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).


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!



Life Insurance Automated Underwriting – A 25 Year Journey

Automated underwriting has come a long way in the last 25 years. It may be surprising that there was automated underwriting 25 years ago. At that time, it was called ‘expert’ underwriting. The idea was right, but the timing was wrong. The underwriting engines were black box algorithms; there was no user interface; data was fed from a file to the system; programming was required to write rules; and specialized hardware was necessary to run the systems. Not surprisingly, this attempt at automating underwriting was dead on arrival.

The next major iteration occurred about ten years later. Automated underwriting systems included a user interface; rules were exposed (some programming was still required to change the rules); data interfaces were introduced to collect evidence from labs and the medical inquiry board; underwriting decisions could be overridden by the human underwriter; and workflow was provided. Some insurers chose to take a chance on this new technology, but it was not widely adopted. There were two strikes against it: cost and trust. The systems were expensive to purchase, and the time and costs involved in integrating and tailoring the systems to a specific company’s underwriting practice could not be outweighed by the benefits. The lack of benefits was partially because the underwriters did not trust the results. Many times this caused double work for the underwriters. The underwriters reviewed the automated underwriting results and then evaluated the case using manual procedures to ensure the automated risk class matched the manual results.

Moving ahead fifteen years to today, changes in the underwriting environment place greater demands on staff and management. Staff members are working from home, and contractors are floating in and out of the landscape, all while reinsurers are knocking on the insurer’s door. There are now state-of-the-art new business and underwriting (NBUW) systems that address the challenges associated with the new demands. The solutions do not just assess the risk but provide workflow, audit, and analytics capabilities that aid in the management process. Rules can be added and modified by the business users; evidence is provided as data so that the rules engine can evaluate the results and provide the exceptions for human review. Subjective manual random audits of hundreds of cases evolve into objective, data-driven perspectives from thousands of cases. Analytics provide insights on specific conditions and impairments over the spectrum of underwritten cases to provide a portfolio view of risk management. Underwriting inconsistencies become easy to find and specific training can be provided to improve quality.

.In our report, Underwriting Investments that Pay Off, Karen Monks and I found that the differences between insurers who are minimally automated and those that are moderately to highly automated are substantial.  For minimally automated insurers, the not in good order (NIGO) rates are four times higher, the cycle times are 30% longer, and the case manager to underwriter ratio is almost double compared to the metrics for the moderately to highly automated insurers. This outcome may not reflect your specific circumstances, but it is worth preparing a business case to understand the benefits. With the advances in the systems and the advantages provided for new business acquistion, there are few justifications for any company not to seek greater automation in their underwriting.  

To learn more about the adoption of current NBUW systems and the functionality offered in them, please read our new report, What’s Hot and What’s Not, Deal and Functionality Trends and Projections in the Life NBUW Market or join our webinar on this topic on Thursday, September 29.  You can sign up here.



The privacy bomb and cost of personal data debt

I often hear architects talk about technical debt but it strikes me that a different debt is waiting for insurers.

Imagine a world where the regulator says that a customer owns data about the customer, regardless of where it is stored. The key observation here is the decoupling of ownership and control with storage. Most regulators have gone nearly this far and made statements about consumer ownership of consumer data, so perhaps it's not out of step with reality. This is discussion so far but perhaps the technology hasn't caught up with the intent. If we ignore the limits of technology …

There are perhaps 3 models emerging:

  • A. The data remains where it is and is controlled from there. Requires APIs…
  • B. The data moves as customer moves. Requires data standards…
  • C. Customer data is held in a shared environment. Requires APIs and data standards

Let's take a moment to really think that through for an insurer. If you hold data about a customer in your systems, that data is owned by another party. Ownership here is a complex word – it implies but is not limited to controlling access to the data, determining appropriate use of the data, revoking access to the data, determining how long that data is kept.

Scenario A
What if the storers are obliged to provide these controls to the owner of the data and actually – what if that obligation exists regardless of whether that owner is a customer?

Such a scenario may make it prohibitive for insurers to capture and store data directly. What would the world look like in such a scenario? Insurers would request access to customers data and have to disclose why they want the data, what they will do with it and perhaps the algorithms used  in order to offer products. Such a world might favour insurers with simpler pricing algorithms that are more expensive but customers understand what is being done with the data.

If we take it a step further, in theory there would be intermediaries emerge who help manage consumer data and help consumers simply share their data with trusted partners. I would suggest most people would not dig into the detail of who is sharing what so a service that says, "we've found these 15 services that only use the data in these ways and we've packaged that up for you" would be most welcome.

If however, we take existing businesses into this world then suddenly enterprises will be faced with the issue of how do they offer appropriate controls and management around the data already in place.

The standard already exists for sharing information in this way leveraging OAUTH as is used by Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and Facebook.

Scenario B
The cost for doing migration and conversion will lie with the party holding the data. A different type of debt.

This is the model the insurance industry is assuming will come to pass but it requires shared data standards which are harder to implement than API standards. There is also the issue of potentially lossy data migrations – I.e. The quality of the data is reduced in the migration – will this be 'OK' from a regulatory point of view?

Further this is more confusing for a consumer since the mechanism and means to manage access to the data will change each time there is a move. An approach intended to increase portability and movement could become an inhibitor as consumers grow concerned about retraining.

In theory though, this would allow insurers to differentiate on trust and service – a place where they already play.

Scenario C
The greatest challenge with a shared environment is who is the trusted party? Google, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn among others have made moves into authentication but they don't hold all the data and regulators in multiple countries are seeking to grasp control and this is a topic for Insurtech startups as well.

Some see Blockchain as a possible solution – the data in a shared open place, but secured and encrypted.

At this point this seems like the least likely solution, requiring the greatest cooperation and investment from the industry and governments. Regulators at this point seem to be supporting the other two.

Which will come to pass
There is a clear trend with private data becoming more valuable, but the cost of storing it is becoming more onerous. Regardless of which of the scenarios comes to pass or if some other scheme emerges – insurers must balance the cost of storing the data and the value it may bring now and in the future.

Re-inventing underwriting: New ingredients for the secret sauce

Innovation is exploding across all aspects of underwriting and product management. New technologies are transforming an old art. But if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that carriers whose systems are not already capable of handling these changes will be alarmingly disadvantaged.  I've just published a new report looking at innovation in underwriting. 

Underwriting is at the core of the insurance industry. It is the secret sauce of the insurance industry. For hundreds of years, this process was accomplished through the individual judgement of highly experienced underwriters. Insights were captured in manuals of procedures and carefully taught to succeeding generations. 

Over the last few years, carriers have been heavily engaged in replacing core policy admin systems enabling a fundamental transformation of the underwriting process.  Gone are the days of green eye shades and rating on a napkin.  Gone are the days of identical products across the industry.  Gone are the days of standard rating algorithms used by all carriers. 

Carriers are using their newly gained technology capabilities to create dramatically different products, develop innovative processes driving efficiency, improve decisions, and transform the customer experience.  This transformation of underwriting is enabled by the ability to use business rules to drive automated workflow, but even more importantly this is a story about the fundamental transformation of insurance through the application of data.

This report looks at underwriting and product management and describes some of the newest innovations in each area with specific examples provided where publicly available.

What you’ll see is that almost every aspect of the underwriting and product management functions are being fundamentally transformed as carriers find new ways of utilizing and applying data. Carriers are using their newly gained technology capabilities to create dramatically different products, develop innovative processes driving efficiency, improve decisions, and transform the customer experience.

Key findings:

  • Carriers are using product innovation as a competitive differentiator and are experimenting with new types of insurance products that go well beyond basic indemnification in the event of loss.  Parametric products, behavior based products and products that embed services to prevent or mitigate a loss are becoming more common.
  • Predictive analytics are being used to better assess risk quality and assure price adequacy, as well as to control costs by assessing which types of inspections are warranted, or when to send a physical premium auditor, or when to purchase third party data.
  • Individual risk underwriting hasn’t gone away for commercial Ines, but the characteristics that are driving it are more quantified, requiring more data and more consistent data. 
  • The role of the product manager is changing dramatically to one of managing the rules rather than managing individual transactions.  This requires new skills and new tools. It also will drive changes in how regulators monitor carriers underwriting practices. 

We expect to continue to see innovative technologies being deployed in underwriting and product management over the next 3-5 years – especially in the following areas:

  • Carriers will continue to focus on product differentiation.  The Internet of Things will facilitate more behavior based products and more parametric products. Carriers will find new ways of embedding services within the product, or as part of the remediation after a claim. 
  • The role of the product manager will change dramatically focusing on deep understanding of rules.  Vendors will need to provide tools to better analyze the usage rates, the impact, and the stacking of rules. 
  • We’ll continue to see a massive eruption in the amount and types of data available.  Unstructured data such as in weather, car video, traffic cameras, telematics, weather data, or medical/health data from wearable devices will become even more available.  Carriers will invest in managing and analyzing both structured and unstructured data.  Implementation of reporting and analytic tools as well as supporting technologies – data models, ETL tools, and repositories – will continue to be major projects.
  • New technologies will create new exposures, drive new products, and generate new services.   From wearables, to advanced robotics, from artificial intelligence to gamification and big data, carriers will be applying physical technologies as well as virtual technologies to drive product development and risk assessment.

The available technologies to support property casualty insurance are exploding. Shifting channels, new data elements and tools that can help to improve decisions, provide better customer service or reduce the cost of handling are of great interest to carriers.  Investments are being made across all aspects of underwriting and product management. Staying on top of these trends is going to continue to be a challenge as new technologies continue to proliferate.  But if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that carriers whose systems are not already capable of handling these changes will be alarmingly disadvantaged.

For carriers who are already moving down this path, this report will shine a light on some of the creative ways carriers are transforming the process of underwriting.  For carriers who have not begun this journey, this report may be a wakeup call. The pace of change is increasing and carriers who continue to rely purely on individual underwriting judgment will find themselves at a disadvantage to those who are finding new sources of insights and applying them in a systematic manner to improve profitability. Wherever you sit, this rapid pace of change is exciting, empowering and galvanizing the insurance industry.

Who has the best life insurance new business and underwriting system?

Celent has published a new report, North American LHA New Business and Underwriting Systems: 2016 ABCD Vendor View, in which Celent profiles fourteen providers of new business and underwriting systems. Each vendor responded to a request for information. Seven vendors met the criteria for inclusion as a potential Xcelent winner. The seven vendors eligible for the awards provided a demonstration and briefing of their billing solution.

Due to the ongoing economic conditions that continue to have an adverse impact on life insurance application volumes, insurers have strong interest in reducing the cost of acquisition, processing and issuing life insurance applications. Automating the new business and underwriting functions are critical components in reaching a level of straight-through processing (STP) for new business. Insurers hope that these systems will help reduce unit costs and improve margins. Celent believes that these initiatives are necessary to help the insurers address growth, service, and distribution mandates, in addition to reducing the cost per policy issued.

After years of development that started almost 30 years ago, automated underwriting systems have become highly flexible in allowing insurers to define and configure underwriting rules and workflow. Most systems include or integrate into eApplications. Data from the applications drive reflexive questioning and identify risk classes associated with application data. They offer high levels of automation when gathering third party medical requirements and flag risks when the third party data results are outside of the ranges set by the rules. They also can deliver decisions to the point of data entry or to an underwriter.

New business image

The interest in new business and underwriting systems is on the upswing. Deciding the best new business and underwriting system is unique to each insurer. The goal of the report is to provide detailed information so that an insurer will be able to make an informed decision on which systems may be the best for them.

A golden day for insurance: Celent 2016 Model Insurer winners

In the historic Museum of American Finance, surrounded by golden exhibits including gold bars, a gold Monopoly game and even a gold toilet(!), the 2016 Celent Model Insurers were announced yesterday.  Part of our annual Innovation and Insight Day, we had over 150 insurance professionals in attendance (and over 300 in total), it was a great day for networking, idea sharing, learning about award winning initiatives and hearing inspiring speakers talk about the future of financial services. 

Yaron Ben-Zvi, CEO and co-founder of Haven Life, was the Model Insurer key note speaker. He discussed how Haven is using technology to reach a younger, digital-savvy customer with a life insurance experience that meets their expectations. He spoke about the journey from ideation to reality for their term insurance products which can be purchased online in only 20 minutes. He encouraged the audience to “think big but start small” and to apply the learnings along the way.

The Haven Life presentation was followed by the main event, the announcement of the 2016 Model Insurer winners. Every year, Celent recognizes the effective use of technology projects in five categories across multiple business functions.  We produced our annual Model Insurer Case Study report which clients may download here.  This year there were fifteen insurers recognized including Zurich Insurance, the Model Insurer of the Year.  Here are the winners: 

Model Insurer of the Year   

Zurich Insurance: Zurich developed Zurich Risk Panorama, an app that allows market-facing employees to navigate through Zurich’s large volumes of data, tools and capabilities in only a few clicks to offer customers a succinct overview of how to make their business more resilient. Zurich Risk Panorama provides dashboards that collate the knowledge, expertise and insights of Zurich experts via the data presented.

Data Mastery & Analytics

Asteron Life: Asteron Life created a new approach to underwriting audits called End-to-End Insights. It provides a portfolio level overview of risk management, creates the ability to identify trends, opportunities and pain points in real-time and identifies inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the underwriting process. 

Celina Insurance Group: Celina wanted to appoint agents in underdeveloped areas. To find areas with the highest potential for success, they created an analytics based agency prospecting tool. Using machine learning, multiple models were developed that scored over 4,000 zip codes to identify the best locations.

Farm Bureau Financial Services: FBFS decoupled its infrastructure by replacing point to point integration patterns with hub and spoke architecture. They utilized the ACORD Reference Architecture Data Model and developed near real time event-based messages.

Innovation and Emerging Technologies

Desjardins General Insurance Group: Ajusto, a smart phone mobile app for telematics auto insurance, was launched by Desjardins in March 2015. Driving is scored based on four criteria. The cumulative score can be converted into savings on the auto insurance premium at renewal.

John Hancock Financial Services: John Hancock developed the John Hancock Vitality solution. As part of the program, John Hancock Vitality members receive personalized health goals. The healthier their lifestyle, the more points they can accumulate to earn valuable rewards and discounts from leading retailers. Additionally, they can save as much as much as 15 percent off their annual premium.

Promutuel Assurance: Promutuel Insurance created a new change management strategy and built a global e-learning application, Campus, which uses a web-based approach that leverages self-service capabilities and gamificaton to make training easier, quicker, less costly and more convenient.

Digital and Omnichannel

Sagicor Life Inc.: Sagicor designed and developed Accelewriting® , an eApp integrated with a rules engine; which uses analytic tools and databases to provide a final underwriting decision within one to two minutes on average for simplified issue products.

Gore Mutual Insurance Company: Gore created uBiz, the first complete ecommerce commercial insurance platform in Canada by leveraging a host of technology advancements to simplify the buying experience of small business customers.

Operational Excellence

Markerstudy Group: Markerstudy implemented the M-Powered IT Transformation Program which created an eco-system of best in class monitoring and infrastructure visualization tools to accelerate cross-functional collaboration and remove key-man dependencies.

Guarantee Insurance Company: In order to focus on their core competency of underwriting and managing a large book of workers compensation business, Guarantee Insurance outsourced its entire IT infrastructure.

Pacific Specialty Insurance Company: Complying with their vision is to become a virtual carrier, meaning all critical business applications will be housed in a cloud-based infrastructure, PSIC implemented their core systems in a cloud while upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth in bandwidth demands.

Legacy Transformation

GuideOne Insurance: GuideOne undertook a transformation project to reverse declines in its personal lines business. They launched new premier auto, standard auto, and non-standard auto products, as well as home, renter and umbrella products on a new policy administration system and a new agent portal.

Westchester, a Chubb Company: Chubb Solutions Fast Track™, a robust and flexible solution covering core business functionality, was built to support Chubb’s microbusiness unit’s core mission of establishing a “Producer First,” low-touch mindset through speed, accessibility, value, ease-of-use and relationships.

Teachers Life: Teachers Life has achieved a seamless, end-to-end online process for application, underwriting, policy issue and delivery for a variety of life products. Policyholders with a healthy lifestyle and basic financial needs can get coverage fast, in the privacy of their own homes, and pay premiums online in as little as 15 minutes.

The quality of the submissions this year is a clear indication the industry is turning a corner and embracing transformation, digital initiatives, innovation and valuing data analytics.  It is inspiring to see the positive results the insurers have achieved and a pleasure to recognize them as Model Insurers for their best practices in insurance technology.

How about your company? As you read this, are you thinking of an initiative in your company that should be recognized? We are always looking for good examples of the use of technology in insurance. Stay tuned for more information regarding 2017 Model Insurer nominations.  


Making property/casualty underwriting investments that pay off

Underwriting is at the core of the insurance industry. The processes of selecting and pricing risk and the additional operational processes necessary to deliver a policy and provide ongoing services are essential to the overall profitability of a carrier. Over the last few years, carriers have been heavily engaged in replacing core policy admin systems and increasing the automation of their underwriting processes.

Automation of underwriting processes carries the promise of improved results, but can come at a significant cost — both the hard costs (purchasing technology, implementing technology, and changing processes) and the soft costs. Change can be hard on both underwriting staff inside a carrier and on the agents who receive the output of the underwriting process.

So when does it make sense to invest in automation — or, put another way, are there pieces of the underwriting process that when automated are more likely to result in improved results? We thought it would be interesting to investigate these questions to provide guidance to carriers that are trying to prioritize their efforts.

Our goal was to understand the actual state of underwriting automation in the insurance industry. Are carriers living up to the hype in the media that implies that virtually every carrier out there has automated every step of the process? Or is the progress slower? Are carriers with older systems at a disadvantage against those who have replaced their systems with modern solutions? Do high levels of automation actually result in better financial results?

The process of underwriting was broken into 26 logical components of work. For each component, three levels were defined — ranging from little automation used to significant levels of automation. Carriers can use this report as a self-diagnostic tool by comparing their scores to the benchmarks that follow in this report. To understand what top carriers are doing in this area, Celent conducted a survey around this topic looking to answer these key research questions.

  1. What are the different components of underwriting that can be automated?
  2. Where are carriers utilizing automation in underwriting?
  3. Are high levels of automation in underwriting correlated with improved metrics?

Our key findings were:

  • Average levels of automation vary dramatically by line of business, even within the same company.
  • Personal lines carriers are more likely to be applying high level of automation in the front end processes related to automated quote, issue, and renewals — including automated communications with policyholders.
  • Commercial lines carriers tend to apply higher levels of automation for the back end including workflow, product management, rating, and reporting/analytics.
  • Workers compensation and specialty carriers tend to have slightly lower levels of automation in all aspects of underwriting but can achieve significantly better results when applying automation to processes related to analytics and service.
  • Carriers with newer systems are using high levels of automation in more of the processes. Those who have had their systems for over 15 years have had a lot of time to customize their solutions and have slightly more highly automated processes than those whose systems are between 10 and 15 years old.
  • Personal lines carriers are the most likely to benefit from high levels of automation, especially automation related to process efficiency and underwriting insights.
  • Commercial and specialty carriers benefited most from high levels of automation in processes related to underwriting insights. Generally, the best combined ratios were found in those carriers with a medium level of automation — processes that were supported by technology, but had some level of human intervention as well.
  • Workers comp carriers are most likely to benefit from high levels of automation in processes related to driving underwriting insights.

Here’s a link to the report.  You can download it if you’re a customer. If you’re not a client, ping me and we can chat.

You’ve got email, but not from your life insurance company

When was the last time you received email communications from your life insurance company? For most of us, the answer is never. Contrast that with the last time you received email communication from your bank, your financial advisor or your favorite retailer. Life insurance is so far behind that it is not even in the e-delivery race. E-delivery allows the customer to elect to receive documents such as contracts, letters, account statements, and billing notices via email rather than paper mail. Generally, a notification is sent that a document has been posted to a secure website, or, in the case of general notifications, mailed directly to the policy owner’s email address. Areas of opportunity for e-delivery in insurance span all processes, from field administration to customer acquisition to claims. The benefits of using e-delivery are typically derived from reducing scanning, mailing, and printing, lessening process complexity, and increasing automation and systems integration. These drivers lower costs, reduce cycle times, and increase customer and agent satisfaction. I recently published a report titled, You’ve Got Mail Two Decades Later, Why Are We Still Talking About E-Delivery Rather Than Doing It, where I interviewed 17 life insurers about their current and future e-delivery plans. Although e-delivery can bring multiple benefits to life insurers, it has been poorly adopted. In fact, only 25% of the surveyed insurance companies are using e-delivery. Areas of focus within the report include: • Progress of e-delivery. • Targeted documents for e-delivery. • Benefits and challenges associated with e-delivery. There are a number of challenges life insurers face when it comes to e-delivery, including legacy systems, policy holder adoption, and agent engagement. However, other industries have found a way to overcome these challenges. It’s time for life insurers to set aside the excuses and find a solution. Life insurers have been left in the e-delivery dust and need to run with haste to catch-up.

An invite to London and nothing to wear

There are lots of cues and clues to differing cultures across the insurance industry and it’s IT neighbour – one of the most obvious is dress code or at least communal agreement on how one should dress. For a chap in London it should be relatively easy, as the character Harry Hart put it in the film Kingsman, “The suit is the modern gentleman’s armour.” However, recent changes and external influences in London have left me in something of a wardrobe quandary. For example – the data scientist community and the digital community. I went to the first Strata event in London in my usual suit and tie and swiftly realised that I looked like I a fish very much out of water. Here jeans, t-shirts and the odd tattoo were the order of the day. My most recent visit to the conference I managed to correct my attire although didn’t acquire new tattoos just for the conference (perhaps next year). Oliver Werneyer’s observation at our event in February this year that one needs a good beard to fit in with the start up crowd is also well founded. Also in London we have Lloyd’s of London with a strict dress code and a requirement for a tie to be worn at all times. More Kingsman territory, clearly one can’t dress for both communities on the same day. In between we have an increasingly relaxed view of the suit attire or even simply trousers and shirt. Despite having a pretty good collection of ties these are now largely optional (although I still generally carry one around as wearing them varies by client and frankly I quite like wearing a tie to a meeting). What I don’t have of course is a pocket square – something I rarely have seen adopted before this year (perhaps I wasn’t paying attention) but I’m increasingly seeing a square used to add a splash of colour in the absence of a tie. Thus, we have the title of this post – I have nothing to wear! Fortunately, London is unlikely to see the weather required for hawaiian shirts and shorts to become the order of the day (albeit I may have something that might fit that bill should it come to pass). Circling back to culture though, the need to blend these clearly different and shifting cultures together in one organisation is crucial in a modern insurer. Aviva has gone to the extent of creating a digital garage in Shoreditch – the heart of the jeans wearing community, if I may use such a broad brush – to draw in talent to the organisation. Hiscox too has been going to great pains to attract the right talent, along with many other insurers in London seeking to bridge these cultures. Are you allowing for a varied culture in your organisation? How flexible are you in dress code and working practices across different communities? Have you ever set to preparing for a meeting and realised you simply have nothing to wear? Would love to hear your stories on changing insurance, if only so I know it’s not just me.  

Three things to consider when choosing your vendor partner

Choosing a vendor can make your head spin. There are so many things to consider. I know I have been tempted to create a dartboard and throw a dart to make the final decision. After hearing multiple presentations, most with similar pitches, the result can be “vendor soup.” So how do you decide? There are three things that I consider when making a decision that have nothing to do with the system itself. It is important to keep in mind that each insurer is unique, and there is no single answer that is right for all. The goal is to find a partner who is a good match for you.
  1. Delivery Approach
Aligning on how the deliverables will be carried out is critical. Project success depends on having everyone on the same page. Some questions to consider are:
  • What is the project methodology?
  • What is the development methodology?
  • Do you want the vendor on-site during the entire project?
  • How involved do you want the vendor to be with requirements and user testing?
  • How involved do you want to be with construction and unit testing?
  • Will the delivery schedule match your in-house schedule – not too short or too long?
  • How often does the vendor provide fixes?
  • How will the vendor work with your current vendors and/or outsourcers?
  • What is the vendor’s experience providing system deliverables along with the existing business priority deliverables?
  1. Culture
Projects that appear headed for success can take a nose dive because of a mismatch between insurer’s expectations and what is possible based on the vendor’s culture. Culture cannot be changed in the short term so it is essential to ensure a good match. Questions to ask:
  • What is the experience in the domain?
  • Are you more comfortable with a mid-size or large vendor?
  • Will the project team be dedicated to your project?
  • What is the profile of the staff who will be assigned to the project team? How deep is the bench?
  • What percentage is on-shore vs off-shore?
  • Will the project require 24×7 support to meet deadlines?
  • Who will be the main contact? How many domain experts are available?
  • What is the turn-over rate for developers, project managers, business analysts and business architects and is there a good mix of each of the skill sets?
  • What is the organizational structure?
  • What is the governance structure? How are issues escalated and resolved?
  • Are the vendor’s values and behaviours a match for your company?
  1. Industry Experience
Everyone enjoys a good marketing story. However, to run a successful project, it is a necessary to understand the vendor’s actual experience. The following questions will provide a good assessment:
  • How long has the vendor been selling systems? How many similar sales has the vendor made?
  • Does the vendor have the capacity to run multipe projects simultaneously? Can the vendor provide successful references?
  • Does the vendor use system integrators?
  • Do the estimated time frames match the actual time frames for the implemented projects?
  • Do the projects expected benefits match the actual benefits?
  • Is there an active user group?
  • What is the vendor’s financial strength?
  • Will the vendor provide thought leadership and best practices from actual experiences?
  • Is there a five year roadmap? Is the roadmap innovative or does it reflect the addition of common features or functions?
There are no guarantees that the decision will be the right one. However, having a set of vendor specific questions and expectations will assist in highlighting the best choice for your company. One of the keys to program success is to choose the vendor understanding that delivery approach, culture, and industry experience are as critical as the features and functions of the system.