Broker network pushes data analytics drive
Recognising that analytical business intelligence development was the way of the future for Insurance Advisernet (IA) was just the first step, the broker network says.
“As a business the feather in our cap is that we have data, and when we were looking around at other industries we could tell this was going to be important,” says Steve Dymond, general manager, business and information systems at IA.
Designing the means of accessing that intelligence was a whole other story, or rather, an ongoing saga, and getting everyone on board with it would be the biggest challenge, he said.
“You’re starting with nothing and pouring money into this project, but you still have to drive it and say there’s going to be this great future, so keeping the vision right from the start was hard, to make sure everybody understood it. And then the change management, it’s like anything, people want to use the old reports they used and you say no, this is the new environment, and that’s ongoing, we still have to keep going.”
The company has been integrating Microsoft Power Business Intelligence, a cloud-based suite of data visualisation tools, and developed a platform that incorporates those tools.
Among the advantages of partnering with Microsoft in the cloud was the ability to scale up or down quickly, not having to maintain any hardware, and leaving all the security issues to Microsoft to deal with.
Nevertheless it has been a huge investment of time and money to get the infrastructure right, Dymond told Insurance Business, with the project starting 18 months ago, and not set to roll out to New Zealand until nearer the end of 2016.
“The easier it looks at the front, the harder it was at the back,” he said.
“People are looking at dashboards and can see trends and splits of data and they can slice and dice with a finger on a screen, but that took a long time to get that happening in the background,” he said.
“Once you get over the hump of getting the architecture right, it’s very rewarding.
“It’s reasonably easy to then produce analytics, or ‘actionable intelligence’, which is the buzzword that I tend to use. That is, there is information, or data, here that we’ve managed to put into a format which means it’s easier for someone to make a business decision based on it.”
Dymond said insurers have long been ahead of the game in terms of data they have accrued and using that for business strategy.
He said: “I think they’re ahead of the game but it’s a different kind of game, so the insurers’ needs and the brokers’ needs are not quite aligned.
“We’re not running data across our book of business to think about things like driver behaviour, that’s an insurer’s gig.
“We’re more about how do you run your business better and what are the trends in your business, what’s working, what’s not working, and what are the opportunities in your book of business.”
For instance, IA might want to look at the premium funding element of the business, and with very little effort they can examine the landscape, distinguish what the trends are, formulate a strategy, and whittle it down into an operational plan.
“So everything we end up doing comes from our data analytical staff. We know we have to do this because that’s what the data says, so each part of our business gets run through that.”
The beauty of it was the speed in which they can now create and deploy information.
“The stuff we’re doing is stuff that could never even be thought of before, and it’s just great.”
“We’ve got teams of people inside the organisation who used to spend a couple of days a month gathering data from various places and formatting it and trying to assemble it into a shape that helped them do what they needed to do. Now it is done in two clicks, it’s a huge time saving.”
Now he was in the process of teaching those skills to end users at IA so that they could use the data in ways they needed.
Dymond said he had encountered a mix of attitudes in the wider broking world to the use of data – some out of choice, and some forced into a position due to the system they were stuck with.
“I think there are a lot of people out there that don’t have enough data so they’re stuck in a position where they’re not going to be able to go down this path.
“If you jump onto the back of some of these broking systems that are out there, you don’t get access to a lot of that data or you don’t put a lot of data into them.
“One of our advantages we feel we have with our system is that we do collect a lot of data. It seems like a pain sometimes for the end user but the advantages later in the day are that we can do those types of things.
“For your suburban broker to build an entire business intelligence architecture in the cloud, there’s a reasonable investment up front and that would be a barrier to an individual broker trying to go down that path.”
He said some brokers dismissed it altogether as unimportant.
“They rely on their instincts, and that’s fine if that’s how they want to run their business. But I do think there is definitely a growing trend towards analytics.”
That said, Dymond is not averse to trusting his own instincts at times, especially when predicting the life cycle of this technology.
“It’s still a work in progress, we’re never going to end these projects as they always keep moving and growing, but I do really strongly believe we’ve built an infrastructure and architecture that will last us more than the next five years.
“Our previous reporting environment that we used was a five year structure which is not bad, but my instinct is that we’ve built something that will last more towards 10 years – but we’ll see how it plays out, it’s a fast-changing world!”