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!

 

 

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.

 

Internet of Things – NBA edition, round 2

Internet of Things – NBA edition, round 2

For those of you that follow our blog, you may have read my post from April 8th, entitled Internet of Things – NBA edition. If not, then I’d suggest you click the title and read that post first.

Given we’re in round 1 of the playoffs, this post feels even more timely. The basic premise of the first post revolved around the use of wearables in sports, more specifically during games. As it turns out, there was recently a follow-up article on ESPN.com:

NBA union, wearable tech company Whoop to meet Tuesday

As I mentioned, the use of wearables goes well beyond just the technology, particularly to the ownership of the data.

I particularly liked the quote from the Whoop CEO, Will Ahmed: "…let's not deprive athletes of in game analysis. It's their careers at stake and data is not steroids."

As wearables get to be more and more ubiquitous, it will be interesting to follow their use. We see the benefit in insurance programs, such as Hancock’s Vitality, but the ultimate use of the information shows so much opportunity to truly change our lives. It will be fun to follow.

One prediction for 2016 is about to come true – our event on February 3rd

One prediction for 2016 is about to come true – our event on February 3rd
With just under a week to go until our event at The Magic Circle in London is on February 3 I though it worth reflecting on 2016 and the folly of predictions in today’s world. One of the key challenges for any organisation trying to respond to an unpredictable future is the hockey-stick graph or geometric growth that is increasingly describing adoption and the impact of technology on our society. That is to say that the figures stay relatively flat and predictable and then grow out of all proportion to what went before. Adoption of the Internet is a good example, the rise of the smart phones and that of tablets is another. Some may still argue that wearables as a fad has passed, citing them being around for a while but not really seeing the growth one would expect. Perhaps though, this is the false sense of security brought by the flat bit of the graph? The same is true of self-driving cars, a concept that’s been alive and well in Hollywood and on TV shows for decades (anyone remember the Hoff and Kit?) and is only now starting to creep onto real world roads. If the trends of cheaper and ubiquitous technology continue then these trends could at some point see that hockey stick moment, that massive growth in adoption and impact. For insurers – just reacting may not be good enough, instead perhaps it is worth spending time thinking: it is only a matter of time until it is ‘normal’ for clothes and accessories to be internet connected, for cars to drive themselves and for people to live longer through better management of their health. This is precisely the type of thinking we’re hoping to bring to our event, which will be a mix of folks who are on the curve of some of these changes and also some tools to help insurers plan and respond. So while I’m waiting for my Internet connected suit to come along (not that fanciful, you can already get connected yoga-pants and nappies that tweet) and the car that drives me to work – I look forward to spending some time those of you can attend our event next week to discuss the future of insurance and to ask the question, What if … ?

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance
It was in the Galaxy InternetBubble, stardate 2000.12.1. I was at a technology firm that was riding the Internet rocket up—and a couple of years later rode it back down. (It actually made a soft landing, and those early Web-anauts lived to tell the tale). In those heady early days of the web, there was a general feeling that the Internet was going to “change everything.” True, there wasn’t a lot of clarity about what “everything” or “change” were, but it was something many people said (and possibly believed). In any event, there was a steady stream of VC-funded insurance start-ups that would visit us, asking for our vision of what the web would wrought—while we were trying to think of some ways to be hired by those start-ups to make those visions real. If any of this sounds familiar to anyone, let me know. So there I was, minding my insurance Subject Matter Expert business, and someone asked me to attend a meeting that afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was to reinvent insurance. And I thought, “Why not?” I entered the conference room, and saw that the other attendees (bright and articulate professionals each and every one of them) had very limited insurance experience. No one in the room (with the exception of your humble blogger) could have defined hazard, exposure, or probable maximum loss, or the law of large numbers, and so on. At the end of the two hours, we had in fact not reinvented insurance. There was no follow-up meeting. Why bring up this bit of ancient history? Because we have arguably entered another period in which claims are made that technology, or digital, or insurtech is going to, if not change everything, at least disrupt everything. As an example, see these Celent reports about the end of auto insurance, or the Internet of Things, or digital strategies. If you want to separate the disruptive wheat from the buzz-based chaff this time around, here are some basic questions to ask:
  • Does the proposed use of a new technology impact the basics of the insurance model?
  • Can it scale?
  • Will it change the relationships among cost, price, and value in a way that is fair to the insurer, the distribution channel and the policyholder?
If the answers to these questions are all yes, maybe maybe someone will reinvent insurance this time around. This time around, may the In-Force be with us.

California DMV flashes yellow light for driverless cars

California DMV flashes yellow light for driverless cars
As a long time resident of the Golden State, let me say that the words “fair,” “judicious,” “California,” and “DMV” just don’t appear together in the same sentence. But, I’ll break precedent and say that the  California DMV’s new draft regulations for driverless cars are (overall) fair and judicious. The regs begin to address the knotty social and legal issues of safety and liability. Manufacturers and a third party tester must certify the ability of a driverless car to meet specified safety and performance requirements. Operators (who used to be called drivers, back in the day) must be able to take control of the car and will be responsible for all traffic violations. It looks like the larger issue for insurers and trial lawyers of “who gets sued” is not directly addressed by the draft regs. Additional parts of the regulations include:
  • Special licensing for driver/operators
  • Obtaining driver/operator consent for collecting information “not necessary for the safe operation of the car” (hello interior-facing dashboard cams)
  • Ongoing reporting requirements by the manufacturers on the vehicles’ performance and safety
  • And, sign of the times, the vehicles must be able to detect and respond to cyber attacks
Some manufacturers may be (privately) impatient. But the reality is that these regs provide a path for broader deployment into a litigious and worried society of technologies still in the R&D stages.

What if… the insurance industry didn’t innovate?

What if… the insurance industry didn’t innovate?
As a techy with long hair and a beard when I stand up and speak on technology an audience generally expects a futuristic view of the world and a call to action. Of late I’ve been more tempered in my view. Having talking about IoT, telematics and drones for five years now Armageddon hasn’t come, the sky above the insurance industry has not fallen and to be honest, many insurers are still running as they did five years ago with little challenge to their bottom line. In short, in many parts of the globe, insurance hasn’t changed. Have I changed my mind? Only regarding the timescales. For those that are looking – the proverbial canaries are falling. The signs can be seen in multiple countries globally that real change is coming, whether it’s the rise of price comparison websites, the rise of data aggregators, the rising population of connected sensors – whilst the industry hasn’t changed, the world it is sitting in is gently coming to a boil. Whilst the timescale of change to the industry itself is uncertain the possible impacts to the insurance industry won’t be random. That is the driver behind our What if event in February. A key part of event is to inform the audience about the possible scenarios that might befall the industry, to offer tools to consider the impact of these scenarios on their business and current investments. Our hope is to invite the attendees to consider how they would respond and if their current investments are preparing them adequately. Back to the title of the blog – what if an insurer didn’t innovate? An innovation agenda is one response to change and opportunity – whether that’s a change in competitor activity, customer expectations or change in distribution. Other responses could be to increase the agility of the organisation, finally address those legacy niggles or to simply improve the companies research capability to better keep an eye on what changes are coming. What if isn’t solely about innovation, but rather a look at likely scenarios and ensuring your organisation is prepared. If you haven’t registered yet, the event is in February in London and you can view the agenda and register here. For a list of other benefits have a look at Mike’s blog from earlier in the year, along with a reveal of the magical venue.

Insurance IoT – you can sense the disruption: Innovation Roundtable summary

Insurance IoT – you can sense the disruption: Innovation Roundtable summary
We held another in our series of Innovation Roundtables in NYC last Friday. These are small gatherings, attended by insurers and banks, meant to provide an open forum for a deep discussion of a chosen topic. As Mick Simonelli, one of the facilitators put it: “The format provides a chance for innovators to come out of their day-to-day battles, take a tactical pause, gain some perspective and share their knowledge with other practitioners.” This edition was focused on the Internet of Things in insurance. More than any other previous Roundtable, the threat of disruption amongst the group was very prominent. The discussion was best summarized by one participant: “We have been doing the business of insurance according to “effects analysis” for 300 years. That is, actuaries and underwriters have been looking backwards and projecting what contract terms (rates, guidelines, etc.) should be going forward. IoT in insurance will provide new territory, which is as yet unclaimed by any provider. It will allow insurance to move toward “causal analysis”: what are the true causes of loss and in what interventions can be undertaken to avoid them?” Much of the discussion was about how insurance risk professionals can accomplish casual analysis using IoT tools and techniques. However, there was also a recognition that other entities, outside insurance, may figure this new approach out before insurers. This may be the well-know data firms such as Google, Amazon, etc., or may be a group of data scientists yet unknown. Other main points from the session include:
  • These practitioners report that they sense that the velocity of change around IoT is different than what has been seen before. Unlike other changes in insurance, decision-makers cannot wait for the data to roll in and the “case to be proved” or it will be too late to respond. Companies reported that they have lost partnership deals with start-up firms because they were unable to make a decision in a timely manner. This dynamic supports the need for a “dual governance track” that has been reflected in Celent’s innovation research.
  • Donald Light presented Celent’s model of IoT, and the group engaged in a good deal of discussion about what part of that ecosystem insurers will want to “own”. There was recognition of the incredible predictive value of the data that will be produced by IoT. However, it was pointed out that what has happened in commercial lines fleet IoT applications is that insureds prefer to retain control over the data as the value for them of using it to manage their fleet vastly outweighs any premium discount that might be awarded. It remains to be seen if this will play out in other lines of business.
  • Regarding commercial lines applications of IoT, it was notable that the group spent as much or more time discussing these opportunities as it did discussing the usual suspects – auto telematics, connected home, and health/lifestyle. Celent sees this as a further maturation of IoT in insurance. The consensus of the group was that commercial IoT is not yet widely addressed and is beginning to be a focus for their companies going forward.
  • A lack of cross-industry integration standards was recognized as a significant barrier to expansion. The participants expressed that there is a need (and opportunity) for a data standards group to facilitate this between insurers and potential device providers. Without such agreement, progress will be more expensive and will take longer than it should.
A final discussion point was perhaps the most exciting. The group is tracking the manner in which IoT is changing the profile of the skills required in insurance. Actuarial science is giving way to data science as more predictive techniques and more non-traditional data sources are used. The participants discussed forming a consortium of insurers to partner with NYC-area universities to establish an insurance data scientist training program. Stay tuned!

Living with the Internet of Things (and crowd funding)

Living with the Internet of Things (and crowd funding)
Earlier this week some users of the Wink smart home hub found that their smart home hub was more useful as a door stop or brick than as a hub. A fix is being worked on and rolled out to customers but for me this looks like the teething problems of the still nascent Internet of Things movement and one of the hurdles Apple is trying to jump with the Apple Watch. Earlier this month I received a portable handheld scanner from Dacuda. It’s not unusual for me to receive gadgets in the post but this one was particularly interesting to me as I had been one of the kickstarter funders of the item and have been following it’s creation with some interest. It piqued my interest particularly because I’d seen the technology almost two decades ago in a research lab but not seen it come to market at a reasonable price – a scanner that one moves over the page and software builds a picture of the underlying document. This isn’t the first item funded via crowd funding I’ve bought. My keys have a tile attached to them and I’m still wearing the original Pebble wrist watch (with e-ink display). I guess this firmly places me as an early adopter in the Internet of Things, wearables and crowdfunding space. I don’t have a Wink hub although it’s sort of appealing but not available in the UK yet. So far though it hasn’t been all clear pastures and dreams ideally realised. The Internet of Things has it’s teething problems. Let’s take the Tile for instance, a small device that emits a bluetooth and short rage wifi signal so you can track it’s location from a phone or tablet, thus, never losing it. I used to have 3 of them and now have 2, that’s right I lost one. I was rushing out the door, the school run running a little behind schedule and forgot my phone. Somewhere on the brief journey I dropped the Tile and what it was attached to. Had I had my phone with me it would have given me the location of the last place it connected to the Tile, as it was it told me the last time it saw the Tile was at home. No matter, in theory if I retrace my steps I will come in range and be alerted that it is found. This didn’t work either so I assume it was picked up. Since the battery lasts two years perhaps someone with the app will go near it and it may yet find it’s way home – but not yet. Part user error and part an unfortunate series of events perhaps, but another technology found fallible and a dream not quite realised. The Pebble has been more successful. The fact I answer the phone when it rings is largely down to my smart watch rather than the phone these days and the wrist-borne notifications are hugely helpful. I use the misfit app on it to tell me I’m not doing enough exercise and a Withings smart body analyser at home to let me know the end result of not having done enough exercise – all great fun! I may still invest in the Apple Watch. I have a standing desk so do stand, something misfit on my pebble doesn’t track and I feel I want to be recognised digitally for this at least. The little handheld scanner is more work in progress. My son’s somewhat fascinated when it works and hugely interested in the errors it makes and where they are made – such is life as an early adopter. More teething issues there. No doubt though we as a population are moving to a world where anything we buy could be connected, where we can buy a $50 hub that controls our lighting from an app and it’s failure is covered in the global (technology) press and where we can fund and follow the development of gadgets we’ve dreamt of owning for a couple of decades (even if the software needs a little more work). So what does this have to do with insurance? The fact is the Internet of Things appears to be running apace, smart homes are being tried out by the early adopters and bugs are being squashed. Did you know with the Wink hub, the app on your phone and this $40 quirky+ge water sensor you can get alerted in real time regarding escape of water events? Ever been out of the house and come home to find the kitchen, bathroom or basement flooded? Indeed just yesterday Karen pointed out this article suggesting insurers are getting involved with smart homes. There’s a lot of buzz around health and life insurance in part driven by the Apple Watch launch. I’m looking forward to Apple doubling down on the HomeKit API or someone credible getting there first; I’m looking forward to the same boom around the Internet of Things and insurers handing out moisture sensors to home owners. I’m looking forward to prevention and intervention products, rather than selling services after a loss. Perhaps we just need to squash a few more bugs first.

Next step in the Internet of Things for life insurance

Next step in the Internet of Things for life insurance
The last seven days have been exciting for the next wave in Life insurance (and Health). Last week we saw John Hancock introduce the Vitality program into the US. This week we have a collaboration between IBM, Apple and Medtronic, the huge maker of medical devices. Just yesterday we had an inquiry from a major Life insurance company asking about a service that consolidates data from multiple users of wearables. We were not aware of a major player offering the service, but that same afternoon, this partnership was announced. As the use of wearables increases, particularly for use beyond an individual’s fitness, it will be critical for standards and services to emerge to bring this data to multiple users. Including Life insurance companies. Of course, we still have the obvious challenge of competition in the industry. This is great for users of Apple and Medtronic’s products, but what about people wearing a Moto 360 or Fitbit? We are not quite there yet, but everything happens with a first step. I commented the other day to a colleague that this is the most excitement we have had in Life insurance since the introduction of Universal Life in the 1980s. The pace will only increase.