The Digital Transformation of the Insurance Industry

Andrew Palmer, SVP & Chief Information Officer, U.S. Region, Liberty Mutual Insurance
Andrew Palmer, SVP & Chief Information Officer, U.S. Region, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Andrew Palmer, SVP & Chief Information Officer, U.S. Region, Liberty Mutual Insurance

1. What are the current market trends you see shaping the Digital Transformation space?

I tend to focus more on technology trends and domains, than specific technologies. Like many CIOs, I’m following several of the top-line trends including:

1. Rapid adoption of customer self-service digital channels, specifically mobile usage

2. Explosion of the data available to hyper-personalize our customer experience and innovate on new products

3. Artificial Intelligence will have a big impact on our business in several areas:

• Machine Learning to develop more sophisticated products for our customers

• Chatbots to help improve call deflections and customer experience

• Smart Automation to further drive out costs from our back-office operations

4. Cloud adoption – we’ve been talking about the promise of the cloud for many years now, and we’re excited to see that promise realized. Like many of my peers, I’m excited by the opportunity to have our applications run in an environment that is more resilient, has on-demand access to massive amounts of computing power and storage, and of course, the elastic, usage-based model that should drive lower costs. All that said, I need to be pragmatic about our journey, and be sure that we truly realize all these benefits.

2. Digital transformation is much more than “corporate speak”, and we should not discount its legitimacy. Yes, “digital transformation” has been overused and diluted by executives and consultants to represent all aspects of digitalization in every facet of a business. But, when you study it, without bias or agendas, an important trend in business modernization is taking shape. Your views on this trend.

At Liberty Mutual, we’ve been on a digital transformation journey for the last several years, and have been focused on unlocking four key capabilities:

1. Being closer to the customer, as well as focusing on customer and business outcomes. We are shaping and co-creating solutions with our business partners with an eye towards the customer journey, so our customers can receive the best possible experienceevery step of the way.

2. Delivering capabilities in hours rather than years. Leveraging Lean development principles to release software faster with Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and a test-and-learn mindset.

3. Building more usable/simple software that promotes business agility and cost-effectiveness.

4. Be a tech talent magnet by creating an inclusive environment based on a growth mindset, the opportunity to work in the latest technologies and solve problems that have a meaningful impact people’s lives.

3. Please elaborate on the challenges that the organizations will need to address related to Digital Transformation space.

Digital Transformations take time. They cut right through an IT operation’s processes, technology and people. The keys to a successful transformation include:

1. Strong Business/IT Partnership. I make sure that all 1,500 engineers in my organization take accountability for building high-trust partnerships. And with the introduction of the product owner role at Liberty Mutual, many of whom sit within the business, we have tighter alignment on the prioritization of product development and the backlog, the platform evolution, etc.

2. Clear focus on the customer and business outcomes. Every deliverable our technology teams produce must ladder up to creating business value. It’s IT’s responsibility to market the value of technology back to the business, even if it’s a long-term bet in emerging and advanced technologies.

3. Agile-friendly IT environment / architecture.A flexible architecture that accommodates changes in business strategy. A set of platforms, applications and systems that supports the rapid development of new products and services. Aligning your digital transformation with the capabilities of your architecture is critical to success. If you don’t have a modern technology stack with loosely coupled services with bounded context, it’s very hard for individual squads to be nimble and move at the speed of business.

4. Effective Change Managementexecution. Be pragmatics; there is not a one-size-fits-all formula for success. Having a realistic plan that tailors the transformation to the unique needs of each department is key.

5. Talent, Talent, Talent. A successful transformation requires investing in talent. That can be a mix of upskilling the organization, seeking external talent and empowering change agents, where needed. Empowerment is key. Give people responsibility (and accountability), and great things will happen.

4. What are the major tasks for organizational CIOs at this point in time? Is there any unmet need in terms of Digital Transformation space that is yet to be leveraged from the vendors?

The No. 1 job of a modern CIO is to bring the business and technology organizations together. Long gone are the days of CIOs operating as IT service providers. CIOs must act as technology evangelist, helping companies think digital-first from the bottom all the way up to the board room-level.

5. For the better part of 10 years, digital transformation was, unsurprisingly, about “digital” and how and where CIOs and IT leaders were investing in next-generation technologies. Cloud, mobile, social, apps, IoT, et al., represented significant updates and upgrades to technological infrastructures aimed at scaling and improving operations and performance. But CIOs weren’t the only drivers. CMOs recognized the rapid adoption of the same technologies among customers and how they were dramatically reshaping behaviors, preferences and outcomes..What can organizations do to stay abreast of these changes?

No industry is immune to the disruption being created by born digital companies. The fundamentalshift in how people work, live and play is radically changing the insurance industry. From the assets people own, to changing consumer behaviors, few industries face more change than the insurance industry. We’re seeing this change across a few dimensions: 

  • Consumer expectations are no longer set by our industry, but rather by their experiences with brands like Amazon, Spotify and Apple.
  • Shifting purchasing and servicing behaviors, from traditional sales through agents to direct digital.
  • Rise of the sharing economymay mean our customers will both own less and share more assets over time, evolving how we view risk.
  • New products and capabilities unlocked by advanced technology (e.g. Autonomous Vehicles).

While some insurers may view these as threats to their core business, we view them each as opportunities. Our mantra is,“change before we have to.” To keep ahead of the competition, we are executing on a multi-pronged strategy:

  1. Rethinking the role of technology at the executive levels. To compete in this new world, we recognize that IT can’t be a function, rather it must be embedded in every aspect of our business. To do this, we must have a technology-fluent leadership team. We are committed to a learning journey starting with an intensive technology training program for our top 400 leaders covering topics from basic software engineering, security, cloud, data, artificial intelligence and contact center technologies. This will help the business partner more effectively to make investment decisions.
  2. Innovation Labs.In 2015, Liberty Mutual started an in-house incubator, Solaria Labs, to help foster new ideas, solve unmet consumer needs, and create a more experimental culture across Liberty Mutual. The labs explore trend areas like vehicle autonomy, the sharing economy, and connected living to surface opportunities for increasing people’s day-to-day safety, protection and convenience. 
  3. Heavy investments in modernization. Business and IT must partner closely to better understand the “debt” created over the years. We need to understand the technical side, but also, the business complexity that we’ve introduced over the years that may not be delivering value inexcess of costs.
  4. Rethinking our talent needs. Reskilling and upskilling talent in new technologies and hiring external expertise were needed. 

6. What is your advice for budding technologists in the Digital Transformation space? How do you see the evolution few years from now with regards to disruptions and transformations within Digital Transformation space?

Be a business leader first, technologist second. No matter how technical you are, always focus on the business outcomes as a starting point. Seek opportunities to learn how your company makes money, the strategy and market. Be the “ambidextrous technology leader” that can operate at the intersection of technology and business outcomes. Demonstrate extreme ownership for being a steward of the applications that power the business for today, while also being the visionary to build the technology capabilities required to win tomorrow.

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