“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,” Warren Buffett.
Some industries are known as “bleeding edge.” These industries are willing to take large risks with new technology in order to gain small but decisive advantage. But the insurance industry represents the opposite of this idea. In insurance, stability is the order of the day while radical innovation or risk taking is an anathema.
But over the long run, avoidance of risk can represent its own form of risk. Critical aspects of the insurance world are stuck in the 1960s. Aged Cobol and VSAM mainframe technology are widely used but are deteriorating rapidly along with a large number of baby boomers working in insurance that will retire at staggering rates starting in 2018 (with some predicting as much as 25 percent). Technologists are faced with timeworn legacy systems that require increased maintenance, which drives up costs, while specialist operating knowledge is at risk of being lost as the workforce ages retire.
So it is that CIOs like Mary Kotch, at Insurance/ Reinsurance company Validus Holdings, strive to boot up company growth with innovation through Digitization and Automation, Data Analytics and an innovative way of managing talent.
"Proper planning is also about building the foundation for the future"
The history of mankind has been marked by the use of tools. Digitization and Automation takes the relatively new concept of RPA or Robotic Process Automation. RPA essentially entails programming software to trigger decisions on multi-step tasks, using software, or server-based robots. These robots can mimic humans to access systems, processing claims or administering policies in a fraction of the time. RPA technology is not meant to replace human labor but rather to liberate it from the mundane. The use of RPA allows the current workforce to perform work that requires human ingenuity and judgement rather than simply perform repetitive tasks.
To declare that RPA technology will have a big impact on the insurance industry is akin to declaring that Ghengis Khan dabbled in real estate. The insurance underwriting process is a highly manual process that lends itself to precisely the sort of gains that RPA is meant to contribute. For instance, finance or underwriting team that was spending 50 percent of their work week manually moving around documents can now focus on more rigorous tasks while the mundane workflow tasks are automated.
Another opportunity for innovation is in the area of data analytics. Mary Kotch believes that there is no ‘one size fits all’ Data Analytic Platform. The most important priority needs to be to ‘right size’ tools that enables the technology to act as a form of GPS for business in order to access data quickly. Many business solutions simply cannot rely on commodity solution like SQL Server to produce slow but faithful results.
In insurance, high performance data analytics will become a key part of the product development process. In past years, underwriters and data analysts were given systems akin to hand saws and expected to level great tracts of forests. But with new technologies such as Vertica or Actian, the ability to churn through billions of records is only a software deal away. The smart CIO of the future will look for key opportunities to give their people chain saws to level the data forests of the future.
When leadership in technology requires using cloud platforms it is important to be diligent. While there are many custom solutions a CIO can choose from, it is important to remember the core competencies one’s company is trying to create. One should take care not to use complex technology for technologies’ sake. Rather, outsource to Microsoft, the Amazon Cloud, or other provider the commodity services that are not integral to one’s business. Thereafter, use internally installed technology for any proprietary systems where one seeks competitive advantage.
There is a certain challenge in taking on the task of delivering on new technologies while replacing and maintaining legacy environments; this challenge requires developing skilled talent. Mary Kotch recommends having a talent-management program in place that consists of training, coaches, and mentors. “I don’t believe in just ripping and replacing the talent. I believe in building it up,” Kotch explains. “Attrition rates are low. We’ve got the right IT hubs for employees and locations, and we’re expanding on that.”
A global CIO must be a strong believer in having a good mix of people. Mary Kotch is a strong advocate of the idea that a long-standing employees can learn just as much from new hires as college graduates can learn from the baby boomers. Technology is on the forefront, but Mary Kotch says it’s not the driving force. It’s about training employees, spending time to achieve motivation and about introducing new opportunities.
Proper planning is also about building the foundation for the future. As such, Mary Kotch also spends time with universities speaking to college students and encouraging more women to join the field of information technology. To keep herself balanced, Mary spends time with her family, coaching soccer for her daughter and teaching a coding class at school for her son.
As the famous expression goes, “This too shall pass.” Strong leaders will keep themselves and their team ready for the change coming with the new dawn. Over the next five years, leading companies will separate themselves from their competitors by fully developing and implementing consistent data, process, technology and human resource strategies that enable them to meet these new requirements and better adapt to changing market conditions. Successful managers will ensure they prepare themselves and their teams for what is to come.