To deliver digital transformation, ’both practical and emotional support’ is needed from c-suite executives – otherwise change is ‘impossible’

The need for effective technological infrastructures has heightened as more businesses look to digitise their processes and operations, in part as a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, rather than replace people with technology, c-suite executives are responsible for taking the lead in providing data and tools that will “enhance that face-to-face experience”, said Tony Sweeney, chief information officer at Kingfisher.

Sweeney was speaking as part of an Insurance Times webinar in association with software company ABBYY, where a panel of industry experts discussed how the pandemic has driven both insurers and brokers to review their business practices to better align with today’s ”new normal”. 

He continued: “There’s no point starting off with any form of people process or technology transformation unless you know why you’re doing it and what the end goal is.

“You need to understand what is the objective, are you going to be customer oriented, are you going to be low cost [and] are you going to be a data enabled company? You can obviously be a multiple of those, but you need to have a clear vision of where you’re going.

“Be careful not to limit yourself to the idea that digitisation means put automation all the way.

“Think broadly, think about where your area of focus is, what will be the best bang for the buck for your business and then decide. There’s no right or wrong answer.”

Human touch and digital intervention

In terms of the digital transformation process itself, Paul Tombs, head of SME at Zurich, said that businesses should not succumb to changing everything at once because “that is difficult and that’s where the greater risk fits.” Instead, organisations should adopt “intelligent intervention”.

Sweeney explained that this could simply mean giving a broker or an insurer an iPad.

He continued: “You might find that the thing that actually gives you most bang for your buck is digitising your expenses process because your teams are spending hours a week filling in expenses, when actually if you digitise that you’ve freed up more sales time.

“There is definitely no one size fits all.”

Agreeing with Tomb, ABBYY’s solution marketing manager Eileen Potter said that “incremental changes” are the way forward, while ensuring there is a “partnership” between business and information technology.

She added: “If you have a more complex claim, you really do need the claims handler and adjuster to intervene and to make sure that things are right.

“You do need that more human touch in that intervention.”

C-suite responsibility

To make change, however, chief executive of Sønr Matt Connolly emphasised that acknowledgement and support from the c-suite is essential.

He said: “If you’ve got the top of the business wanting to drive change and being really open to that [and] the opportunities that exist, then that change will happen. And I think the opposite to that is also true.”

Sweeney added: “Unless you’ve got the c-suite behind you, in lock step behind you, just don’t even start because it always ends up in chaos.

“I’ve been there a couple of times in my career – unless the top team are 100% behind it, good and bad because there will be bad, it’s just not going to work.

“The transformational nature of what needs to be done is so all-consuming in terms of culture, people and expenditure, that unless there is both practical and emotional support, I would say it’s impossible to do.”

Future focused thinking

Although making money is obviously essential for businesses, Connolly argued that if companies are only focused on “today’s business” then they are going to be “extensively hurting three to five years down the road”.

He explained: “If you’re focusing on today as a business and you’re looking at those short-term gains, then you’re missing out on the wholly changing market around you right now.

“We know that this [digital] world moves slowly in insurance - it’s not going to be hitting us for five years to 10 years - but, if you’re not focused on that today, in a few years’ time it’s the diverging performance lines between those businesses that do focus on not only digitising current business, but also building the business of tomorrow as with those who don’t.”

If businesses want to progress, Sweeney said that it is important to have a single platform at the centre, rather than multiple legacy systems that have different ways of treating data and processes.

He said: “That is ultimately the way forward, to have that simplicity and high-quality systems which enable the cultural and people change you need to make yourself into a 21st century business.”

Reflecting on the impact of the Covid pandemic, Potter added: “People have adapted. Now they expect new ways to interact with brokers and insurers - insurers need to adapt to that.”