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My previous blog post described how the leading C-level executives who attended Sapiens’ recent CxO Insurance Roundtable event, which I had the pleasure of hosting in Sydney, Australia, are saying “yes” to increased customer engagement and risk.

This follow-up blog post is focused on the new direction insurers are taking to capitalize on the opportunities presented by an Australian insurance market that is ripe for disruption. The 13 C-level participants – from business and IT, across both life and general insurance – enjoyed lunch, a lively discussion and some wine.

The roundtable discussion repeatedly returned to the difficulties between business and IT in many insurance organisations, as well as the struggles insurers are having in getting along with their antiquated legacy systems.

Bringing the Organization Aboard!

How do you move big organizations such as IAG, ANZ, AMP and TAL in a new direction?  I want to share some of the insights I took away from this passionate discussion with our industry leaders.

The issue of organisational harmony came up again and again at the C-level roundtable in Sydney. One participant noted that he could present a new way of designing a product and a new way to get it to customers, but if it didn’t fit into the current construct of how IT works with the business, “Then that’s a nice idea that can never happen.”

Another participant nicely summarised the IT-business challenge:

There’s a real hearts and minds piece here and it’s very hard to resolve those issues, because if IT thinks they’re doing the right thing and the customer team or the commercial team think they’re doing the right thing, but ultimately they’re all trying to achieve slightly different objectives, then you can never really reconcile that. I think the hardest thing is sometimes getting IT areas to understand why you want to do things differently. Why is speed important?  Why have we all of a sudden said actually this process doesn’t work anymore?

On a positive note, the CIO of a leading life insurer pointed towards finding early success as the answer.

When that train starts driving and everyone sees the wins and sees the outcomes, it’s hard not to get on the train.

Many of the participants said “new blood” led to success. “We’ve got a new CIO who was a digital guy who turned into an IT guy, and that’s who you want your head of IT or CIO to be!” said the head of digital for a global insurance giant.

The Dinosaurs Will Soon Be Extinct

Some participants complained of their difficulties in innovating and getting to market quickly because of their reliance on multiple legacy systems.

One participant noted with a sigh of relief, “We haven’t had to deal with multiple legacy systems, we’ve just got one so it’s probably easier for us to manoeuvre…”

Other participants aren’t so lucky and because they understand that older systems aren’t going to enable them to innovate or effectively compete, they are looking to address the plumbing within their organisations through core systems replacement, or building modern initiatives separate to their legacy systems.

Several of the C-level executives found the level of information available to a potential insurance giant like Google daunting. As one said, “Imagine the information that they have access to. You get on your Google app (and type), ‘Is this cancer?’ That’s gone through the Google world somewhere, and then when you apply for insurance with Google, they say, ‘No, you’ve just checked out your mole, you’re not getting insurance.’”

To effectively compete in today’s era of Big Data, insurers require modern systems that can process and store huge amounts of data, and then quickly provide insurers and their customers with actionable insights.

Noting the proliferation of companies across industries who are buying up prototype companies that can generate effective business model algorithms, one C-level executive at the roundtable noted that the insurance industry was also already engaged in a technology struggle. “Certainly we’re in an insights arms race,” he said.

Hosting the CxO Insurance Roundtable reminded me of how uncertain the future is. What is certain is that if insurers want to survive and thrive, they must seek harmony through a partnership between business functions and IT. They must also remain agile in order to pivot towards the future by addressing legacy obstacles now, through a legacy modernization initiative, or via small, iterative pieces of work.

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