Creative Disruption – The Votes Are In!

Creative Disruption – The Votes Are In!

In preparation for the Creative Disruption event in Boston on November 3rd, Celent surveyed insurers to gather their views on using creative disruption to bring sustained, fundamental change to their organizations. By creative disruption, we mean implementing the initiatives that are required to fundamentally alter how insurance products are developed, implemented, and serviced.

With over 90 insurer responses, the two areas with the highest potential value for disruption are customer service experience and product design. These processes will be explored in depth at the event, as insurance IT executives present how their organizations used tools such as modern policy administration systems and agile development to deliver materially different results to their business. For more information on the event, please visit http://celentinsurance.eventbrite.com/. If you cannot attend, you can follow the event on Twitter at #creativedisruption.

The Costs of Hiding From Vendors

The Costs of Hiding From Vendors

“Bob” is not the real name of the person in this story. But the rest of the story is true.

“Good afternoon, Bob [last name]’s office.”

“Hi, this is Craig Weber from Celent. Is Bob in?”

“Uh, yes, he is. May I ask who is calling?”

“Uh, Craig Weber?”

“Oh, right. And you’re with?”

“Celent. [pause] We’re an analyst firm, and you all are clients.”

“I’m sorry, how do you spell that?”

“Celent. C-E-L-E-N-T. Celent.”

“Right. And you say we are clients of yours?”

“Yes, Bob has engaged us for our subscription-based research service.”

“Bob did? Are you sure? Did he, like, sign the contract? I don’t remember seeing that.”

“Well, I don’t know offhand who signed the contract. But he sure brought us in. We’ve known Bob a long time. We’ve done a lot of work for him through the years.”

“OK, well what’s this call about?”

“I need to talk to Bob about a consulting project that he emailed me about.”

“OK, well, that’s fine. Sorry for all the questions. I just can’t put anyone through to Bob without making sure who they are.”

As vendors, we get this reception from executive assistants a lot, from insurer clients and non-clients alike. It seems that the vendor community must be hounding the heck out of insurance execs, so much so that there are virtual bouncers protecting email accounts and very inquisitive personal bouncers (EAs) guarding the phones.

It is understandable, for sure. Out of 100 vendor calls to an insurance exec, how many would prove to be immediately valuable if the connection were made? Two? Five? It’s a low number, even on the best of days. But the first problem is that it’s definitely not zero.

There are two other problems with this arrangement. First, it is a minor inconvenience for the people within related entities, like Celent and Bob’s company. But more importantly, it has created a mindset where if Bob doesn’t go exploring—and he is probably so busy in his day to day that he will not go exploring often, if ever—then Bob doesn’t maintain a good feel for new and interesting things that are going on in the industry. A world view that is completely inward facing is a real issue.

I don’t have a great solution at the ready. Issuing secret verbal passwords to business partners? Having execs use fake names on the company’s automated switchboard? No, life is complicated enough already, so adding another layer seems like a bad idea. But there is clearly a cost when every conversation begins with a game of 20 Questions. In this, the age of information overload, we all need to find a way to stay in the flow.

The Power of Three Smart People

The Power of Three Smart People

I was talking to a CIO at the LOMA ACORD Systems Forum in Las Vegas recently. The conversation went something like this.

“What do you think of providing chat capability, so agents in the field and underwriters can interact directly in real time?”

“We’ve had that since 2004.”

“How about e-delivery of policy documents?”

“We’ve been doing that for a long time. We set agent-level preferences for who gets paper and who gets electronic copies, and our agents can update their profiles at their convenience via the portal.”

“How about faxing or emailing of correspondence and other documents?”

“CSRs can do that from their desktops, without ever printing a thing.”

These and other tidbits from our conversation suggested that the increased focus on building relationships with agents has resulted in service improvements. By paying attention to how people get things done, the industry is evolving.

But the interesting thing is that this was not a conversation with a visionary, Tier 1 carrier. I was talking to a Tier 5 carrier, with a staff of perhaps 100 people, total. And the solutions being discussed are nearly all custom builds, done on the cheap by smart, creative staff.

This story illustrates the Three Smart People theory. (Credit for articulating the theory goes to my brother Kevin, a technologist outside the insurance industry.) Three Smart People says that problems are best solved by putting three smart people in a room and turning them loose, unencumbered by layers of management and the mental constraints that companies often place on their staff. The alternative of throwing bodies at problems in proportion to their size introduces uncertainty and risk, and almost never improves solution quality. More heads are better than one, but only until you reach the count of three.

Proponents of mega projects tell me that TSP is naïve. But I think that if three smart people are not able to solve a problem, it is quite possible that the problem has not been defined at a sufficient level of granularity. Got a big problem, with sweeping implications for business processes and a host of integrated systems? Break it down into components that can be digested by groups of three people over a period of weeks, not months. Then stand back and watch your company’s evolution accelerate.