In his latest guest blog, Kevin Field shares 7 important lessons he learned while leading multiple digital initiatives as CIO of a global insurance business.
When I joined my last employer, a global insurance brokerage, as CIO of their largest company, I formed and chaired the IT Steering Committee that would lead our company’s digital transformation initiatives. The committee members consisted of fellow C-level executives and Presidents. Our most important goals, according to our charter, were to 1. elevate the customer experience, and 2. help the company grow and gain new efficiencies through the use of technology.
It was decided that we would start with a "paperless" initiatve. As we discussed the opportunities and implications of going paperless, committee members voiced their concerns about whether we risked damaging the business by replacing live, personalized sales and service with technology. We agreed to tackle internal business operations first, and then revisit the customer facing areas at a later date.
This was a multi-year initiative that included new document imaging, workflow, and digital distribution technologies, new system-to-system interfaces, dual monitors, digitizing historical and new materials, optimizing processes, and defining new roles and responsibilities across the business staff.
Our goal was to achieve a 6% increase in operational efficiency, and location independent digital operations for business continuity. A productivity study found that we exceeded those goals, achieving up to a 12% efficiency gain.
In addition, because less floor space was needed for document storage, we reduced our real-estate footprint and eliminated one of our two locations in Rhode Island.
A Picture of Digital Transformation Success
You know the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. At one of the Steering Committee meetings, we showed stakeholders a “before” and an “after” picture. The “before” showed stacks of paper and file cabinets in one of our offices, and the “after” showed just a few cabinets which contained non-operations materials. These two pictures made the early accomplishment real and tangible, and it fueled the passion to continue forward.
Over the next few years, we offered our customers a variety of new, digital self-service portals, we created a mobile sales platform that ran on tablets, and we launched a brand new all-digital personal umbrella insurance e-Business.
Our transformation bore fruit across every area of the business - sales, operations, fulfillment and distribution, customer service and payments.
With all change comes risk, resistance and complexity. Upon reflection, here are some insights I learned over the years of our digital transformation that you may find helpful when managing yours.
Transformation Lessons Learned:
- Support old and new - "Digital transformation" is a misnomer in my opinion. A transformation is a change, however sometimes it’s actually an “addition”. For example, we deployed new customer self-service tools, but we couldn’t eliminate traditional phone support. During planning, give thought to whether the functions or processes you’re planning to transform require a commitment by those affected and/or if your company can “replace and turn off” how things currently are. You may find that you’ll need to support both the “as is” in addition to the “future state” until a transition period completes.
- Start with business operations – As internal business operations are within the control of a company and don’t directly touch customers or business partners, their transformation may have a lower execution risk and be a good starting place. Furthermore, an operational transformation may not be all-encompassing. Our strategic intent was to transform all internal business operations from paper to digital, however we discovered a few smaller unique operations whose products and services were customized. It didn’t make sense to change them so we left them alone.
- Implementing brand new may be easier than transforming what exists - Starting anew, we developed an eBusiness model for the sales and fulfillment of a new “personal umbrella” insurance product, with great success. We employed a new digital channel (B2C) for eSales and ePayments, and implemented technology for back office automation, eFulfillment and digital distribution. Given our approach, we were able to sell, collect payment, fulfill and distribute a new product without having to hire new full-time business operations staff.
- Build it and they may come - After talking with customers, we deployed self-service tools as additional servicing options for existing products. Initial adoption was spotty, so I called several customers to discuss their experiences. Some just preferred to transact business the traditional way while others preferred the convenience and extended hours of the tools.
- Be understanding and patient; change is difficult - No matter how effective your change management approach is, change can illicit an emotional reaction. We deployed a digital mobile sales platform that ran on tablets, which we called “producer tablets”. In addition to the emotional aspect of switching to tablets, people had difficulty using a stylus. We made adjustments to ease the transition, but some people were just uncomfortable with the new technology.
- One size doesn’t fit all - The vision and benefits of a digital transformation are specific to each company. During my tenure, my role expanded from CIO for one company, to CIO of several. I offered the same solutions to all of the companies, however for a variety of reasons, their appetites differed and at some of them, only a subset was adopted.
- Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination - With customers’ expectations continuing to rise, new competition from new entrants, and the proliferation of new technologies and digital data sources, the capabilities we implement today will likely be surpassed in a few years. Maybe a more suitable name, though not as eloquent is, "Continuous and never-ending digital additions and transformations".