Change management is a term people have thrown around a lot over the last few years. As companies transform, or try to transform, they face new and often unexpected challenges that force them to rethink the way they've done almost everything to that point: hence, the need for change, and for change management.
As insurance carriers modernize their core platforms and other technical underpinnings, they would be remiss to ignore how industries like banking have approached change--what they've done right and wrong, and how they've miscalculated or overstepped.
There are certain things every successful (and unsuccessful) core transformation has in common, no matter the industry, and these things certainly apply to the insurance world.
Let's take a look at what core transformation for insurance looks like, starting with the most common mistakes to avoid.
Core transformation missteps
Core transformation mistakes almost always involve some lack of foresight. This usually manifests itself in underestimating the change to people, processes and technology.
- People: Issues can stem from communication breakdowns and poor personnel change management
- Processes: It's typically about lackluster adoption of new ways of working
- Technology: Companies often lack adequate understanding of how a given solution will affect, or is already affecting, the business
When you mix in the complex dependencies of insurance underwriting, policy administration, claims management and other core functions unique to the industry, the potential for failure is relatively high.
The three most critical mistakes associated with insurance core transformations are:
- Failure to align: Specifically, companies fail to define a clear destination that includes benefits for every employee
- Forced culture change: Culture can and must change--but you can't force it faster than employees can accept
- Weak internal ownership: Companies that expect vendors to lead the deployment of the new system are at a high risk of failure
Each of these pitfalls naturally affects the others in a kind of domino effect. In the case of forced culture change, for example, new processes come up against opposition, which results in a reevaluation of the tech solution, which then results in reduced trust in the vendor or implementation team. Before you know it, you have a failed core transformation project that you need to rebuild from the ground up.
Ultimately, avoiding mistakes comes down to effective change management in the key areas of people, processes and technology.
Here's how to successfully transform your insurance core:
See also: Core Systems: Starting a Whole New Game?
Implement people practices that drive successful change
Organizations must understand that people drive any organizational change.
Proper alignment and expectation-setting tend to start strong but break down during the scoping and building process as challenges emerge. This tends to happen in companies viewing the project through a waterfall lens--i.e., with a neatly defined scope, budget and timeline upfront.
But the thing is: You can't plan for every event. If you're driving across the country, would you plan for your car to break down? No. But if it does, then you need to change your plans quickly and on the fly to address that issue and prevent it from derailing your trip entirely.
Anticipate and answer natural questions
The specifics of getting from point A to point B are important, but they must fall in line after proper internal alignment.
For example, key stakeholders should understand:
- "What's in it for me and my team?" Beyond digital transformation for its own sake, how will this project benefit claims, underwriting, distribution, etc. and help the team achieve their goals?
- "What are the project milestones?" Breaking the project down into broad, iterative phases will help you avoid the trap of rigid thinking. It will also illustrate how the timeline may be affected if one milestone is shifted or prolonged
- "What role am I playing?" Stakeholders will benefit from knowing what hard and soft skills are required of them, with an emphasis on the latter. When role change is imminent within an organization, visionary and compassionate leadership helps departments shift gears
With a shared, high-level understanding of the project destination and the anticipated milestones on the way, implementation teams have more power to contribute in meaningful ways.
Having a team that's adaptive is essential. Transformation needs to be top-down and bottoms-up. Everyone involved understands why we're going somewhere.
Form your implementation dream team
Successful implementation teams are truly cross-functional and include reps from all sides of the business that the transformation will touch. The best teams include future-forward decisionmakers from within each department. These people may not be your longest-tenured, but they're the ones who understand the most about the future that's needed, and they have a burning desire to change.
Successful implementation team members are collaborative and action-biased. The best teammates I've ever had were great communicators. I don't mean they were great orators--I mean they could listen. They could understand the challenges and make decisions based on that understanding.
Focus on roles, not titles
Members of your implementation dream team must have substantial knowledge of and experience in:
- Enterprise architecture, for evaluating the structure of existing and new solutions and ensuring it all fits together
- Change management, for managing people, processes and tech changes
- Program or project management, for roadblock removal and staying on target
- Business analysis, for ensuring the solution aligns with business goals
- Engineering leadership, for helping the business, architects and systems integrator/tech partners think critically and communicate around technical challenges effectively
One person may be able to fulfill several roles on the same team, but, more often, teams will have more than one person fulfilling each function. It is also beneficial if a team member has a good historical understanding of how the company got to the place it is now. This can help in choosing how hard to push and which processes are culturally based vs system-focused.
Use reasonable processes that fit your organization's pace
Some companies expect to change their processes only after the new core policy platform is about to go live. This can result in a variety of undesirable outcomes:
- Fast, forced culture change
- Unnecessarily prolonged launch
- Development and oversight process mismatch
Process transformation needs to start at kick-off and happen at a reasonable pace for your company and the way it operates.
If your company wants to deliver in five weeks, is your culture going to allow that? If not, how do you get out in front of that culture early to accelerate change?
The same principle applies to your development team, including vendor-driven processes, if applicable. While some form of agile development is likely practiced within insurance businesses, it may not be at the level that agile tech requires. Plus, true agile has weaknesses of its own, and a complete shift may not be needed.
At the beginning of your project, run an agile session or training. Ask: What are the things that we can implement today? What are things that the company is going to push back on and why? Okay, let's put that in the change management plan and start greasing the wheels.
The outcome should be an empowered team that can make decisions and implement them.
Maintain ultimate ownership
Vendor selection is a lengthy and eye-opening process. After weeks of reviewing technical data sheets and eyeing high price tags, insurance companies are vulnerable to either granting or demanding too much project ownership from the technical experts. But tech is only part of the formula for a workable tech update.
Insurance companies hire vendors to provide best practices but are still the experts on their own company and culture. Insurers must guide their partners on that cultural aspect, including where they see the project coming up against opposition.
Keep in mind that vendors are always changing their products and processes in response to customer demands. There's anxiety that helps you learn and anxiety that makes you freeze. The anxiety that makes you freeze is the one that contributes to implementation failure.
Adopt technology that makes sense in the modern world
Finally, successful insurance core transformation comes down to adopting the right technologies. In a competitive tech ecosystem, it's easy to forget that the tech exists for you--for your customers, employees and business--not the other way around. Just as keeping the end in mind is critical when it comes to effective people management, it's true in vendor and tech selection, as well.
Keeping the end in mind looks like:
- Understanding today's software engineering best practices and the costs of supporting them
- Knowing how a given solution would connect with existing applications and potential future applications. Remember that you have already invested in other applications; new systems should help capitalize on those investments
- Refusing to select a vendor based on price and opting instead to select based on industry experience and product vision and quality
There's a saying: "Buy cheap, buy twice." This is all too common with software vendors. Choosing inexpensive vendors can lead to complexity and over-customization, which ultimately leads to scope creep and significant drainage of internal resources.
In contrast, vendors offering industry-proven products that are complete (workable without heavy customization) and flexible (light lift to integrate with existing systems) allow insurance companies to meet basic project goals quickly and iterate from there.
See also: Data-Driven Transformation
What insurance core transformation success really looks like
Carriers that emphasize the core in core transformation will succeed. View updating your outdated core systems not as a cost of doing business but an opportunity to stay true to your company's vision and values.
Every successful core transformation looks slightly different, but they all include:
- Alignment on the why, including a companywide understanding of the desired destination and what it means for the business
- Empowered, cross-functional implementation teams that drive the project with a top-down, bottom-up mentality (as opposed to the vendor driving)
- Process transformation that starts at kick-off and at a reasonable pace for your company
- A solid technical foundation that's comprehensive yet flexible