Country Opens Digital Lab at University of Illinois Research Park | WGLT

Country Opens Digital Lab at University of Illinois Research Park

Country Financial is turning to student researchers at the University of Illinois to help meet the increasingly tech-driven needs of its customers.

The Bloomington-based insurance and financial services company Friday opened a digital innovation lab in the Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The DigitaLab will allow around 12 students to develop digital projects such as mobile applications.

“We’ll be focusing initially on mobile application development, but once we mature there, it allows us to grow into other parts of our technology footprint,” said Brad Hildestad, Country's executive vice president and chief information officer.

Country's new DigitaLab is located in the University of Illinois Research Park.

The mobile apps will make it easier for customers to do business with the company, with options to make payments, check claim statuses and request roadside assistance, he said.

Hildestad said mobile apps are just the beginning of the DigitaLab’s work.

“We want to make sure we can deliver everything our customers want, whatever form it takes,” Hildestad said. “Today, much of the time it’s in the form of mobile applications and the ability to do business online, but we also want to be establishing capabilities that will position us for however our customers will want to interact with us in the future.”

He added, “You or I probably don’t know what that looks like today. We know (customers) are beginning to be interested in conversational (user interface), such as Amazon’s Alexa, so that’s a possibility. As much as technology changes, it’s hard to know how our consumers will want to do business with us, but the point in what we’re doing here is taking the steps to make sure we’ll be ready to interact with them.”

Hildestad said Country chose University of Illinois for the project because of its reputation, location and unique research offerings.

“It’s one of the top five computer science and engineering schools in both the graduate and the undergraduate programs annually, and it’s really close to where we’re located,” Hildestad said. “(UIUC) has many companies that have established a presence (in their Research Park). That allows us to be there not only to attract talent, but to be part of that learning community and innovative thinking.”

Other Illinois-based companies have corporate innovation centers in the U of I Research Park, including State Farm, Caterpillar and ADM.

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