Tag Archives: digitize

Go Digital… but Don’t Change Who You Are

My business school professors managed to hammer a single idea into my head about corporate strategy, and that is that there are only two ways to build a sustainable competitive advantage. You can be better, or you can be cheaper. That’s it. A company can approach these strategies from many different directions, but, at the core, these are the options. To create a long-term advantage over the competition, a company has to build a coherent strategy and create an organizational structure dedicated to that strategy. A company that plans to beat the competition with technology must invest in R&D, and a company pursuing a low-price strategy shouldn’t spend millions on lobby artwork. Existing companies are not blank slates.

This is especially true in the insurance industry, which largely consists of established companies with established ways of doing business. Those established methods are sometimes focused on price, sometimes on product, but all have a coherent strategy and organization. Startup culture looks at insurance and sees lumbering dinosaurs. In some cases, this view may be accurate, but it’s important to remember that dinosaurs ruled the earth for 180 million years because they were very good at being dinosaurs. Insurers today are very good at being the kind of insurers they are.

See also: Insurers Must Adapt to Digital Demands  

For these reasons, I believe that some insurers have been looking at digital disruption in the wrong way. In some areas, digital has the potential to transform the insurance market, but, in much of the market, digital is more of an environmental transformation rather than a world-shattering meteor.

This question about the ultimate impact of the digital and technology revolution on the insurance market is the single most important one facing insurers today. Each insurer must look at his or her market, products and organization and decide if digital is a meteor or a slow warming. If this change is a meteor, it may be time to look at acquisition strategies. If this change is environmental, then the considerations are different. No digital strategy is going to fundamentally change an insurer’s nature. Most insurers need to use technology and digital strategies to reinforce their current strengths, not attempt to be something that they are not. An insurer’s already-determined strategy and focus should set the stage for who they are digitally, not the other way around. Using this approach, let’s consider some traditional insurer structures and strategies, and ways that digital can fit into what these companies are already doing.

Focus on Price

The first and most obvious insurance strategy is a focus on price. A low-price strategy is common in personal lines, because most automobile and homeowner’s insurance does not differ widely between companies. Innovation in personal lines tends to be more focused on creative distribution and service delivery, rather than on innovation in the insurance product itself. There is potential for disruption on the product side, most notably in the areas of autonomous cars, telematics and “pay as you go” products. However, a company that is focused on price rather than product innovation has some interesting digital strategies to pursue. Automation and efficiency are traditional rewards of technology investments, and in this situation each insurer must decide which technologies have the highest potential return. Blockchain is a common topic of conversation, but realistically how useful is an unbreakable public ledger of transactions to a company that sells automobile policies? Cognitive computing, on the other hand, could fundamentally transform the cost structure of such a company by automating the routine administrative tasks that occupy so much of insurers’ cost structures. What does an insurance company that fully embraced cognitive computing look like? No one really knows, but my best guess is that it would not much resemble the companies of today.

Focus on Customer Experience

The second common insurance strategy in personal lines is a focus on customer experience. The idea behind this strategy is that if products do not differ between competitors, then service can be a key differentiator. This customer-focused strategy is not a new idea in insurance, but traditional distribution channels create major challenges. Direct writers sell over the web or through the phone, both of which are traditionally low-touch, low-experience channels. The major alternative distribution channel is through independent agents. In this second channel, insurers have outsourced much of the customer experience to these agencies, over whom the companies have limited control. In either case, if an insurer is focused on improving customer experience, then that insurer must have a strategy that both maximizes customer touchpoints and ensures that each of those touchpoints is positive. Technology has a major role to play in this strategy.

For agency writers, building a new distribution channel is not feasible, and the digital strategy has two parts. One, enable agents with technology to provide customers the digital experiences those customers want. Two, build direct contact with those customers through mobile and web. For direct writers, technology provides the only contact channel, so these companies must focus on improving what they are already doing. In either case, technology investments in customer communications are critical, because most insurance customers do not have routine contact with their insurer. Insurers must maximize the value of these outbound communications, because these communications may be the only available touchpoints.

See also: Insurers Must Finalize Digital Strategies  

These two approaches are far from the only viable ones available to insurers. Insurers focused on product or underwriting excellence will take advantage of the revolution in data analytics to create new kinds of insurance products and price those products more precisely. Insurers focused on distribution innovation will use digital technologies to deliver their insurance through new channels to new customers in new markets.

Not Whether, but Where

In all cases, insurers that are not facing complete market disruption should adapt their current structures to this new environment, rather than attempting to become something that they are not. To build an effective digital strategy, all insurers must evaluate their market, their organization and their goals to decide where to invest in digital, and how best to profit from those investments.

6 Tech Rules That Will Govern the Future

Technology is advancing so rapidly that we will experience radical changes in society not only in our lifetimes but in the coming years. We have already begun to see ways in which computing, sensors, artificial intelligence and genomics are reshaping entire industries and our daily lives.

As we undergo this rapid change, many of the old assumptions that we have relied will no longer apply. Technology is creating a new set of rules that will change our very existence. Here are six:

1. Anything that can be digitized will be.

Digitization began with words and numbers. Then we moved into games and later into rich media, such as movies, images and music. We also moved complex business functions, medical tools, industrial processes and transportation systems into the digital realm. Now, we are digitizing everything about our daily lives: our actions, words and thoughts. Inexpensive DNA sequencing and machine learning are unlocking the keys to the systems of life. Cheap, ubiquitous sensors are documenting everything we do and creating rich digital records of our entire lives.

2. Your job has a significant chance of being eliminated.

In every field, machines and robots are beginning to do the work of humans. We saw this first happen in the Industrial Revolution, when manual production moved into factories and many millions lost their livelihoods. Jobs were created, but it was a terrifying time, and there was a significant societal dislocation (from which the Luddite movement emerged).

See also: 4 Rules for Digital Transformation  

The movement to digitize jobs is well underway in low-salary service industries. Amazon relies on robots to do a significant chunk of its warehouse work. Safeway and Home Depot are rapidly increasing their use of self-service checkouts. Soon, self-driving cars will eliminate millions of driving jobs. We are also seeing law jobs disappear as computer programs specializing in discovery eliminate the needs for legions of associates to sift through paper and digital documents. Soon, automated medical diagnosis will replace doctors in fields such as radiology, dermatology and pathology. The only refuge will be in fields that are creative in some way, such as marketing, entrepreneurship, strategy and advanced technical fields. New jobs we cannot imagine today will emerge, but they will not replace all the lost jobs. We must be ready for a world of perennially high unemployment rates. But don’t worry, because …

3. Life will be so affordable that survival won’t necessitate having a job.

Note how cellphone minutes are practically free and our computers have gotten cheaper and more powerful over the past decades. As technologies such as computing, sensors and solar energy advance, their costs drop. Life as we know it will become radically cheaper. We are already seeing the early signs of this: Because of the improvements in the shared-car and car-service market that apps such as Uber enable, a whole generation is growing up without the need or even the desire to own a car. Healthcare, food, telecommunications, electricity and computation will all grow cheaper very quickly as technology reinvents the corresponding industries.

4. Your fate and destiny will be in your own hands as never before.

The benefit of the plummet in the costs of living will be that the technology and tools to keep us healthy, happy, well-educated and well-informed will be cheap or free. Online learning in virtually any field is already free. Costs also are falling with mobile-based medical devices. We will be able to execute sophisticated self-diagnoses and treat a significant percentage of health problems using only a smartphone and smart distributed software.

Modular and open-source kits are making DIY manufacture easier, so you can make your own products. DIYDrones.com, for example, lets anyone wanting to build a drone mix and match components and follow relatively simple instructions for building an unmanned flying device. With 3-D printers, you can create your own toys. Soon these will allow you to “print” common household goods — and even electronics. The technology driving these massive improvements in efficiency will also make mass personalization and distributed production a reality. Yes, you may have a small factory in your garage, and your neighbors may have one, too.

5. Abundance will become a far bigger problem than poverty.

With technology making everything cheaper and more abundant, our problems will arise from consuming too much rather than too little. This is already in evidence in some areas, especially in the developed world, where diseases of affluence — obesity, diabetes, cardiac arrest — are the biggest killers. These plagues have quickly jumped, along with the Western diet, to the developing world, as well. Human genes adapted to conditions of scarcity are woefully unprepared for conditions of a caloric cornucopia. We can expect this process only to accelerate as the falling prices of Big Macs and other products our bodies don’t need make them available to all.

The rise of social media, the internet and the era of constant connection are other sources of excess. Human beings have evolved to manage tasks serially rather than simultaneously. The significant degradation of our attention spans and precipitous increase in attention-deficit problems that we have already experienced are partly attributable to spreading our attention too thin. As the number of data inputs and options for mental activity continues to grow, we will only spread it further. So even as we have the tools to do what we need to, forcing our brains to behave well enough to get things done will become more and more of a chore.

6. Distinction between man and machine will become increasingly unclear.

The controversy over Google Glass showed that society remains uneasy over melding man and machine. Remember those strange-looking glasses that people would wear, that were recording everything around them? Google discontinued these because of the uproar, but miniaturized versions of these will soon be everywhere. Implanted retinas already use silicon to replace neurons. Custom prosthetics that operate with the help of software are personalized, highly specific extensions of our bodies. Computer-guided exoskeletons are going into use in the military in the next few years and are expected to become a common mobility tool for the disabled and the elderly.

See also: Blockchain Technology and Insurance  

We will tattoo sensors into our bodies to track key health indicators and transmit those data wirelessly to our phones, adding to the numerous devices that interface directly with our bodies and form informational and biological feedback loops. As a result, the very idea of what it means to be human will change. It will become increasingly difficult to draw a line between human and machine.

This column is based on Wadhwa’s coming book, “Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future,” which will be released this winter.