Ema Roloff is the Director of Sales - Enterprise Solutions at Naviant, an intelligent automation solutions integrator and a business process management consulting organization that drives efficiencies and insights into business data and processes to enable executives to make better decisions. Ema was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.
Ema, how do you help insurers understand the concept of digital transformation and contextualize what it could mean for their business?
“The last couple of years have helped insurers and businesses across every industry realize that transformation, or at a very minimum, digitization, is no longer an option. It’s a must. Given the current state of the world, you can no longer keep doing things exactly the way you’ve always done them. This has forced the hand of a lot of companies to make the move toward digitization.
I think there's still a misconception that bringing processes into the digital world is the same thing as transformation, or that transformation is simply about technology. That's just not the case. If you are looking to transform your organization, it goes beyond implementing new tools. But the other outcomes associated with transformation become easier to conceptualize when you understand the full definition of transformation. When the rise of insurtech began, many in the insurance industry took this development to mean, ‘if you do not transform now, you’re going to lose all of your business to these new-fangled insurtech companies.’
The buying message was to do it now or die. For the most part, that's been dispelled because there's still plenty of incumbent insurers offering policies and doing business. But the reality that's becoming apparent to these change-resistant companies is that it’s harder to compete with incumbent insurers that did transform. One significant hurdle insurers are facing is the increasingly difficult task of retaining new talent. As we start to see industry veterans aging out of the workforce, the question becomes, how do we recruit new people into an industry that's known for being a little stale? It’s becoming clear that if companies remain stuck in the past, it's a lot harder to get a 20 something-year-old to come on board and start interacting with outdated mainframe applications that are still hanging around.
Here’s where the insurtech companies come in. These innovative organizations can add a ton of value to your offering, but you can’t partner with them if you haven’t taken steps to change the way you work and evolve your infrastructure to be compatible with integration. You must start to lean into those changes and recognize that transformation is more than just technology, it's culture and how we retain people. It's a business strategy, not simply an initiative. When you incorporate the bigger picture into your strategy, the value of digital transformation starts to click more in people's minds.”
On a similar thread, how do you describe the difference between trying to automate versus focusing on people-driven change?
“There are many differences between strictly automating and looking at people-driven change and process-driven change because these two ideas go hand-in-hand. In the world of digital transformation, you'll often hear people talk about people, process and tech. To me, people come first. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, what technology you're introducing or how you implement it, if you forget about the people that are going to be working with it, you're not going to be successful. Sure, you can automate an inefficient process and see some degree of incremental change, but if you don’t go beyond that, you’ll never see the full range of benefits that your technology investment and transformation can deliver.
I recently did an interview with Mel Gillen, an executive in the change management space. In our chat, she talked about how change management offers the opportunity to recognize your return on investment within digital transformation sooner than you otherwise would. She shared a diagram adopted from Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief that related to how people respond to change and showed how we often respond to change similarly to the way we respond to a loss. Her team is insistent that if you don't explain the reason behind your change sufficiently enough to your team, you're going to face resistance. If you're not paying attention to the change associated with transformation on the front end, it's going to be painful the rest of the way.”
How should insurance companies balance the desire for speed and functionality out of the box with the desire to customize these digital tools?
“This idea is closely tied to the people side of transformation. When you look at the insurance industry as a whole, this buy versus build mentality has always been push and pull. Even today, when you talk to advanced companies about how they're using technology, many of them may have giant teams or development staff in house that's doing some of that for them. In doing so, they’ve leaned into the idea of heavily customized, proprietary software. In response, some organizations have begun leaning into ‘out of the box’ solutions to avoid all modifications and customizations.
Unfortunately, when you do this, you lose the valuable insights that would otherwise come from your team, like feedback on what gives you proprietary edge and the ability to be unique in the market space. If you go too far in the other direction and completely build your own solution from scratch, you’ll end up in the situation that is familiar to many insurers who within 5-10 years find themselves with solutions that are difficult to modernize. Now, hopefully your team has learned from the idea of technical debt and the importance of building things in a way that's easy to upgrade, but these resources are expensive. Even if you're using a modern coding language, developers do things their own way, and over time, you may lose historical knowledge that is critical.
My recommendation to people is to consider low code or configurable solutions. This way, you're not taking on a solution that's out of the box but rather has a flexible framework. This allows you to implement a solution that's built based on your requirements. It also gives you a build mentality and lands you in a sweet spot in the middle, so you can retain some of what makes you unique.”
Why should insurers consider a partner outside of their company in order to properly navigate their own digital transformation?
“As I previously mentioned, many insurers have a really deep technical bench internally. A lot of insurance companies also have extremely smart business-process-minded folks that are helping them manage processes and transformation. There's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, but we often find that having someone within your own organization say, ‘There’s a better way for us to do this’ can be met with resistance. This approach isn’t always as successful with initiating the spark needed to drive innovation.
I recently had a conversation with several insurance leaders. They said, ‘We know this process isn't great. We know that we have room for improvement, but when we've tried to lead that change internally, we are shrugged off.’ You can certainly work alongside a team of internal-process-minded people to make the magic happen, but there's something about bringing in someone from the outside to help facilitate those conversations and drive the urge behind transformation that can really help you get it done.
There's also value in bringing in somebody who has insights into what other industries are doing. Having this external force can help you get out of the mindset of ‘But that’s how we've always done it.’ When you're partnering with somebody that's focused on transformation, as opposed to your internal team, you have access to new insights and ideas for tackling your problems that you may have otherwise never thought of.”