Many companies use IT to understand their customers. Progressive uses IT to learn more about people it wishes were its customers.\nMore than 1.4 million drivers in the past two years have tried Progressive's Snapshot program, which tracks driving habits to determine whether individuals should get insurance premium discounts and if so, how much.\nSnapshot allows Progressive customers to plug a small electronic device into their car's on-board diagnostic port to report on three driving habits: hard braking, total mileage and the time of day the car is driven.\nLast year, Progressive launched a related product, Snapshot Test Drive, that allows drivers with insurance from competitors to use the technology for free for 30 days, to see what they would pay if they switched to Progressive.\nSnapshot, says CIO Ray Voelker, has "given us access to segments of the auto insurance markets that we normally did not attract." The innovative project also earned Progressive a 2013 CIO 100 Award.\nThe idea for Snapshot came from the IT group, where some staff members had previously worked in commercial trucking, using telematics to manage fleets. The devices can provide data on individual drivers, which could be a big advantage in an industry that relies on demographic data to set rates.\nBut early versions of Snapshot were cumbersome, Voelker says. Customers needed technicians to install the data-collection devices in cars. Also, cell networks at the time were optimized to carry voice, not data, which made transmitting information difficult.\nAs technologies advanced, however, the cost of the devices came down and they got simpler to use. Cell networks started to carry data more efficiently. "Customers gravitated to this very quickly," Voelker says.\nNiranjan Manohar, an analyst at Frost and Sullivan, calls Snapshot a hit, crediting its plug-and-play nature for part of its success. Plus, customers can access their own Snapshot data with a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets.\nProspective customers using the trial version not only learn how much money they might save with Progressive, but they also receive tips for being a better driver. Progressive, meanwhile, gets current insights into who is a good or bad risk even before doing business with the person. Such up-front segmentation leads to higher-value policies overall, Ray says.\nProgressive already had most of the infrastructure needed to support Snapshot, which it patented last year, but it had to build systems to help in collecting data and analyzing it to project customer savings. Snapshot uses a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that allows its user-experience systems to retrieve and store information from the usage-based insurance and billing systems. The SOA also lets IT reuse components.\nProgressive developers worked with an advertising agency to design the interface and customer experience, emphasizing engagement. For example, customers can share aspects of their Snapshot experience on social networks.\nFollow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.