm Gartner Group, the amount of data produced on planet earth is set to increase 60 percent each year in the near future. Talk about Big Data getting even bigger! Unimaginably big, in fact. Where to start with this needle in this massive haystack?

The initial problem is, of course, that all data are not created equal. What might be precious information to your organization might be just chatter to another entity. And the other way around. So having all this data in your possession is one thing. Parsing through it to make sense of it all is quite another thing.

But one question that is routinely not asked either out of ignorance or sheer fright is how much of that rapidly increasing digital data is easy to find and safe to use? Enter TOR, a clever acronym for The Onion Router. It's a fascinating piece of software designed to provide anonymity on the Internet. It is a technique for anonymous communication over a digital network. Here messages are encapsulated in layers of encryption, and transmitted through a series of network nodes called onion routers, each of which 'peels' away a single layer, uncovering only the data's next destination. When the final layer is decrypted, the message arrives at its destination. The sender remains anonymous because every intermediary knows only the location of the immediately preceding and following routers.

It has become very popular in recent years because the public has learned the extent to which the online information they use is monitored by various government agencies in many countries.

Now here's the most interesting part about this piece of software (which was designed, incidentally by a not-for-profit group): Enterprises that depend on Internet data and the free flow of information, such as the large social media sites, tend to like TOR because it allows them to get past government firewalls in countries that forbid certain communications with the West (think Facebook confronting the 'Great Firewall' of China, for example). But because TOR is so successful at keeping its users and their information anonymous, the software is also a favorite of terrorist groups. Talk about appealing to two very different audiences!

But the story gets even more interesting: Before TOR's final design came out of the offices of a not-for-profit group that promotes Internet freedom, TOR initially began as a project of the U.S. government. So the software that was used by government turncoats to inform about online spying and monitoring practices had its genesis in the very laboratories that are now trying to peel away the layers of this complex Onion Router.

To law abiding citizens around the world, that's upsetting, because they like being part of what's known as the 'dark web.' They know they can access a London tabloid's website in a region run by a strict, totalitarian regime. To sophisticated teenagers, it's a way of communicating without allowing eavesdropping parents to know what's really going on in their lives. But the software is just as useful to illegal arms dealers and cyber-thieves who steal tens of thousands of credit card numbers from innocent victims whose only fault is that they shop at big box retailers and use their credit card at the wrong time.

I write about the Onion Router not to condemn it or to praise its use. I'm simply bringing its existence to light to readers who might never have heard of this piece of technology. What interests me more about how TOR is used (both for good and for bad and, for that matter, activities that are neither - they're quite neutral) is the reason for its existence: the need for digital security.

I have always said that the most successful enterprises of the next decade will be digital enterprises. But being digital isn't enough. These enterprises will use digital tools and solutions in ways that will keep their customers' information safe from anonymous entities. In this very space, the hottest social media apps are those that get around the big social media companies and allow their users to send and then permanently delete messages or photos (another feature very popular with the teenage demographic).

In the same way, the most successful enterprises that use digital means of communications to reach and to serve their consumer base will have iron-clad security measures in place to keep business transactions private. It's one of the reasons that Infosys is busier than ever. Helping enterprises serve the digital consumers in the safest and most professional way possible is part of what we do. With the world's data growing and the dark web getting darker, it's become more important than ever to invest in the right solutions to protect your customers.

May 27, 2015

Rise Of The Digital Insurer

Posted by Pankaj Kulkarni (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:34 AM

Rise of the Digital Insurer

Retailers risked being left in their competitors' dust if they didn't stay on top of digital trends. The smartest retailers have created seamless experiences for their savvy, digital consumers - whether online or in-store.

Believe it or not, the same is true for the expectations of digital consumers and their insurance companies. Whereas retailers can turn on a dime and react very quickly and effectively to consumer preference, with the insurance industry, it's a different story. That's because the insurance business is extremely predictable and runs on a very basic premise: that an army of actuaries utilize algorithms to determine rates for policyholders. If something such as a natural disaster occurs and the companies must pay out on some policies, those companies simply adjust the rates they charge to everyone. So the insurance company is always, always coming out on top no matter what transpires in the world.

But a new study commissioned by Infosys and performed by Forrester Consulting sheds new light on consumers' response to unsatisfactory service from their insurers. The study included a survey of 180 significant insurance firms. The results were remarkable: insurance IT organizations will be in the 'digital hot seat.' It is no longer sufficient to have a vision alone, according to companies surveyed.

While 47 percent of the participating companies strongly believed that digital can play a major role in their growth, they actually have to execute their digital visions if they aspire to achieve their business goals. 44 percent agreed that digital can drive a unified customer experience, but over 60 percent highlighted that they are hindered by poor quality of customer insights - meaning that some insurers could be making wrong choices in their digital investments. Nearly 75 percent of the business and IT decision-makers surveyed indicated that their IT teams would be leading digital initiatives for their firms. That's promising news, but one wonders if these firms are being reactionary instead of being proactive.

Insurers are faced with thin operating margins despite all the work their actuaries do to re-adjust rates. That's why adoption of the right digital tools is vital for them. It gives companies advantages that they never knew existed. Through these tools, not only can insurers use technological solutions to understand risks better, they can also price products more competitively. Add to this situation the advent of Big Data in the insurance sector and these firms are making more impactful decisions than ever before.

Yet insurance companies give new meaning to the term 'legacy system.' The survey found what its authors refer to as 'fundamental structural problems' that threaten insurers' digital success. Even though many insurers have admirable digital ambitions, the study found structural issues that are fundamental to the industry and generally impede digital transformation. For example, one in five respondents mentioned competing business priorities over digital. Another 55 percent mentioned past 'stumbles' when it came to executing digital marketing projects.

Some of the oldest and largest insurers have legacy computer systems from a bygone era. Some of them are even taking the difficult step of migrating code out of mainframes to business process management software and to enterprise software in order to create smart, agile, next-generation organizations. That's good news. The more quickly these companies focus on their consumers - in the same way retailers do - they will understand them more and therefore be able to offer insurance products that are more relevant to their consumer base.

May 22, 2015

When Will Computers Become Truly Smart?

Posted by Dr. Srinivas Padmanabhuni (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:51 AM

How smart is today's artificial intelligence? [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poLZqn2_dv4]

There's something quite fascinating to the phenomenon of rare, scientific programs reaching the daily parlance of the general population. A current example is artificial intelligence (A.I.). The average person on the street knows what A.I. is and has probably mentioned it in a non-scientific discussion.

I was reminded of this phenomenon when I saw one of the season's first blockbuster movies. It was pure science fiction but the protagonists wrestled with A.I. and indeed battled a monster that learned from humans and independently improved itself. That's always been a concern about A.I. - that the science behind it is somehow sinister. At its worse, A.I. creates a kind of Frankenstein's monster that is out to destroy human life. But perhaps, that's a far-fetched notion.

Robotics and A.I. are technologies that have been with us for a long time. Remember HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey? That was more than 45 years ago. But the reason the subjects are in the news again is because of just how advanced they are becoming. Our own CEO, Dr. Sikka, spoke about the potential of machine learning and A.I. at a recent conference. There are endless possibilities to this science, but we humans always rest easier when we know that there's a 'kill switch' somewhere nearby.

Up until now, for instance, an unmanned drone aircraft was piloted by a highly trained human pilot on the ground. There are now drones in development by the aerospace industry that fly themselves based on computer programs that continually learn from their surroundings and automatically become updated. That's why we need to start paying attention to A.I. in a big way. Do you want a drone flying overhead that is armed with attack missiles...yet has no human controlling it? Most certainly not.

ImageNet, a database of just over one million pictures, is making a concerted effort to build deep learning (a branch of machine learning) benchmarks and expand the horizons of A.I. Companies such as Google, etc. are competing to build A.I. programs to classify the images on ImageNet, with the lowest error percentage. Microsoft's software has a 4.94% error rate and Google has achieved 4.8%.

Ray Kurzweil, the technologist who ran an A.I. think-tank for 15 years, calls A.I. 'accelerating intelligence,' and has recently predicted that computers will be as independently intelligent as humans or more, by the year 2030. To scientists like Kurzweil, who in 2012 was appointed a director of engineering at Google and heads a team developing machine intelligence and natural language understanding, A.I. is going to radically change the world. It's interesting how he looks at A.I. − not so much as a technology but a concept.

Kurzweil says it's a concept that underlies just about everything that touches us in our day-to-day lives: biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science, molecular electronics, computation, neuroscience, physics, the Internet, energy, electronics, pattern recognition, virtual reality, human brain reverse engineering, brain and body augmentation, and, yes, artificial intelligence and robotics. These fields have one thing in common: They are extremely dependent on pervasive information-based technologies in order to advance themselves to the next level. So now that we're fully part of the era of Big Data, everyone from a scientist to a corporate director is trying to figure out how to reap benefits from A.I.

An interesting take on the current state of things is from Fei-Fei Li, the director of Stanford University's A.I Lab. She recently said in an interview that we're not as close to achieving A.I. that is on par with human intelligence as some might think. The reason, she said, is because writing such algorithms and designing robotics to house self-improving computer brains are extremely challenging. So a note to all those computer programmers and software developers who fear that their jobs might give way to an A.I.-enabled device sometime soon: take heart - we're not quite there yet. But society in general and enterprises specifically should be preparing for such a day sooner than we expect.

May 19, 2015

Why The Time Is Now for High-Performance Cryptography

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:44 PM

Why High-performance cryotogrpahy' by Dr. Ashutosh
Enigma, the 'unbreakable' Nazi code machine

There's a fascinating new movie about how the most complex and intellectually challenging of activities - cryptanalysis - did as much to win World War II for the Allies as did any tank brigade. The Imitation Game is the story of how the mathematician Alan Turing broke the 'unbreakable' Nazi code machine (the ominously named Enigma device) that in turn helped the Allies secretly listen in on vital enemy communications.

I bring up this movie because some 75 years later, we all live in a world where cryptanalysis and cryptography have an enormous amount of influence over our day-to-day lives. The next time you buy something online, for instance, notice how the Internet response slows down and how the payment page arrives relatively slowly. This delay is the consequence of turning on what's known as the secure browsing mode, or 'https.' In secure browsing mode, data exchanged on the Internet is sent over a Secure Sockets Layer. The SSL uses cryptographic operations like public key cryptography for key exchange, and symmetric encryption for confidentiality.

Now here's the rub: Although the fastest and most powerful of today's computers can perform cryptographic computations in 1/100th of a second, they become slower when there are thousands of similar requests to be handled every minute. The 'Net is a big place. It is because of the sheer number of all these computationally intensive operations that there is a noticeable delay while shopping securely over the Internet.

For most of us, a slightly slower Internet browser is a small price to pay to know that your personal data is secure. Last year alone, online consumers who didn't use secure channels had enough of their personal information stolen by cyber-thieves to account for untold billions (maybe even trillions) of dollars. But I know what you're thinking: With all of our technological progress of late, we can't keep browser speeds lightning fast and personal data safe from cyber-thieves? I realize it can be frustrating, especially when you consider that a lot of this shopping occurs on mobile devices that are drained of their power supply way too quickly.

One of the answers to deal with these issues in the short term is Internet Protocol Version 6. When IPV6 is in place, everyone can claim at least ten unique Internet addresses. That means each smart device, whether it's a mobile phone, watch, sensor, or laptop, would have a unique IP address. There will still exist the need for secure internal and external communications on these devices as well as with external devices. That's why across networks there is a need for multilayer encryption. The challenge here is to ensure secure and faster communication and information exchange between devices.

Granted, there are still trade-offs. One is to reduce the cost of compliance with data privacy regulations while allowing high-performance and secure connectivity to critical infrastructures present in the network. When we can accomplish what I've just described on a widespread scale, then we will have realized 'high-performance cryptography' for all consumers. There are variations of high-performance cryptography, and I'll mention a few:

  • Elliptic Curve Cryptography allows us to make digital signatures shorter and efficient to process without sacrificing security
  • Searchable Encrypted Databases focus on querying encrypted data without actually decrypting it. Doing so increases the efficiency of handling huge amounts of data by saving the computation involved in the decrypting process
  • Network Encryptors perform high-performance, inline encryption. These encryptors allow large-scale networks to secure communications from thousands of wireless users in an enterprise WLAN or over high-speed optical links
  • Quantum Computers utilize a strong (yet still practically unproven for mass) solution for faster cryptographic operations. But they'll be here soon enough. Using quantum computers would exponentially increase the speed of cryptographic computations

When all browsers support secure communication on the Internet, then response times will be cut in half. So user operations would conceivably double. In the near future, the use of high-performance cryptography will allow smart Internet users to double their browsing time by reducing the battery drain - a task that bulky, traditional cryptography can't achieve.

If the men and women who deciphered the Nazi Enigma machine were alive today, I reckon even they would be impressed by the convergence of speed and security over the Internet that a typical consumer enjoys. They might also be amazed that encryption is such a massive part of the global economy! That's because today we're fighting our own war of sorts against cyber-criminals. Achieving mass, high-performance cryptography is no small task, but we will get there soon and it will save the markets trillions of dollars.

May 15, 2015

Online DNA Tests Are Changing Healthcare Industry

Posted by Subhro Mallik (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:55 AM

Online DNA Tests Are Changing Healthcare Industry

For those of you who take interest in the exploits of the fictional titans and gods of classical Greece, perhaps none is more interesting than Prometheus. Aside from being credited with giving humans the gift of fire, he also gave them livestock to eat. If you were someone in classical Greece listening to tales about Prometheus, chances are you'd think he had your back and was looking out for you.

Some Infosys trivia: Our New York City offices at Rockefeller Center overlook the beautiful gold statue of Prometheus. But that wasn't one of the reasons I took note of one of a handful of new websites that offer personalized DNA information. One such service is named Promethease. It's a word play on the classical Greek titan who took time, as the legends go, to help 'kickstart' mankind's development. Almost every culture and civilization has its own version of Prometheus. It's all too funny that he's back in the news after a couple thousand years because of modern day humans' quest to find more about themselves.

The genome, that genetic map of what makes up living organisms like us, is yielding some fascinating information these days. Advances in genetic science have incubated a number of web-based enterprises like Promethease that can deliver a personalized genetic report that lets the consumer see if she has so-called 'good' genes or 'bad' genes. In other words, you're essentially taking a genetic 'selfie.' If a young woman hires a web-based genetic testing service to map her genetic code and discovers she has the gene for breast cancer, she might choose to take matters into her own hands - going to a doctor and demanding she has a mastectomy decades before she even has the chance to develop the cancer.

Obviously these developments have opened a can of worms. It's something that often happens when the life sciences advance a lot more faster than society's ability to regulate (or even simply discuss and debate) medical situations. What's controversial here is that in the past, a patient would go to her doctor to discuss family history and, for the sake of this argument, the predisposition of getting a certain kind of cancer. Now, however, the patient has become the digital consumer. There are no medical doctors who serve as knowledgeable, tempered intermediaries. It's just the wide-open web and people willing to pay for the genetic information.

What's clear is that no genetic testing service is a soothsayer. None can, with 100 percent accuracy, predict what's in store for you and me, medically speaking. But as these services become more popular (and who wouldn't want a sneak-peek at what might be in your future?), the healthcare industry must begin leveraging the right technological tools to deal with this surge of consumer data. I predict that entrepreneurs will seek to capitalize on the human desire to know what a person might or might not contract 20 years hence. They're already commercializing genetic information that once rested solely in the realm of the medical world.

I think it's safe to say that genetic information is the first of many big-ticket items that will be commercialized within the life sciences industry and available for purchase by the highest bidder. The digital marketplace has given humans the option of learning more about their medical futures than they might need or want to. When a layman has information that he isn't trained to understand yet acts on it with medical treatments and surgeries, he's playing with fire...

May 13, 2015

Our Part In The 'Creative Conspiracy'

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:58 AM

Creative Conspiracy

What does a mound of Play-Dough, a pile of fluorescent sticky notes, and lots of scribbling on whiteboards mean? Well, I could come up with plenty of amusing answers. But in the context of SAP's Sapphire Now, the company's flagship conference, these seemingly simple and even childlike objects amount to a lot of savvy ideas. Welcome to the world of Design Thinking, corporate-style.

SAP decided to dedicate some of its real estate on the floor of the Orlando convention center last week to a unique area for Design Thinking. During my initial stroll around the vast hall to check out the booths of our competitors and run into long-time clients, my eyes fell upon the Design Thinking area. So I headed over for a closer look. The first thing that happened was that a very friendly SAP employee greeted me and asked me if I knew what Design Thinking was. I told her I did, both in the conventional, architectural/industrial context as well as its use in corporate management techniques. What ensued was a really fun experience trying out the different facets of Design Thinking in the booth.

Some people put their ideas into 3-D by sculpting Play-Dough, a children's toy. They are not bothered by the stigma of Play-Dough being aimed at children; they're more intent on utilizing a simple way to express their ideas quickly and in three dimensions. Still other people used sticky notes to brainstorm and place the notes up on an 'innovation wall' of sorts that collected all of their spur-of-the-moment ideas. The innovation wall was designed to allow people to feel comfortable trying out new ideas without a high-level executive peering over their shoulders. One of the notes was my favorite. It read simply: 'Teleport me home!'

I thought to myself - well, here's a funny idea. Teleportation is something we see in science fiction movies such as Star Trek. Yet here was someone expressing an idea that was perhaps borne out of frustration - years of dreary business travel, missed connections, and a crying baby in the seat behind him when he just wanted to take a quick nap on the flight. Hmmmm, I thought, teleportation. Tell me more!

Now I realize actual teleportation of human beings might be centuries away from the present day. But on that wall someone had placed a seed of an idea that's going to germinate. Why? Because the person who wrote that sticky note is practising 'creative confidence' - the knowledge that her idea won't be laughed at or torn down but rather taken seriously, even if her team (in an actual company setting) was tasked with solving a completely different problem. In fact, a leading book on collaboration, which is an important part of Design Thinking, is even titled Creative Conspiracy.

David M. Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the Design School at Stanford, has spoken to Infoscions in the past about Design Thinking and he puts it this way: "Design Thinking applies to everything and particularly to services companies because this is where you try to delight people and try to understand what they really value. It's hard, and most companies do not want to deal with the messiness of really trying to understand what's going on or going in and really build empathy for your user and figure out what matters to them - this is just a way of new ideas to keep coming out naturally."

Indeed, innovation is not a neat endeavor. It can be wonderfully messy. That messiness incorporates new ways - including cultural, gender, and career experiences - and heaps it all together in order to come at problems in completely new ways. It's why Infosys encourages Design Thinking and our friends at SAP seem to have embraced something similar. As for me, I'm on my way back to corporate headquarters, but not by teleportation. Although, someday...

May 6, 2015

Why We Should Worry About The "New Brain-Drain": Negroponte @Infosys Confluence 2015

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:52 AM

Negroponte @Infosys Confluence 2015

Practise what you preach. If there's one characteristic that captures the essence of technologist Nicholas Negroponte, it's that he sticks to his advice. He practises what he preaches.

Of course, this world-famous academic, who enthralls crowds everywhere from the World Economic Forum to last week's Infosys Confluence, doles out an amazing amount of insights and predictions for the future. That's one of the reasons he is so noteworthy: He manages to live out his mantras each day - not always the easiest thing to do in a world in which technology is evolving by the minute.

At Infosys Confluence, Negroponte's message was all about hope for the future and how technology can change the world for good. These days, the number of naysayers who tell us that the digital era will increasingly take away our liberties are growing. They preach an overly cautious, wait-and-see message that results in people following instead of leading. Negroponte is just the opposite. At the MIT Media Lab, which is Negroponte's intellectual legacy to us all, one of the main principles by which all students and professors operate is that risk is better than safety. Practice is preferable to theory. And learning is prized over education.

No wonder then, that Negroponte told the Confluence audience in his 'History of the Future' speech that the world is currently experiencing a "new brain-drain." The big thinkers, he said, are reducing in number. We should be alarmed because without big thinkers, there are fewer individuals willing to embrace innovation and not be afraid of failing once in a while. Negroponte was a young professor at MIT when he co-founded the Media Lab with Jerome Wiesner, former MIT President and Science Advisor to President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy challenged scientists to land people on the moon and return them safely to earth within the decade, he was channeling Negroponte's unabashed optimism in technology and its ability to improve lives. Such a scientific challenge encouraged the biggest of big thinkers. Kennedy's challenge culminated in the successful moon landing of Apollo 11, carrying American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The 384,400 km distance to the moon was covered, several unsuccessful and unmanned attempts by the USSR and USA, notwithstanding.

Think about what that moon accomplishment did for the 'history of the future.' It essentially showed that what was generally considered impossible - manning a flight to the moon - could be achieved and therefore lots of other projects and ideas became achievable as well. One of the results from thinking big has been the onset of the Information Age. Unlike the moon landing, the past few decades have instead concentrated on the power of the individual and enabling the world's population through communication and connectivity. Said Negroponte to the Infosys Confluence audience: "We should look at connectivity as a human right, which is why connecting the last billion of the world's population is a challenge. Human rights aren't always translatable into profit margins and balance sheets. Doing so takes big thinking. It's easy to develop endless apps for wealthy, connected consumers. It's quite another thing to reach every corner of the earth, especially in the emerging markets, through digital connectivity."

We at Infosys have been talking about the importance of Renew-New in the context of a human revolution. Our corporate mantra is quite similar to what Negroponte's Media Lab is working on today. The MIT Media Lab's 'human adaptability' focus challenges technologists to think big in order to develop ways to treat conditions like Alzheimer's disease and depression. They are asking how robotics can be a social endeavor. That means robots that can monitor the health of children or the elderly as easily as they automate manufacturing assembly lines. Negroponte even calls for prosthetic devices that can exceed what our biological limbs can do. Look out, Six Million-Dollar Man!

When you step back and mull over Negroponte's speech, it's about how thinking big can be applied to the smallest of things. He urged the crowd to consider ingestible technology - swallowing a tiny, mechanized, connected pill - that can help researchers better understand brain function. No invasive surgery needed.

"If you need to measure the impact of something," said Negroponte, "then it was not worth doing." These are inspirational words about the essence of innovation. The impact of our big thinking is going to help everyone on earth progress in a seamless manner. Innovation so big that it doesn't need to be measured.

May 4, 2015

Insurance Industry Learns How To Play the Game

Posted by Pankaj Kulkarni (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:27 PM

Insurance Industry Learns to Play the Game
A smart insurance company can learn what makes potential customers motivated and use those elements in much the same way that a video game designer does

If ever there were an industry that could use some outside-the-box thinking, it's the insurance sector. Little has changed in this business for centuries. Well, I have good news for you if you think insurance companies are all boring and thrive on the status quo. Some of the smart firms in this industry are using gamification to reach the vast, yet barely penetrated, middle market across the United States.

For years insurance companies have struggled to reach this lucrative market. It turns out that the same thinking that goes into designing exciting video games is helping them sell distinctly unexciting insurance policies.

One of the best treatises on gamification comes from two professors at the Wharton School of Business. They've published a new book called For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter challenge business leaders to think like video game designers when they're confronted with the challenges of running an organization.

At the end of the day, people associated with your organization - whether employees or customers - should be having fun, according to the authors. Such an atmosphere leads to more innovation, creative thinking, and heightened efficiency across an enterprise - even in the insurance industry. The two authors recently sat down with their campus publication, Knowledge@Wharton, to discuss some of the finer points of bringing gamification into the workplace.

"We've gotten really good in business at squeezing out operational efficiencies, and we have all this technology," says Werbach. "The baseline has been raised to the point where just doing those things - just being efficient - isn't a differentiator. What's a differentiator? It's human beings; it's engagement and enthusiasm. Games, we found, are the key to understanding some of the techniques to motivating people in powerful and differentiating ways."

We all know what a game is and we probably have a short list of our all-time favorites. But just how many people know what gamification involves? According to the two authors, it's about taking what we understand about games and putting it to good use. Video game designers, the masters of a $70 billion global industry, are experts at knowing which elements go into the most popular and enduring games. The reasoning goes that a smart insurance company can learn what makes potential customers motivated and use those elements in much the same way that a video game designer does.

If you have teenage children, you know that the video games they become obsessed with are all very similar. Designers of those games have perfected their formulas for each and every element that goes into a blockbuster. What insurance companies are doing is figuring out the winning formula for game-like challenges that encourage potential customers to become engaged. Doing so has tremendous benefits for the largely untapped middle market.

What appeals to me is that gamification is an efficient first step to a greater understanding of customers in the insurance industry. You can use light-hearted, fun techniques to take consumers through various scenarios and judge where and how to engage with them as a next step. Better still is that the next step will be significant to the consumer. You've gotten to know her preferences and won't be perceived as wasting her time when asking for preliminary information. Thanks to gamification techniques, you'll already know it.

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