Three Questions to Ask about Every Analytics Solution in Order to Get Actionable Insight

Jeff Goldberg

I recently joined Novarica as a Principal after a brief hiatus from the insurance industry during which I founded and eventually sold a SaaS data analysis and business intelligence company in the health & wellness space. For most of my career I’ve been thinking about how to best leverage insurance data, and after spending so much time deep in the weeds of designing and selling a data analysis solution, I have a new perspective on actionable analytics and BI.

The idea of “actionable data” has been a minor buzzword for at least a decade, surrounding all of the many advances and evolutions of data projects and services. We all know intuitively what it means: make sure that we can take action from our data. And we all know examples of projects that failed to heed this advice, where after much time and money spent on bringing different data sources together and building reports against it, nothing in the business changed as a result.

But how do you actually get actionable data and what kind of action do we mean? After having spent so much time at a company that provided online business intelligence reporting to clients, is it perhaps surprising that I often don’t like reports? Or, rather, I frequently feel a report is just a stepping stone to a better business process. Clearly there are users, typically at the strategic or executive level, who need to be looking at big pictures and trends. But for most operational users, poorly designed business intelligence acts as a dead end rather than a call to action.

Now whenever I see a report, often with excellent data and filled with tables and charts and graphs, I ask three questions about it:

  1. What is the key take-away from this data, and if it can be distilled down to one or two important facts then why is the whole report even needed?
  2. Can these one or two important facts be worded in the form of an action or a “to-do” list?
  3. Can I get these “to-do” items directly into the hands of the person who needs to do them, either via e-mail or some other process integration?

As an example, my data company had a very popular report showing a manufacturer’s product distribution across retail stores. It contained a lot of trend and sales information at a macro and micro level. For an industry with a lot of middle-men and where manufacturers often don’t know where their own products are being sold, this was a very important report. But when we asked the above three questions, we got the following answers:

  1. The key take-away is a list of the top five or ten stores where a manufacturer’s full product line is not being sold, ordered by how much potential business is being lost.
  2. The action is to call those stores and sell them on carrying the additional products.
  3. The best way to get these actions done it to split them up by region, and have a list of stores to call (with phone numbers and product information) sitting in each sales person’s inbox on Monday morning.

The head of sales and marketing wants to look at the big picture and be able to analyze the data, and for her the original report is still the correct source. But for most users, by answering those three questions, we’ve just taken a potential confusing dead end and turned it into a driver of their ongoing behavior. (And for a startup that relied on a monthly SaaS subscription, getting data integrated directly into a client’s operating process whether or not their employees ever logs into the website was a great way to become invaluable.)

Every report in your business should be put to the same three questions. For example, any time a data analysis solution helps an underwriter make a risk decision it’s the result of taking what was once large reports with multiple tables and lots of data, boiling that down to the key rating, and then putting that rating in front of the underwriter right within their toolset.

To be clear, I’m not anti-report. Sometimes insurers’ services aren’t integrated or modern enough to support this kind of distribution across tools and systems. But if you can answer those three questions about a report, even if the kind of automated distillation and distribution of the data won’t happen for a long time, then you can better train users on how and when to use that report to take the action that makes your business better.

London Market Insurer IT Budgets and Projects – New Novarica report

Catherine Stagg-Macey

This spring, we interviewed almost a dozen CIOs within the London market on their plans for 2014. Whilst much of the mainstream P&C market in the UK and US are absorbed in legacy modernization programs, the London market insurers are focused on data.

Developing or enhancing business intelligence capabilities is a priority program in almost all the insurers interviewed. The three largest brokers have all developed strong BI capabilities – AonGrip, Willplace, MarshConnect – and they use this information to negotiate rates with the insurers. The challenge is that the London market insurers do not have the right level of information to ensure this conversation is on a level playing field.

More about plans and projects for this sector of insurance can be found in the new published London Market insurer IT budgets and projects report, available now. This report presents the results of a survey conducted during May 2014 among 10 insurers and syndicates in the London market. These insurers placed either all their business or a significant portion of their business through Lloyds.

The full version of the report is available here.

Accelerating Pace of Change Requires New IT Planning Paradigms

Rob McIsaac

One of the realities of IT in any industry is that “truth” related to technology is a fleeting thing. The best system or technology to deploy can evolve with surprising speed, making it important for CIO’s and their organizations to determine with some precision what a roadmap toward a future state should look like. Increasingly, CIO’s and their team should carefully consider just how long they think they will be in that future state too. This has implications for both the technologies to be deployed and the financial mechanics used to pay for them. Missing either of these key points can create the IT equivalent of “The Hangover”. Unfortunately, aspirin alone won’t cure this one!

There are parallels in other parts of our personal and professional lives. As a frugal minded sort, my typical approach to cars was to buy them and drive them long after the warranty and that new-car smell were gone. While the shapes and sizes until recently changed like fashion statements, the essential technology remained pretty stable.  Parts evolving slowly over time and had surprisingly long useful lives. As a result, parts and skills remained in a pretty consistent supply. A few years ago I finished restoring a 30 year old BMW (ok, so being frugal has its limits) and the only limiting factors were time and money. Parts and skills could be bought, because essentially the same vehicle had been in production for nearly 15 years.

Try that trick with a new car. They are better in every way. Faster, quicker, safer, better fuel economy, less maintenance. The list is long. But the challenge is that the technology used is fleeting. A two or three year old vehicle may have technology embedded that looks nothing like what is in production now. When the parts run out, there may be no clear path forward. As a friend of mine said, “I don’t think I could afford the risk of owning a new one when the warranty runs out!”.  Relatively small parts failures could lead to catastrophic financial events.  Leasing starts to sound like a pretty decent idea; about the time problems begin to set in, give the keys back and start over again.  It is an appliance, not an investment.

That’s hardly unique to cars. Is anyone paying real money to fix an iPhone 4?  Of course not. They were the height of cool a few years ago and helped to change the world we live in. Now they are disposable.

Large flat screen TV’s are the same way.  When a circa 2008 model expired recently, it was cheaper to get a new one (that was far better) than it was to fix the old one.  Turn them and burn them when they’re done.

There’s a good chance my next car will be disposable too. I will lease it, use it for a specific period of time, then replace it on or around a known date. I won’t depreciate it, won’t fix it, won’t treasure it like a friend. I will consume it and move on.

The same should be true of future core systems at insurance carriers. The systems and their vendors will evolve quickly using the “best” available technology at a moment in time. Then they will move on. Rinse and repeat will be their model.

And while carriers have built, bought, modified and embraced systems from the 1960′s to the 2000′s (a surprising number of 40-50 year old systems run major workloads every night), that’s a model that has a foreseeable end. Anyone pining for that “state of the art 2009 platform” now?  Of course not; we would have had a challenging time describing some of the things that would be key drivers for business success five years later.  That will be even more true as we think about 2019 or 2024.

Rather than acquiring and depreciation systems for a protracted lifespan, implementing with an eye toward “replacing the replacement” appears to be a more viable and effective model. This impacts skill sets, depreciation schedules and even the future state IT discussions. It may no longer be a “buy versus build” dialogue. For the future it may be “buy versus rent”.

A variety of factors have now come together to make this a viable option. If email for large / complex / highly regulated companies can live in the cloud, a host of other things like policy administration, claims, distribution management and financials can too. Pun intended.

I never thought I’d lease a car either, but we’ve crossed a risk / return tipping point that makes that a pretty attractive option. Of course I will keep my ’84 Bimmer for fun and pleasure. Sure wish the A/C worked better, however …

 

“Permission Space” and Transformation Initiatives

Catherine Stagg-Macey

It was news to me but it turns that the world’s largest wi-fi installation is underground in London. Literally under my feet. Transport for London (TFL) has installed free wi-fi in all 137 stations on the London underground. No small feat given most of the infrastructure was built in the Victorian times.

In a recent presentation I saw by Matt Griffin, Head of Biz relationship and IT strategy at TFL, he made the point that this project was the first IT project that had a direct impact on customers. IT had been kept away from the end-customer. TFL is an engineering organization that prioritises anything engineering related over IT.

Triggered by requirements of the Olympics for station staff to better manage station access to a large number of tourists, TFL had to tackle the challenge of better intra-station communication for staff.

IT had little credibility in the business community at TFL. As Griffin put it, they had limited permission space. Clever contracting meant the burden of the financial outlay resided with the mobile network carrier. Even with this reality, TFL IT was reminded rather strongly that they would not get any money should they overrun.

The project went in on time and budget. Wi-fi capability provided much needed information to effectively manage the huge increase in passengers during the Olympics. Customer feedback to TFL was that underground journey’s were more pleasant than usual during the Olympics. That was certainly my experience too.

Learning from this experience, TFL is now working to leverage this digital capability to create extra capacity in the network without new rail or train investments. Needless to say, the business is rather charmed by this all and IT now has rather a lot of permission space to propose new investments that can support TFL.

This is a great story of permission space. As CIO, it’s important to get a good measure of the IT credibility in the business community. Large change initiatives should only be undertaken in the golden end of the permission space continuum. If you aren’t there, work on the small projects that will have visibility to the end-users and build up the reputation of a department that knows what it’s doing.

Click here for more on Novarica’s CIO Best Practices research.

Systems of Engagement, Core, and Analytics are Major Topics at IASA

Our team is just back from the annual IASA conference, which provided the opportunity to meet with dozens of CIOs and solution providers over a couple of days.

In general, insurers and vendors appear to have been investing heavily in technology over the last year or so, with carriers launching major initiatives in core systems and analytics and vendors improving their products both in core engineering and in UI.

In contrast to prior years where technology investments appeared to be focused primarily on cost reduction or mitigation of technology risk, there was one overwhelming theme in the private discussions and panels our team participated in: meeting rapidly changing customer demands.

While we continue to see very strong interest and activity levels in core systems among insurers of all sizes and sectors, there was a notable focus this year on systems of engagement as well. Agent portals, customer portals, responsive technology, and mobile were frequent topics of conversation among the carriers our team met with. Some insurers feel overwhelmed by the problem and lack the expertise to develop a strategic roadmap in an effective way, and there’s a high level of interest in vendor partners that can help them get there.

We found many of the same themes in discussions at the Research Council Meeting. Our report from that meeting is available online and is free to clients and council members.

Document Management and ECM – New Novarica Market Navigator Report

Tom Benton

Insurers are showing increasing interest in improving workflow and customer experience.  This often includes providing multiple communication channels, such as mobile texting, social media and video, along with traditional paper and e-mail.  The growing amount of unstructured data from these communications brings challenges for management, storage, workflow and distribution along with leveraging the data for analytics and reporting.

Insurers are finding that legacy document management systems are not able to meet demands for customer experience and workflow initiatives.  Many find that replacement is necessary, and that current document management / ECM (Enterprise Content Management) systems have capabilities that are difficult to add to legacy systems. Updating can also provide opportunities for improved process flow along with new deployment options such as SaaS or hosted ECM solutions.

Novarica has published an updated Market Navigator on Document Management and ECM Systems, available now.  This report presents an overview of the current solution provider marketplace to assist insurers in drawing up their shortlists of potential providers based on vendor market position and offering details.

 

Turning Insurance Outside-In

Matthew Josefowicz

Across the great formal presentations, panel discussions, and roundtables at our 7th Annual Council Meeting this week, one theme kept jumping out for me: the need for insurance to become more demand-led in market, operational, and technology strategies.

As an industry, we have a tendency to view the world from the inside out. We need to reverse that perspective and look at the our industry and our operations from the outside in. We need to start from market and operational needs as we plan product, service, and technology strategies, rather than starting from our own understanding of capacities.

Our keynote speaker, data and analytics expert Adam Braff, hit on this theme in his opening presentation on “Cooking with Big Data,” with the first of his 5 guidelines: “Figure out what people want to eat before you go shopping.” Too many analytics efforts start with gathering data rather than thinking about how insights might be operationalized to drive better business results. The supply of data and analytical capability is leading in too many cases, rather than the demand for insight.

My presentation on Trends in Information Technology and Insurance focused on how changes in the ability to access, communicate, and analyze information means that buyer and distributor expectations about speed, flexibility, and even value propositions, are diverging from insurers’ own understandings of the world. The supply of risk analysis and distribution is leading in too many cases, rather than the demand for coverage.

In our CIO panel, a common theme of the panelists from AFLAC, The Hartford, Great American, and New York Life Investment Management was re-orienting IT organizations to be more focused on the creation of business value. This involves educating IT staff about business needs and goals as well as educating business leaders about the implications of their requests. The supply (and cost) of technology is leading in too many cases, rather than the demand for capabilities.

This will be a massive shift for the insurance industry, but one that is necessary to undertake. Access to information, communications technology, and analytical capability is democratizing the ability to price and sell risk. Insurers (and insurer operational and IT executives) that focus on the demand for coverage and capabilities will be better positioned to meet that demand. Those that don’t may soon find themselves with much less demand for what they have to offer.

The 7th annual Novarica Insurance Technology Research Council Meeting was held in Providence RI on April 30-May 1, and was attended by more than 70 insurer CIOs and senior IT executives. A report based on the discussions at the meeting will be published shortly.

Other recent Novarica reports on this theme include:

 

Commercial/Specialty Underwriting Automation: Cui Bono?

Matthew Josefowicz

Good article recently in I&T on Commercial Insurers and Underwriting Automation., covering some recent studies by various industry analysts. Here’s a quote:

Complex risks are still much more hand underwriting and will be for the foreseeable future,” says Matt Josefowicz, managing director at Novarica. “It’s all about empowering those underwriters with more communications tools and more data. A lot of the tech investment for underwriting in the specialty and large commercial side involves bringing all the information needed to make decisions to the underwriter’s fingertips as quickly as possible.

Complex-risk underwriters present a challenge when implementing new technologies, Josefowicz explains. “The individual underwriting desks have a lot of political power,” he says. When dealing with high-value cases, these experts have a great deal of specialized knowledge and tend to call the shots for which technologies they want to use.

One of the main questions in automating commercial and specialty is in answering the question Cui Bono? – “to whose benefit?” As we discussed in our report on Centralized and Federated IT Models, it’s hard to drive IT strategy centrally when the political power in an organization is federated. Commercial and Specialty CIOs need to work closely with their business leaders to make sure they are addressing their key data and technology issues. If the P&L heads can’t be convinced of the local value of an IT initiative, appeals to a weak central power are rarely successful.

For more on business and technology trends in Specialty Lines, see our recent report.

New Brief: Wearable Technology and Insurance

Tom Benton

Over the last two years, fitness tracking bands, smartwatches and Google Glass have fueled the next wave of consumer electronics:  wearable technology. Financial services firms and insurers are already starting to find innovative ways to use wearables. In my new brief, Wearable Technology and Insurance , I outline three key capabilities and some examples of how these enable innovative applications for insurers and financial services firms. 

In some respects, “wearables” are not new – after all, the Dick Tracy comic strip introduced their iconic “wrist radio” just after World War II.  What is new is that smartphone adoption and more efficient smaller batteries are enabling new devices and applications.

I currently have two wearables on my wrist – a fitness tracking band (the Fitbit Flex that I have been wearing since June 2013) and a smartwatch (a Pebble – I was one of the 69,000 or so who backed the project on Kickstarter back in May 2012, but I started wearing it regularly earlier this year).  I am seeing more and more people wearing these devices and with the recent introduction of Android Wear, Google’s extension to the Android operating system for wearable devices, we can expect 2014 to be the “year of the wearable”.

As wearables gain adoption by consumers, innovative insurers will find ways to use them in engaging customers.  Others should consider how wearables will fit into mobile and customer communication strategies.  Wearables are on the way – how can you leverage them for customer interactions?  Read the brief and let me know your ideas.

New Report: Insurer IT Services Providers

Thuy Osman

Rob McIsaac and I recently published a Novarica Market Navigator report on Insurer IT Services Providers. The report gives an overview of some of the major IT services providers to North American insurers and contains a brief profile of each provider, including information about the company’s experience with different types of clients in different functional areas. Providers profiled in the report are: Accenture, Agile Technologies, Capgemini, CastleBay Consulting, CGI, Cognizant, CSC, Dell Services, Deloitte, Edgewater, EY, HCL, HP, HTC, IBM, iGATE Patni, Infosys, L&T Infotech, MajescoMastek, MphasiS, msg global solutions, NIIT Technologies, NTT Data, PwC, Return on Intelligence, Slalom Consulting, Syntel, TCS, ValueMomentum, Vertex, Virtusa, Wipro and Zensar.

With the market becoming more competitive, having a technology partner that can provide the right level of resources to support business initiatives is a crucial tool for CIOs. Novarica’s recent report Insurance IT Outsourcing Update (January 2014), based on a survey of 95 insurer CIOs, found that outsourcing is a part of nearly every insurer CIO’s toolset. 85% of respondents report at least some IT outsourcing. Instead of simply outsourcing for cost reduction, which was the trend in the past, insurers are now outsourcing to meet peaks in demand, get specialized skills and enable new capabilities.

This makes it even more important for CIOs to evaluate service providers not only on the number of resources available, but the type of skills and level of experience the provider has in a particular functional area. Careful evaluation will ensure that CIOs find the right partner to support the organization’s strategy for growth going forward.

Please note that this report is focused on North America, and presents only North American (US/Canada) resources and client experience numbers from these vendors, most of which are global. Each profile gives a summary of the provider’s capabilities and experience to help insurers sort through their many potential partner options, and Novarica’s team can help insurers assess potential partners in more detail through our retained advisory service.