Two Fruits: “Miracle Apples” and “Business Renovation Project”

Two Fruits: “Miracle Apples” and “Business Renovation Project”
This week, Celent is pleased to feature an article from guest contributor, Hiroshi Yokotsuka, Managing Director, Member of the Board and CIO of the Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Ltd.

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Hiroshi Yokotsuka

Hiroshi Yokotsuka

Today, I’d like to share with you a story that happened in Japan called “Miracle Apples” and Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire’s project called “Business Renovation Project.” Adam and Eve, the discovery of gravity, William Tell, and the iPod. have brought various challenges, discoveries, emotions, and pleasures to human beings. Another miracle was created by apple trees and an old man at the north end of Japan. Today’s apples are different from the one Newton saw. With generations of breeding improvement and sophisticated anti-pest methods, apple trees can bear big, sweet fruits. High-end apples in Japan are twice as big as the ones you see in the hotel lobby. But apples became very vulnerable. They can’t live a year without a substantial amount of agrichemicals, fertilizers, and careful weeding. There was a strong belief that it was impossible to grow apple trees without agrichemicals and other artificial materials until Mr. Kimura challenged it. Mr, Kimura, age 60, began his attempt of pesticide-free apple production 20 years ago. Kimura-san knew it wouldn’t be easy. But the hardship was far beyond his imagination. Eliminating thousands of worms by hand and disinfecting with vinegar or Wasabi water did not work, and apple leaves were devoured by insects. Kimura-san tried everything he could think of, but despite six years of effort, apple trees were weakened and dying even without flowering, and needless to say bearing not a single apple. Out of ideas and exhausted physically, mentally, and economically, he finally decided to conclude his unsuccessful life by killing himself. He walked deep into the mountains to find his final place. What he saw there were vital forests full of life. Trees spread their leaves and roots vividly, without any help from humans. Apples are made by apple trees, not by human beings. Kimura-san spent six years realizing that obvious truth. A human being cannot live alone; neither can an apple tree. Trees in a forest live with harmful insects and beneficial insects (and these are the human definitions of them), weed and fungus, worms, frogs, snakes, and animals in harmony. Completely forgetting what he had come to the place for, he rushed back and began to reconstruct his field to make apple trees comfortable. In that field, various plants sprouted and various insects, reptiles, and animals lived with the trees. The field became a very comfortable place for both apple trees and humans. The apples grown there are incredibly flavorful and nutritious. It became very hard to get the apples. A restaurant that serves apple soup using those apples is booked for a year in advance. Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire sells insurance 100% through its agencies. But it was just recently that TMNF realized the obvious fact that it is agencies who face customers and sell insurance products. Before that, agencies were compelled to sell the complicated insurance products designed for company’s sake, following the cumbersome processes designed by the company, not agency-friendly computer systems. The “Business Renovation Project,” started in 2004, focuses on how to make agencies feel comfortable through the business process. We cut insurance products and special clauses by half, refined and simplified the business process thoroughly, and rebuilt the computer systems, from the agencies’ point of view, from scratch. Now, a harmony of renewed insurance products, business processes, computer systems, support from TMNF’s employees, and above all agencies’ autonomous efforts create a very comfortable business environment. That, no doubt, results in comfortable experiences for their customers. In this way, TMNF’s “Business Renovation Project” bears fruit as delicious as Kimura-san’s Apples. About the author, Hiroshi Yokotsuka: [Read more…]

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To view the English version of this article, click here.
Hiroshi Yokotsuka

Hiroshi Yokotsuka

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2つの果実:「奇跡のリンゴ」と「抜本改革」

2つの果実:「奇跡のリンゴ」と「抜本改革」

今回は、東京海上日動火災保険株式会社の常務取締役でCIOの横塚裕志氏より、セレントのブログに寄稿いただきました。
 
To view the English version of this article, click here. 
 
Hiroshi Yokotsuka

Hiroshi Yokotsuka

 
 本日は、日本で「奇跡のリンゴ」と呼ばれる物語と、東京海上日動の「抜本改革」の話をしたい。
 
 
 
 
 

 アダムとイブ、万有引力、ウイリアム・テル、iPodなど、これまでリンゴは人類にさまざまな試練、発見、感動、楽しみをもたらしてきた。今また一つ、日本の北のはずれのほうで、リンゴの木と一人の老人が新たな奇跡を起こした。

 今日のリンゴは、ニュートンが見たそれとは全く別物である。数世代にわたる品種改良と優れた病害、害虫対策により、立派で、甘く、大きな実をつけるようになった。特に日本で作られている高級なリンゴは、皆さんが欧米のホテルのロビーで見かけるものの倍近い大きさがある。

 その代償として、現在のリンゴは大量の農薬、肥料、丁寧な除草なしでは、1年も経たないうちに枯れてしまうほど脆弱なものになってしまった。リンゴを無農薬で育てるのは不可能であるというのが農家の常識であった。少なくとも木村氏が挑戦するまでは。

 木村氏は現在60歳。20年前にリンゴの無農薬栽培という、当時の常識からは無謀とも言える試みを開始した。

 その困難は、木村氏の想像を遙かに超えていた。手作業で害虫を取り除き、消毒薬の代わりに酢やワサビの溶液を撒いたが、葉は害虫に食い荒らされた。

 6年間、考えられることを全て試してきたが、リンゴの木は実を結ぶどころか花を咲かせることもなく、衰弱し、枯れていった。

 万策尽き、精神的にも経済的にも消耗しつくし、ついに自殺を決意して山中深く分け入った木村氏が見たものは、農薬も肥料も与えないのに力強く育っている木々の姿だった。

 リンゴを作っているのは人間ではなくリンゴの木である。人間の都合ではなく、リンゴの木が本当に気持ちよく実を作れる環境が必要だ。この当たり前のことに気づくのに6年かかった。人間が一人では生きていけないように、植物もそれだけでは生きていけない。森の木々は、害虫も益虫も(これは人間の定義である)、雑草も雑菌も(これも人間の定義である)、ヘビも蛙もミミズも一緒になって、絶妙のバランスを保って生きている。

 木村氏は自分が何をしにここに来たかもすっかり忘れて畑に走って帰り、それからはどうしたらリンゴが気持ちよく果実を作ってくれるか、それだけを考えて畑を作り替えた。その畑は様々な草が生え、多くの虫やヘビやカエルや動物が棲む、雑然とした、しかしリンゴの木にとっても人間にとっても大変心地よい環境になった。そこで創られるリンゴは言葉では言い表せないほど滋味に溢れ、現在では入手が非常に困難である。そのリンゴを使った料理を出すレストランは、1年先まで予約が埋まっている。

 

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東京海上日動は、その保険のほぼ100%を代理店が売っている。しかし、お客様と接し、保険を売っているのは代理店であるというごく当たり前のことに気がついたのは、つい最近のことである。それまでは代理店は、会社の都合で作られた複雑な保険商品を、会社が考えた煩雑なプロセスで、社員の目線で作られた使いにくいシステムを操作しながらお客様に販売していた。

 

2004年にスタートした「抜本改革」は、代理店がいかに気持ちよく仕事ができるかを徹底的に追求したプロジェクトである。会社の都合で複雑化した保険商品・特約を半分にそぎ落とし、プロセスを根本から見直し、代理店の目線でシステムを全面的に作り直した。

 

現在では、商品、業務プロセス、システム、社員のサポート、そして代理店自身の自律的努力が絶妙に調和し、代理店にとって心地のよいビジネス環境が生まれつつある。それは、言うまでもなくお客様にとっても心地よいカスタマー・エクスペリエンスを提供する原動力になっている。

 

東京海上日動の「抜本改革」もまた、木村氏のリンゴに優るとも劣らない果実を実らせつつある。

Playing it Safe vs. Creative Thinking

Playing it Safe vs. Creative Thinking
I recently saw an interesting article that seems quite appropriate for the times we live in. This article was based on a report published recently by Robert Half International, a staffing service. Condensed versions and commentary on this report have been available via a number of search engines in recent weeks. These days we are bombarded with stories of gloom and doom. Stock market prices are dropping, wealth is eroding, jobs are becoming scarce, unemployment is rising, and the future seems more complicated than it has ever been. We are inclined in times of uncertainty to turn inwards, start playing safe, protecting what is there in the hope that time will heal all and that things will go back to the good old days. The article (in abbreviated form) advocates exactly the opposite when it comes to business practices. “Playing it safe” is put forward as being one of the top three mistakes managers make in times like this. As the article suggests, “being boring” is not a strategy for survival because losing your competitive edge is a likely result. This does not suggest that risks should not be considered, but rather that innovation and creativity are still ways to gain ground. The second main mistake is to discount or discourage innovative thinking at all levels in an organization. Innovative thinking, the article suggests, is more likely to help an organization survive; many ideas can be put into the pool to not only assist the organization but also encourage a sense of joint survival among all employees. Rewarding such behavioral thinking is an added encouragement. This concept can only thrive in an environment where managers actively encourage this and do not feel threatened. Managers should therefore actively participate in this process. Here in China, we are not unaffected by the issues that have been making page one news all over the world. We have seen many businesses close and unemployment levels rise. We too have recently seen a large injection of government capital into the economy to both boost and revitalize industries. Creative thinking and behavior at management levels to avoid the sometimes obvious mistakes could be another path on the way to revival and survival.

The Long and Short of Your IT Portfolio

The Long and Short of Your IT Portfolio

A lot of interesting ideas emerged during Celent’s CIO Roundtable and Model Carrier Summit last week. (See Mike Fitzgerald’s excellent synopses of both events here.) One of my favorites came from a CIO panelist, who framed his rationale for IT project investments in terms of their intended payback periods.

“You’ve got to have some long projects in your portfolio, or eventually you’re going to find yourself hopelessly out of contention for the affection of your customers and agents and brokers,” he said. “But you need some short ones too—things that have a six or nine month payback period, where you can make some progress that will show up on your bottom line in a hurry.”

In the context of the current financial crisis and the microscope that many insurers live under, this idea has never been more important. If you made the 9-month payback your sole project approval criteria, what would you be left with? Cleaning up commission reports, making subtle tweaks to your portal, and maybe improving minor flow issues on your customer service UI. All good ideas, but hardly enough to get you on the radar of independent agents/brokers, especially. And certainly not an effective long-term lever if your goal is to double back office productivity.

On the other hand, should you be betting the farm on $100 million, 5-year policy administration replacement projects? In the words of an old boss of mine, “We could all be dead in five years!” I think his point was that anything beyond the 12 month mark is suspect because, well, stuff happens. Not “might happen,” but “happens.” It just does.

In the perfect world, you can cycle the gains from your “short” investments back toward your “long” portfolio. Those nine-month projects should be delivering savings just in time for your next budgeting cycle.

But we expect that scenario to get harder this year, for two reasons. First, CFOs are getting wise to the game. When you send them a business case with a payback starting in month six, many now expect to actually capture those benefits from month seven forward. Unlike the good old days, just because you save the company some money, don’t expect that it will become your division’s slush fund.

The second reason is that most companies are committed to an SOA vision, where reusability is key. This means that the field of play for short projects is shrinking, or at least morphing toward longer projects. One-off solutions—no matter how smart they sound or how much money they save—are on the path to rarity, if not extinction. Of course there are still savings to be found as SOA infrastructure is developed. But those savings are probably the cornerstone of your larger projects and shouldn’t be double counted.

When Hog Meets Car

When Hog Meets Car

Three cheers for my auto insurer, which gets unexpectedly high grades for a claim experience. (And no, for you conspiracy theorists, they are not currently a Celent client.) I recently had the misfortune of introducing the front end of my 3000-pound car to a 200-pound wild hog. At highway speed, it wasn’t good for either of them. But my car is insured, at least. While I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone, some good news about our industry crept into the story. Witness:

  • A pleasant FNOL. I literally called my insurer as I was driving home from the hospital, and 10 minutes later the claim was in process. The reps on the phone were empathetic, helpful, and knowledgeable. Coverages, deductibles, and repair options were all sorted out promptly. Grade: A-
  • Quick action on the fix. Even though my car was towed to a non-company lot, my insurer arranged to have it brought to their local repair facility, free of charge. Of course it was worth it to them to have better control over the repair, but it was also easy for me. Grade: A
  • Updates every three days for the duration. How did they know I would have called them several times to make sure my car would be returned to me promptly? Experience probably told them, and they swapped out my inbound calls for some proactive outbound calls that they controlled. Smart. Grade: A+
  • Good execution. The car was ready when they said it would be. It had two minor issues, so I’ll ding them for quality control. But the claim center reps jumped to resolve the issues quickly, which prevented a blight on an otherwise great experience. Grade: B+

From an analyst’s perspective, I think this is a triumph of technology, process, and customer psychology. Like many consumers, I’m suspicious what will happen to my premiums at renewal. But for now, I’m telling my friends and family that my insurer knows why I pay them.

Wishes for 2009 From a European Insurance CIO

Wishes for 2009 From a European Insurance CIO
Celent has the chance to be continuously in the heart of insurers’ preoccupations. Knowing how difficult it is to make optimal decisions in order to thrive–especially in today’s environment–keeps us informed about the hurdles to overcome. Today we are proud to share with you the wishes of a European insurance CIO, Guy Malherbe from Les Retraites Populaires. Thank you Guy for your contribution.
In 2008, life insurers were deeply impacted by the financial crisis, especially within their wealth management divisions. Nevertheless, some insurers were very successful in generating new premiums thanks to their financial stability and low exposure to risks (e.g., sub-prime, hedge funds, etc.). That was one of the paradoxes of this crisis. Collateral effects for these “lucky losers” have been moderate, even for the IT divisions. But Operational Expense and Capital Expense IT budgets for 2009 have been reduced due to the bad economic climate, which I believe will last at least one more year. So, technology executives in insurance will have to face the dilemma of “doing more with less.” As I am one of these, my goals for 2009 are:
  • Ensuring business continuity. IT services are part of the core business of life insurance. They have to be reliable and powerful to support day to day business, even in the worst cases like this economical crisis.
  • Focusing on short-term customer needs but maintaining a long-term perspective. Customers are anxious about their investments and need to be reassured. They are looking for stability and low-risk financial products. Life insurance could be the right answer if we invest in building trust-based and lasting relationships with our customers that help to restore confidence in financial products.
  • Keeping faith in the future and welcoming the “Internet generation” by implementing innovative life e-insurance services and advice. The Internet generation is getting older and will soon be interested in life insurance products. Insurers must be prepared to fulfil their needs by offering new ways of managing “virtual” relationships with this promising segment of “e-customers.”
I am sure that 2009 will be a challenging year for life insurance CIOs, but it will also bring with it a lot of great business opportunities.