Lost in Innovation?

Lost in Innovation?

So, how do you avoid getting lost in innovation? The simple (and maybe glib) answer might be to buy a map, a compass and start to plan your route. However, what do you do when there is no map, no obvious path to take and no-one to follow?

The last 24 months have seen an incredible amount of activity across the sector in experimenting with novel proposition concepts fuelled by emerging technologies in the internet of things, distributed ledgers and bot-driven artificial intelligence. Although each new concept shows promise, we are yet to experience a clear and obvious pattern for winning new clients or delivering a superior shareholder return using them. Many of the most exciting novel ideas (and many are genuinely exciting) are yet to see any real business volume behind them (see my earlier blog for additional context of what insurtech has to offer in defining the ‘dominant design’ for new tech-enabled propositions).

So, as an insurer faced with having to balance how much it should invest in these new concepts versus furthering the existing business in what is probably a highly successful and scalable model, two of the big questions we often hear from clients are: “Which of these nascent concepts are most likely to deliver real business value the fastest?” and “How much effort should I be devoting to exploring them today?” These are the questions that we looked to address at our latest event in London that we called ‘Lost in Innovation’, attended by just over 70 inquiring insurance decision makers.

Faced with uncertainty, we followed an agenda that focused on the things that an insurer can control, such as the innovation-led partnerships they enter, the skills they develop internally, the criteria used for measuring value, and the potential challenges ahead that they need to plan for.

Celent analyst Craig Beattie presenting on emerged software development approaches

Alongside presenting some of our latest research on the topic, we were joined on-stage by:

  • Matt Poll from NEOS (the UK’s first connected home proposition in partnership with Hiscox) shared his experience on the criteria for a successful partnership.
     
  • Jennyfer Yeung-Williams from Munich Re and Polly James from Berwin, Leighton, Paisner Law shared their experience and views on some of the challenges in the way of further adoption, including the attitude of the regulator and potential legal challenges presented by using personal data in propositions.
     
  • Dan Feihn, Group CTO from Markerstudy, presented his view of the future and how they are creating just enough space internally to experiment with some radical concepts – demonstrating that you don’t always need big budget project to try out some novel applications of new technologies.

So, what was the conclusion from the day? How do you avoid getting lost in innovation? Simply speaking, when concepts are so new that the direction of travel is unclear, a more explorative approach is required – testing each new path, collecting data and then regrouping to create the tools needed to unveil new paths further ahead until the goal is reached. Scaling concepts too early in their development (and before they are ready) may be akin to buying a 4×4 to plough through the scrub ‘on a hunch’ only to find quicksand on the other side.

Some tips shared to help feel out the way:

  • Partnerships will remain a strong feature of most insurer’s innovation activity over the next 12-24 months. Most struggle to create the space to try out new concepts. Also, realistically, many neither have the skills or the time to experiment (given that their existing capabilities are optimised for the existing business). Consequently, partnerships create a way to experiment without “upsetting the applecart”.
     
  • Hiring staff from outside of the industry can be a great way to change the culture internally and bring-in fresh new ideas…however, unless there is an environment in place to keep them enthused, there remains a risk of them turning ‘blue’ and adopting the existing culture instead of helping to change it.
     
  • There are several ways to measure value created by an initiative. The traditional approach is a classic ‘Return on Investment’ (RoI). However, RoI can be hard to calculate when uncertainty is high. To encourage experimentation, other approaches may be better suited, such as rapid low-cost releases to test concepts and gather data to feel the way. Framing these in terms of an ‘affordable loss’ may be another way to approach it – i.e. “What’s the maximum amount that I’m willing to spend to test this out?” – accepting that there may not be an RoI for the initial step. Although no responsible insurer should be ‘betting the house’ on wacky new concepts, reframing the question and containing exposure can sometimes be all that’s required to create the licence to explore.
     
  • There’s still an imbalance between the promise of technology and the reality of just how far end-customers and insurers are willing to go in pursuit of value. The geeks (or ‘path finders’) have rushed in first – but will the majority follows? Regardless, to avoid getting lost in the ‘shiny new stuff’, a focus on customer value, fairness and transparency around how data is being used need to be at the heart of each proposition – plus, recognising that the regulator will not be far behind.
     

In summary, the journey ahead needs to be less about the ‘what’ (with all of its bells, whistles and shiny parts) and more about the ‘how’ (deep in the culture of the firm and its willingness to experiment – even in small ways) – at least while the map to future value is being still being drawn.

Celent continues to research all of these topics, including assessing the different technologies and techniques that insurers can use. Feel free to get in touch to discuss how Celent could assist your organisation further.

Celent clients will be able to access the presentations from the event via their Celent Account Manager.

The ABCD of Emerging Technology

The ABCD of Emerging Technology

Alphabet Blocks A to D

Celent has mapped over 45 emerging technologies in P&C and a similar number in Life & Health. That's way too much for an insurer to handle and the pace of technological change outpaces the industry's capacity to absorb it. You could say though that there is a set of 4 emerging technologies with the most potential to profoundly affect insurance; the ABCD of emerging technology:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Blockchain
  • Cloud
  • Data (big and small)

The four altogether become a strong enabler for Digital. Digital interactions, digital products, digital claims, everything digital. Digital becoming important to meet the expectations of customers that want insurance to be simple, right now, as I want it, when I want it, and relevant to me. On the other hand, many consumers are still not being attracted by insurance; creating a protection gap. Digital comes as a possible response to close this gap, and in the process has the ability to profoundly change insurance as we know it. Actually, we may not call it insurance anymore. It may just be something that comes as a warranty of the product or service. Have I gone mad?

Imagine cars with assisted driving. There is an accident involving the autopilot function and the manufacturer claims no responsibility. Who is going to buy this car after that incident? No surprise then to see some car manufacturers, vested in automated driving, indicate that they will assume liability. Of course they will, and in the process what they are doing is to offer their customers a guarantee that the product will perform as indicated in the user manual. By being able to monitor the car status they are also able to prevent accidents or breakdown. So in the future will you get car insurance or a manufacturer warranty?

You can imagine any other product that can be monitored, for example as part of the IoT. All these products will generate data, and that data will enable their manufacturers to provide a service; in many cases that service will be a preventive one. See the trend here?

Today many digital initiatives in insurance still rely on the use of a call center. That's not digital because it implies human to human interaction. Each interaction needs of a human in the call center, so each interaction adds cost as there is no way you can make the human person be digital. The use of chatbots or robo-advisors enabled by artificial intelligence and natural language capabilities allow digital interactions, where each interaction can be taken simultaneously by a robot with no, or marginal, cost to do it. By robot don't think about a physical robot but software instead. Just as the one used by Lemonade to settle claims fast.

Artificial intelligence with machine learning capabilities also allows us to mess with a huge amount of data; discovering new patterns. The more information ingested to these machines the better answers you get. The more is used, the more it learns, the smarter it gets. Even most importantly, this technology today is very good at taking repetitive and predictable processes and doing it faster, better and cheaper than humans. You are smart, you don't need me to explain how this is relevant to insurance, do you?

Technology as the one described here is available on demand and in the cloud. Need more computing power? being in the cloud can solve that problem very easily. Pay as you go? cloud deployments make this technology available at a per use price. Basically cloud makes technology accessible to anyone.

Blockchain is the glue that can hold it all together. Digital and physical assets (that can be digitized) can be stored in the blockchain. The IoT could be linked to blockchain. Then, any rules applicable to digital transactions can rely on smart contracts. Finally by providing trust and provenance through a decentralized body blockchain becomes the basis to catapult digital in any scale, even when peers don't know each other.

Are you mastering the ABCD of emerging technology? Not yet? Don't be left behind; insurers around the world have already started. Want to find more about how insurers can take advantage of emerging technology and innovation? Contact me or any person at Celent. We will be happy to dive into this with you.

Conversation systems and insurance — one experience

Conversation systems and insurance — one experience

To start with full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Amazon Echo. We have them throughout the house, and have automated our home so Alexa can control most light switches, ceiling fans and more. We play music through them, ask for the weather, schedule appointments, and more.

All my kids are believers from our 5 year-olds on up. It’s fun to hear one of my five year-olds ask Alexa to play the song YMCA and then burst into full song, including the dance. My one personal recommendation. If you have an Echo and children, turn off voice purchases. I found out the hard way.

So I thought I would check out how Alexa does with insurance. My plan is to try all the skills and leverage them into a report. I may even have to purchase one of Google’s new Google Home devices just to compare them in this use case.

So I spent considerable time this morning trying to get an auto quote. Let’s just say the outcome was that I gave up. I won’t name the insurer, as I am sure that their Alexa skill works well in other areas such as information sharing and likely works for others to get a quote, but it sure did not for me. I do want to give credit to the insurer, as they are out on the bleeding edge doing these quotes.

First it asked me my birth year. It heard 1916. That’s not when I was born, but that’s what it heard. I tried to correct it, using the instructions it had provided, but no dice. I gave up and started over, only to be born in 1916 again. This time it was so stuck I had to unplug the Echo. I was surprised, as Alexa’s voice recognition amazes me.

I’m old, but I’m not 101 years old.

I finally made it through on the third try with very careful enunciation. Made it through my wife’s birth year and the fact we’re both married (apparently being married to each other wasn’t important).

Got to the question on what body style. I tried convertible, since, well, it is a convertible. That wasn’t an option. Since the app had prompted 2 door car as an example, I tried it. Um, no. That’s not supported. That seemed odd, but I tried car. Apparently car is OK.

Made it through miles driven a year.

Go to age of the car. My car is a little older, but no antique. However, apparently 12 years old is fatal, as the app crashed with “Sorry I am having trouble accessing your skill right now”.

OK, odd, but wireless sometimes blips, so no problem. Started over for the fourth time.

Worked my way through all the questions, enunciating very, very carefully and got to age of my car.

Yep. Crashed again.

At that point, I gave up and decided to write a blog instead.

Or I could have played a game of Jeopardy with Alexa.

When plumbers sell insurance

When plumbers sell insurance

Digital and digitization in insurance are terms that have been increasingly used in the insurance industry over the past decade and not only by insurers but also by consultants, IT vendors and research firms. I have already provided my high level definition of digital and digitization in this blog.

While attending RGI's Next event, where an innovation for the connected home was presented, I reflected on the visibility of the relationship between the insurer and the end-consumer. Many innovation and digital gurus claim that with digitization insurance will become invisible. At the first sight, it sounds like an interesting idea and of course it would be logical to believe that if there is less or no human intervention then it would be difficult for a consumer to get a physical representation of an insurance product and the company behind it. However, I don’t like the idea of insurers becoming invisible. Insurance is a difficult product to understand for average consumers because it is not something they can touch and feel. In addition, risk is a concept that is highly conceptual especially for young people. Many consumers, who buy insurance for the first time, do so because it is compulsory and in general they don’t try to analyse the details of the product, which is nothing more than a list of benefits, terms and conditions that are painful to read and difficult to understand. I think digitization represents a great opportunity insurers have to seize to better productize insurance products. Making insurance invisible does not properly address the consumers’ needs and expectations I think. In our open world where information is so easily accessible and transferrable and where transparency is important, insurers need to make insurance more palpable and digitization is a great opportunity to democratize the knowledge of insurance and risk among the public. Let’s take the example of home insurance. What if home insurance is sold on top of a box (an Apple TV style one) that controls various sensors that monitor home parameters including thermostats, smoke detector, video surveillance and water usage? The insured would be able to regularly check these sensors via a smartphone app and be informed quickly about abnormal events. With this box, the insurer would add home insurance at a preferred price (maybe included with the box warranty). The connected home model is an interesting example demonstrating that digital transformation can contribute to making insurance products more palpable and risk easier to understand and to monitor from a customer point of view. So when will we see plumbers and electricians sell home insurance!

It’s Not Just Twitter’s Problem: What Insurers Need to Know about DDoS and the Snake in the IoT Garden of Eden

It’s Not Just Twitter’s Problem: What Insurers Need to Know about DDoS and the Snake in the IoT Garden of Eden

On Friday October 21 a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) made over 1,000 websites unreachable, including, Twitter, Netflix and PayPal. Two cloud providers, Amazon Web Services and Heroku reportedly also experienced periods of unavailability.

The attack was directed against a key part of the internet’s infrastructure, a domain name system provider, Dynamic Network Services aka Dyn. When a person enters a web address into a browser, such as google.com, the browser in turn needs an IP address (a string of numbers and periods) to actually connect with that web address. Domain name system providers are a critical source of IP addresses.

On Friday Dyn was the target of perhaps the largest ever DDoS, when its site was overcome by tens of million of requests for IP addresses. Because Dyn could not provide the correct IP addresses for Twitter and the other affected sites, those sites became unreachable for much of the day.

It also appears that the DDoS was mounted using a widely available malware program called Mirai. Mirai searches the web for IoT connected devices (such as digital video recorders and IP cameras) whose admin systems which can be captured using simple default user names and passwords, such as ADMIN and 12345. Mirai can then mobilize those devices into a botnet which executes a directed DDoS attack.

There are a number of potentially serious implications for insurers:

  • An insurer with a Connected Home or Connected Business IoT initiative that provides discounts for web-connected security systems, moisture detectors, smart locks, etc. may be subsidizing the purchase of devices which could be enlisted in a botnet attack on a variety of targets. This could expose both the policyholder and the insurer providing the discounts to a variety of potential losses.
  • If the same type of safety and security devices are disabled by malware, homeowners and property insurers may have increased and unanticipated losses.
  • As insurers continue to migrate their front-end and back-office systems to the cloud, the availability of those systems to customers, producers, and internal staff may drop below acceptable levels for certain periods of time.

The Internet of Things will change insurance and society in many positive ways. But the means used to mount the October 21 attack highlights vulnerabilities that insurers must recognize as they build their IoT plans and initiatives.

The Evolving Role of Architects

The Evolving Role of Architects

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had the great opportunity to spend time with IT architects of various sorts both inside and outside of the insurance industry. The discussions have been illuminating and offer different visions and futures both for technology that supports insurers and for the future of the architecture function in insurers.

One of the main events that allowed for this conversation was a round table held in London with architects from insurers. The main topics were the relevance of microservices style architectures to insurance, the role of the architects in AI and InsurTech and the future role of architects at insurers. Another event that offered an interesting contrast was the inaugural London Software Architecture Conference which I'll call SACon below (Twitter feed).

Microservices

I won't fully define microservices here but briefly it’s an approach to delivering software where each service is built as it’s own application which can be scaled independently from other services.

Microservices as a way of delivering software was the default approach at the SACon. There were sessions where architects sharing stories about why sometimes you had to work with a monolith or even making the case for not having the services in discrete applications. Meanwhile at the round table the monolith was the default still with the case being made for microservices in some parts of the architecture.

There are use cases where microservices make a great deal of sense, particularly in already distributed systems where a great deal of data is being streamed between applications. Here the infrastructure of microservices and the libraries supporting the reactive manifesto such as Hysterix and Rx* (e.g. RxJava) and indeed one insurer related their use of microservices to support IoT. Others discussed using this style of approach and the tooling surrounding these architectures to launch new products and increase change throughput but in all cases these were far from replacing the core architecture.

For now microservices is not the default for insurer software but is certainly a tool in the box. An observation or two from SACon from those looking to adopt: First it doesn’t solve the question of how big a service or a component is, something architects need to discuss and refine and; Second, microservices needs a great deal of automation to make work, a topic covered in our DevOps report to be published shortly.

Architects and AI

I have a background with training and experience both in computer science, AI and machine learning. One thing that I noticed going to the analytics conferences where AI is discussed is the absence of IT representation – plenty of actuaries, MI/BI folks, marketing folks – was this a place for architects?

Most insurers present at the round table had activity within the organisation for AI. For the most part only data architects are involved in this discussion – AI being distinct from business and applications architecture for now. It’s my opinion that AI components will form part of the wider applications architecture in the future, with AI components being as common place as programmed ones.

Architects and InsurTech

Here is an area where architects can more immediately contribute in a meaningful way both in reviewing opportunities and unique capabilities from InsurTech firms and in discussing integration where acquisition rather than investment is the goal.

The challenge here of course is the age old challenge for architects – to have a seat in the discussion the architect function needs to demonstrate the value it can bring and it’s internal expertise.

Finally, one amusing discussion I had was with a few architects from startups. As I discussed legacy systems they also related seeing legacy systems in their organisations – albeit the legacy systems were 2 or 4 years old rather than 20 or 40 years old. The intriguing thing here was the reasons for them becoming legacy were the same as insurers – availability of skills, supportability and responsiveness to changing demands. It may hearten architects at insurers that start ups aren’t immune to legacy issues!

 

 

Where is the innovation in Individual life and annuity?

Where is the innovation in Individual life and annuity?

I had the pleasure of attending an amazing event last week in Las Vegas. The InsureTech Connect event drew over 1,500 people, from insurers to vendor to investors. Given the unprecedented size of an inaugural event, I was very impressed with how well the event worked. The sessions were good, but for me, the opportunity to have individual meetings with key industry players was even better. Our own Oliver Wyman was the primary sponsor of the event.

As I cover individual and group products, plus health and have an experience in P&C, I personally got a lot out of the event. I did have one major observation which I think speaks of the individual life and annuity industry. While I did not do a scientific study, I would estimate that over 50% of the content was focused on P&C insurance. This is not particularly surprising as they have all the cool technology like drones. My estimate was that the group insurers and health insurers were about 45% of the content, with an emphasis on topics like wellness programs and direct to consumer exchanges.

If you did the math, this only leaves 5% of the content for individual life and annuity products and that may very well have been a stretch. There was one session on eliminating the health data gathering for underwriting, which was well done and well attended, but past that, not so much.

Some insurers are diversifying, into Group or Wealth management, but I would not characterize that as innovation.

So what is holding us back as an industry? There are many things, from risk aversion, to length of the application to the sheer amount of data required for underwriting. I could write pages and pages on the topic, which explains why the next blog post you read from me is likely going to discuss the report I am finishing on this exact topic.

The potential for disruption in the space is huge and the coveted Millennial buyer is looking for just such innovation. Let’s make it happen.

The Rise and Rise of Analytics in Insurance

The Rise and Rise of Analytics in Insurance

As noted in our prior research insurance has always been an industry that relies on advanced analytics and has always sought to predict the future (as it pertains to risk) based on the past. (For research on advanced analytics in insurers see here, here and here).

As observed in the last post here analytics, AI and automation has been a key focus of InsurTech firms but do not assume that the investment is limited to newbies and start-ups. I have for a few years now been attending and following the Strata+Hadoop conferences and others focused on advanced analytics and the broad range of tools and opportunities coming out of the big data organisations. This last week I attended a conference focused on the insurance industry and was surprised to see the two worlds have finally, genuinely overlapped – just take a look at the sponsors.

As Nicolas Michellod and I have noted in the past, insurers have already been investing in these technologies but only those that have made the effort to speak “insurance”. What the conversations at Insurance Analytics Europe (twitter feed) demonstrated was a new focus on core data science tools and capabilities. This continued the theme from DIA Barcelona (twitter) earlier in the year.

The event followed InsTech London’s meeting (Twitter) looking at data innovation and it’s opportunities for Lloyd’s, the London market and the TOM initiative. Here the focus was on InsurTech firms that would partner on analytics, would sell data or would enable non-data scientists to benefit from advances in machine learning, predictive analytics and other advanced analytics disciplines.

While this trend of democratising advanced analytics was discussed by analytics heads and CDO’s at the analytics conference the focus was much more on communicating value, surfacing existing capability and tools within the organisation and to put it bluntly, getting better at managing data.

In short – AI, Analytics, Machine Learning, Automation – these were all hot topics at InsurTech Connect and similar events but for the insurers out there – don’t assume these are purely the domain of InsurTech. Insurers are increasingly investing in these capabilities which in turn is attracting firms with a great deal to offer our industry. For those big data firms that ruled out insurance as a target market a couple of years ago – look again, the appetite is here.

As a techy and AI guy of old I am deeply enthused by this focus and excited to see what new offerings come out of the incumbent insurers and not just InsurTech.

Do have a look at the aware machine report and the blog too. We’re increasing our coverage in this area so if you have a solution focused on this space please reach out to Nicolas, Mike or myself so we can include you and for the insurers look out for a report shortly.

 

How the IoT caused the Internet of Upside Down

How the IoT caused the Internet of Upside Down
The architecture around the Internet of Things and the constraints it poses has fascinated me for a long time. The good news for insurers is integrating the Internet of Things into insurance processes has some fairly common patterns now as described in my recent report [http://celent.com/reports/emerging-architecture-internet-things]. For those with responsibility for the infrastructure of the Internet however, it is providing some interesting headaches. 
 
Upside down?
Why do I say upside down? In the early days of the Internet it was a collection of machines each with broadly the same importance connected together. As information services moved onto the Internet, followed by commerce and retail sites, banks and insurers and then streaming companies the Internet shifted more towards many machines seeking to consume from a (relatively) few machines. 
To support this demand architectures evolved to n-tier structures where data storage areas sat behind application servers, which sat behind web servers and then, not that long ago, caching servers and content delivery networks. 
The Internet has become a pyramid with a consumers machines at the bottom, hooked up to broadband geared towards downloading content quickly and increasingly powerful infrastructures delivering that content to be consumed. 
 
And then homes became data rich farms…
Suddenly homes are the sources of data everyone wants! Key information possibly of use to insurers even, now sits on devices at the bottom of the pyramid. In practice the Internet is shifting more towards the structure it had originally, but the infrastructure supporting todays services is not well suited to this new paradigm – or perhaps one that has re-emerged. 
 
In practice, most of this activity has moved from a pyramid to a less structured cloud already but software of the Internet is still catching up. 
 
So as you're looking at InsurTech firms or attending InsTech groups spare a thought for those poor architects and operations staff of the Internet and the headaches you're causing. 

The Great Pokemon Experiment

The Great Pokemon Experiment

Nintendo's latest mobile phone (and mobile) game just keeps smashing records – it's already the biggest mobile game in the US and is looking set to become a worldwide phenomenon.

It's not relevant to insurance though is it? Well it is sort of introducing new risks with players being mugged and wandering into dangerous places including Downing Street in London apparently.

What's more interesting to me though is the mix of gamification, rewards for movement and the way it is making people meet up in novel locations.

Two opportunities sprang to mind for the industry:

  • What's most interesting to me is that if we were to measure health app's impacts by how far they get people to walk Pokemon Go could be the biggest health app of 2016, despite only launching in July. I'm curious how the Vitality and similar propositions rewarding customers for healthy behaviour will respond to the sudden uptick in activity. 
  • From an advertising point of view and ability to drive foot traffic to say, an agents office, Pokemon Go has huge potential – potential not missed on the developers as hidden code in the game already points to a hook up with McDonalds. For now though, if you have a Pokemon gym at your office location it might be a great time to do a little advertising or push that recruitment drive you've been thinking about.

As a technologist the photos springing up around the world of "Squirtle" being found in toilets (be careful where you point the camera) also goes to show how augmented reality has become mainstream as well, along with the threats AR and virtual reality could pose in at least distracted walking. I love that the digital and physical world are coming together and it's actually bringing families together too.

Whilst some will marvel at this latest craze, for those insurers with investments in the real world like agencies, offices, billboards – and for those that are agile enough – this surprise trend could serve as a great marketing route to catching all the customers, as well as all the Pokemon.