Tag Archives: netscape

Is This the Day the Data Died?

Who can forget Don McLean’s iconic “American Pie”? Released in 1971, it was a four-week No. 1 hit in the U.S. It is listed as the No. 5 song of the century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts. The original 16-page manuscript sold for $1.2 million last year.

For me, the most memorable line in the nearly 800-word, eight-and-a-half-minute song is: “The day the music died.” It marks Feb. 3, 1959, where there was a seismic shift in music. The senseless and untimely deaths of rock-and-roll legends Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) are interpreted in highly symbolic and blurry verbal pictures.

After the recent presidential election, the question before us is whether Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, will become known as “the day the data died.”

No matter your political or ideological viewpoint, no one predicted what happened at the polls. Even with mountains of data and 21st century technology, mainstream media and academia completely missed the mark — and not by a little. We now know that the data wasn’t just slightly off track; it was a couple of interstate exits away from reality.

See also: Some Things Are Too Important for Paper

To try to figure out where we in the insurance industry should go from here in terms of thinking about how to use data and of projecting trends, I revisited a number of new technologies that either did not live up to the hype or just never achieved the projected dominance. Here are some of my favorites and their potential insurtech applications:

Quadrophonic Sound

Debuting in 1971, it had four-track sound instead of a stereo’s two. And everyone knows more is always better. Quadrophonic sound was portrayed as not just sitting in front of musicians but sitting in the middle of them. I actually bought a quad system with four speakers and some tapes. The problem was that there are about a billion ways to produce recordings, and no single format was ever agreed on.

Implications for Insurtech

Standards are vitally important for insurance data exchange and widespread blockchain deployment and success. But, as a McKinsey report noted, the insurance industry is not known for its cooperation, its creation of standards, its adoption or its enforcement of standards.

The Segway

Steve Jobs said it would be bigger than the PC. Time magazine called it “reinventing the wheel.” Venture capitalist John Doerr (who backed Netscape and Amazon) said it would be bigger than the internet. Jeff Bezos spurred huge hype, saying the Segway “is one of the most famous and anticipated product introductions of all time.” With pre-orders from the National Park Service and the U.S. Postal Service and with more than $90 million in venture capital funds, the Segway’s inventor, Dean Kamen, said it would be to the car what “the car was to the horse and buggy.” All original 6,000 Segways were rapidly recalled because of customer injuries when the battery was low. While it has bounced back a little bit, the Segway never lived up to its hype.

Implications

If you Google “insurtech,” you get more than half a billion hits. With more than 800 insurtech startups and almost 150 deals worth $3.5 billion of investment since 2015, insurtech is a force to be reckoned with. There is more than enough hype to go around. Remember that just because an analyst, consultant or media outlet writes about a company or technology does not mean it is destined to take over the world — or even survive.

Microwave Ovens

Everyone reading these words probably just about blew a gasket when they saw microwave ovens on this list of technologies that have not lived up to their promise. With more than 100 million units shipped in the past 10 years, how could microwave ovens be declared a failure? Well, microwaves were originally advertised as the death knell of traditional ovens. It’s not that microwaves are a failure, per se, it is that they never lived up to the hype. More than three million traditional ovens are still being sold annually, with a full 33% increase in sales over the past five years. As microwave radiation (yes, radiation) is used to heat water inside of food, it cooks from the inside-out. While microwave ovens are great for popcorn and reheating, they still cannot brown or fry, nor are they terrific for baking. I once caused a minor event (a fire) at work when I reheated some chicken in the microwave. I had failed to notice that the paper wrapping from the grocery store where I bought the chicken was lined with foil. While the ensuing fireworks and smoke were entertaining, my coworkers were less than thrilled.

Implications

While I keep count of the number of times I’ve ridden Pirates of the Caribbean in Walt Disney World (42 as of this article), I have completely lost count of the number of times the death of the mainframe was pronounced with great fanfare and assurance. The tablet was supposed to replace the PC, but, like the microwave, it has become a complementary device. We all need to exercise patience and caution whenever the next “bright shiny object” is set forth.

Razor Phone

No, this is not a spelling error or an April Fools’ prank. Not only did someone actually think it was a good idea to combine two wildly different technologies in a single device, someone else approved and financed it. I find it hard to understand what a cell phone and electric razor have in common other than they are both battery powered and operate next to your face. Having a similar name to Motorola’s Razr phone turned out to create colossal confusion; the bottom line is that consumers were not at all attracted to this “cutting edge” device.

Implications

Putting together different technologies may make some sense or add value on the surface, but it may also have unintended consequences. I once worked for an insurance company that built a 40-story headquarters. It aggressively employed all the latest safety designs and technologies. One Monday morning, I woke up to discover that I could not go to work because of a significant fire on the fourth floor. It was later discovered that an office machine caught fire and burned undetected for about eight hours, causing considerable damage and disruption to the company. How could a fire burn that long without being detected, you may ask? The problem was the same as the Razr Phone: two technologies that seemed to make sense but had results that were problematic (at best). Smoke detectors were imbedded into the ventilation system and, to conserve electricity, the ventilation system had been turned off over the weekend, disabling the smoke detectors’ sensors. With no smoke detectors, the fire was allowed to burn until an overnight computer operator happened to open the door to the 25th floor stairway. With smoke billowing out, the operator manually pulled the fire alarm. One other note: With its reliance on all the latest technology and fire resistant materials, the building did not have sprinklers, much to the chagrin of the insurance company, the architect and city officials who approved the plans. A state-of-the-art sprinkler system was retrofitted, costing much more than if it had been installed during the original construction.

See also: The End of Leadership as We Know It?  

While no one should boast about the outcome of the recent elections, we all should question what is going on when it comes to the media and “the experts” who proudly boast they know the truth because they have the data.

In these cases, their feet were firmly planted in the air.

Thought Leader in Action: At Google

Loren Nickel, who has a major role in our profession as the director of business risk and insurance at Google, got his start without even doing a job interview.

That story begins when his mother researched careers and suggested that in college he study to become an actuary. Nickel pursued statistics and actuarial science at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and became president of the Actuary Club – with its maybe 10 members, he says.

He wanted to build interest, partly to get more prospective employers to come to UCSB, so he decided to set up a website – this was in 1994 and 1995, before Netscape exploded on the scene through its initial public offering and introduced the Internet to the public consciousness. Nickel wrote the software for the website himself and paid $35 of his own money to get the UC system to host the site. He then used his e-mail address to answer questions from students and others about the actuary program at UCSB.

The word got out, at least to one UCSB alumnus who played an important role in Nickel’s career. John Alltop, who was in charge of the actuarial services division of Fireman’s Fund, asked Nickel if he knew of anyone who would be interested in an internship. Nickel raised his hand. Alltop, who is now president of Actuarial & Risk Management at Bickmore Risk Services, asked him to visit. At his own expense, Nickel drove 365 miles up the coast to Novato, north of San Francisco, and paid for a night in a hotel. He says that the second he walked in the door he was given the internship even though “I told them I hadn’t even done anything for them yet.” Shortly thereafter, Fireman’s Fund hired Nickel full-time.

He worked on various national accounts, and Fireman’s Fund rotated Nickel every 18 to 24 months to different operating divisions, ranging from workers’ comp and property risks to general liability, enabling him to learn different facets of the insurance business. Nickel learned the “big picture” by seeing how Fireman’s Fund used the actuarial component in its underwriting of client risks. Then he became the underwriting manager.

In that capacity, Nickel was able to work with brokers and sales teams to see how actuarial projections fit in. He developed his communication, sales and people skills. That experience launched Nickel into his next career move, working for AON, a leading brokerage firm. This included an assignment in London to work with the operational risk team, designated as a center of expertise. Returning to the U.S., Nickel led AON’s actuarial division in the Western region, which included providing actuarial consulting services for Google for nearly three years.

He joined Google in the spring of 2015. Nickel, who is 41 years old, lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco, so he commutes perhaps an hour and a half each way on one of the famous Google buses, to his office a few minutes from headquarters well down the peninsula in Mountain View. The bus is comfortable enough and the Wi-Fi so good that the ride is basically an extension of his office.

Nickel says his consulting experience at AON is a good fit at Google, where his risk management responsibilities could be best described as “advisory work.” He works in consultation with various Google teams to help keep them more informed and able to make better decisions from a risk viewpoint. Perhaps the biggest change is that he’s now on the buyer’s side of transactions. This, of course, includes multiple brokers and insurers.

Google’s stated mission is to organize the world’s data and make it usable by everyone on the globe, and all new products or services relate to that vision, but Google’s renowned “moonshot program” searches for disruptive innovations – which, by changing how people do things, can change the nature of risk. Google has fewer boundaries than most business ventures, to stimulate innovative thinking, so a traditional risk management program, with all of its financial constraints, doesn’t fit the Google model of business development. (Nickel is quick to point out that Google does employ a vast number of risk management best practices to protect its employees, property, users and the general public.)

Nickel leads a risk management team of four direct reports, with an additional five Googlers who work within the risk management structure. He says Google is much less about the function where someone works (i.e., risk management) than about the right mix of individual skills. For instance, on his team, some have an insurance background while others have skills in legal, actuarial science, project management, accounting, etc. “It’s a very different mix of personnel than what you would find in a traditional corporate risk management department,” Nickel says.

Asked how he gets in tune with and integrates risk management concepts with Google’s diverse divisions around the world, he says that making strong relationships is No. 1 – knowing the right people. This ensures that Googlers are aware of the advisory and outreach team in risk management. Risk management does not serve as a policing authority but serves more as an information source. Other corporate teams, such as legal, partner with risk management as issues arise. Responsibilities are clearly assigned and managed exclusively by organizational silos, as in most organizations. Nickel says everyone is very receptive about the information that the risk management team shares – in previous jobs, he often saw posturing.

Nickel says a guiding principle at Google is that “Googlers take care of other Googlers,” so risk management is in the culture, and safety is paramount. Even the food choices are healthy. Google provides its more than 60,000 Googlers with free, very nutritional and delicious food and snacks as well as a wide variety of campus features that promote health and well-being. Google even provides onsite medical providers at its larger locations. Without sharing statistics, Nickel makes it clear that Google has “phenomenal” workers’ comp claim experience that is far better than companies of its size. He added that Googlers feel respected and appreciate how well they are treated.

Asked if Google has any official opinion about the ownership or operation of driverless cars, where its pioneering work has sparked extraordinary interest, he said the risk department does not provide opinions on the products that Google creates. He did say the department is focused on making any new Google technology safer, getting it to market faster and winning support from regulators. “We do not determine how autonomous vehicles are used,” he says. “Instead, the goal is to facilitate the creation of great technology that could improve the world.”

When asked what advice he would give to newcomers in risk management, Nickel suggests that they try to experience different roles from different perspectives – from both the insurance and user sides — with respect to the implications of risk in organizations.

“These diverse experiences provide a deeper context to the bigger picture of risk,” Loren says. “Risk managers have to have more than one style, approach or understanding of risk to truly be impactful.”

From an educational standpoint, Loren adds that a “good grounding and understanding of mathematics and statistics is extremely helpful….For me, risk management success is much less a factor of knowledge than it is to gain perspective and practical experience. You need to learn to take nebulous concepts and to organize information that can be put into a plan that other people can understand and act upon.”

‘Surviving Workplace Wellness’: an Excerpt

Our series of excerpts from Surviving Workplace Wellness starts with the epilogue, because Aetna managed to incorporate everything that is wrong with workplace wellness, as described in the book, into one press release. It is the book’s epilogue because Aetna’s announcement followed the completion of the text. We actually held up publication of the print version to squeeze this epilogue in.

The caveat for brokers: Be careful what you sell. Your commission checks may come from the seller, but your business value comes from retaining your clients.  As your clients grow more skeptical of wellness vendor claims, you need to be a step ahead, anticipating their skepticism rather than being blindsided by it.

Dr. Aetna Is In

Imagine how you’d feel if you got a letter saying basically:

Dear Fat Person,

We aren’t doctors, and you’re not sick, and you never asked for our help and probably never would, but we’ve got the solution for you anyway: Arena’s Belviq and Vivus’s Qsymia, obesity drugs made by companies we’re partnering with. True, these drugs are expensive, have side effects that you may not tolerate (the nasty outcomes in clinical trials included a 20% incidence rate of paresthesia, a 5% incidence of high blood pressure and a 12% incidence of back pain) and lack a generally accepted treatment protocol, but nonetheless we’d like you to give them a try.

Sincerely,

Dr. Aetna

This is basically what Aetna has in mind. They essentially made a list of all the things wrong with wellness programs — unwanted interference in people’s lives, playing doctor, unproven therapies, opaque relationships with “recommended” suppliers, high expense and “diagnosing” people who aren’t sick — and packaged them all into one press release (1/14/14).

This release came out after our e-book, and we considered holding our two cents for Surviving Workplace Wellness: The Sequel. Yet naïve optimists that we are, we decided that by the time any sequel would be published, wellness will have gone the way of the Edsel, pet rocks, Netscape, colon cleanses (we hope) and Sarah Palin (see “colon cleanses”), thus rendering us obsolete along with the rest of the industry. Hence we are squeezing them into an epilogue now.

To summarize, Aetna is pitching specific name-brand drugs — not just any name-brand drugs but name-brand prescription drugs that consumers have rejected (Arena’s Belviq and Vivus’s Qysmia) to the point where one Wall Street analyst described them as ”flailing” — to “selected Aetna members” who aren’t even sick, just obese. So this is a wellness first two different ways. No health plan has ever pitched name-brand drugs to its members before, let alone to members who aren’t sick.

But wait…there’s more.  Because it’s likely that not a lot of obese people would ever call Aetna to ask: “What specific flailing drugs from manufacturers you’ve made side deals with would you recommend for me even though I’m not sick?” Aetna isn’t taking any chances by just sitting by the phone. Instead, it is providing “outreach” to those members (maybe not using that exact letter above but not far from it) — combined with an incentive that is really hard to come by, a totally free app — to convince people to take these drugs.

In your eagerness to get this free app and lots of drugs that don’t work, you’re probably asking: “How do I get to be a ‘selected Aetna member’? I bought a policy from them.” Haha, good one. You didn’t seriously think Aetna would actually spend its own money covering its own insured members for its own program covering its own partners’ drugs endorsed in its own press release, did you? Hello? Have you actually read this book? Obviously, Aetna executives don’t believe this program can save money any more than you and I do, so participation is a privilege they reserve for their self-insured employer customers who want to follow Harvard Professor Katherine Baicker’s advice in Chapter 3 to ”experiment” on their employees, taking the advice a step farther by using flailing drugs.

After you’re done wondering how something could be good enough to sell to Aetna’s customers but not for Aetna’s insured members themselves, you may also be excused for then wondering whether Aetna knows anything about weight control in the first place, as the release demonstrates a failure to understand the difference between short-term weight loss and long-term weight loss maintenance, an overreliance on anecdotal outcomes and an insufficient disclosure of product side effects.

However, the misunderstanding of the basics of study design and weight control — along with the ignoring of any consequences of Aetna’s actions such as any potential liability if these drugs turn out to be another fen-phen (phentermine of fen-phen fame is one of the two active ingredients in Qsymia) — is not the lead here. The lead here is that Aetna is playing doctor with a license it doesn’t have, pushing drugs that no one seems to want on people who aren’t actually sick, without even taking the financial consequences of its own actions but rather foisting those consequences on the very same employer customers whose financial risks and whose employees’ health it is supposed to be protecting.

Now you see why we couldn’t wait for the sequel even if there is one, and why there’s likely to be one.