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InsurTech Ohio Spotlight with Jeffery Williams

Jeffery Williams is a Director, Digital Insurance Leader at Microsoft, where he works tirelessly to bring Microsoft's mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more to life by helping insurance providers transform their businesses using the cloud and AI. Jeffery was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, Co-Founder at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.

Jeffery, what are the key themes that will impact the future of insurance?

“This is something that I've been talking to customers about for a long time. I believe four themes are going to shape the future of insurance. First is digital experience. Insurers are investing in digital capabilities because they understand that there's a digitally conscious customer in the market who expects a certain experience when transacting with service providers. Insurers understand that digital experience doesn't only apply to customers, and they are also investing in capabilities that elevate employee and partner experiences too.   

The second theme is solution focus. The future of insurance will be one where insurers will leverage all the data around them, internally and externally, to really understand the customer, how they live and what the risk needs of the customer are. Risks are becoming more individualized and better understood because of this wealth of data, which enables insurers to offer packaged solutions, not just products, that meet the needs of the customer and simplify the way the customer uses financial services. Think about it like a one-stop shop type approach to insurance and financial services. 

The third theme that will drive the future of insurance is connected ecosystems. We often think about businesses as having large, comprehensive ecosystems through which their value is created, but customers also have value creating ecosystems. Customers are transacting with all manners of companies, and within those transactions are all manners of data. Insurers are getting smart about how they integrate and partner within their customer's ecosystems to drive value. 

Last but not least is data monetization - perhaps the most important driver of the future of insurance. Data intelligence underpins all three of the previous trends, and I think that data monetization will be something that's going to be top of mind, especially given the acceleration of technology. Amid increasing competition, an evolving consumer and challenging markets, insurers must harness data to move the needle forward for their profits and everything else that comes along with greater access and control of data.”

What technologies are you most excited about as that future unfolds?

“Cloud technology is of tremendous importance right now given that many insurers are still going through transformation and modernization efforts. Another technology is the Internet of Things (IoT) and what it means for connecting devices and rethinking product design and customer engagement. In addition, data management technologies are making it easier for insurers to access and use data in a secure and compliant way. Then there is Generative AI, the technology that has dominated news headlines as of late. The emergence of this technology over the past year has changed how society thinks about AI, which has been around for 50+ years in different iterations such as computer vision and natural language processing. Generative AI has democratized how the world experiences AI.”

What are the steps insurers should take to scale AI?

“It starts with having an understanding of what this technology is going to do. In most of my customer conversations, I spend a great deal of time talking about the possibilities. What does it mean for enriching customer and employee experience? What’s it going to mean for rethinking business processes like claims handling or underwriting functions? What’s happening in the insurance industry and beyond that holds relevance? Again, it starts with educating yourself on the possibilities. 

Second, it boils down to looking at your tech stack and your state of maturity. One of the things that's going to be foundational to having a sound AI strategy is having as much of your data in the cloud, being able to harness that data and access that data in a way that’s not complicated by monolithic or disconnected systems. The cloud is going to be foundational in helping customers develop less complex, more accessible data structures that can be used to extract the full potential of AI. 

Third is the AI roadmap. I started off saying that you need to know where AI is going to help you as an organization move the needle. But, what does it mean for your business specifically? You must develop a list of use cases and prioritize them based on your measurement of value. Think about your people - you will need to train them to empower them to apply it successfully. Having an innovative culture can accelerate how quickly your people are able to adopt AI but also how quickly they’re able to translate that into value. Moving forward sometimes includes taking some risk, but AI isn't something you want to be risky about. Having an AI governance system in place can ensure that the AI you’re developing and deploying is safe, reliable and unbiased." 

What are the considerations that we need to be thinking about when it comes to AI?

“This is an area where I want to give props to Microsoft because we've been in the AI game for a long time. This isn't anything new to us. We've always thought of AI as a vehicle for helping our customers make their businesses better, make their communities better and move society forward. We understand that there's great power in AI, but we also understand that there are risks. There are six AI principles that guide our approach to responsible AI - fairness, privacy and security, transparency, reliability and safety, inclusiveness and accountability. These six principles should be core and guide any work around AI.

Why? These principles act as guardrails to ensure that the AI you are developing is fundamentally sound. These principles are intended to make AI safe, and we embed them across our solutions to ensure ethical, transparent and accountable use of AI. If you're thinking about considerations, know that AI certainly has a lot of promises, but there's a great deal of responsibility as well to developing AI. No matter how big or small your company is, you need to ensure that AI is developed and deployed responsibly.”

What would you want to reinforce for those companies that feel like AI technology is too far out of reach for them to understand or consider?

“I'll answer it this way. My middle school aged kids are playing around with Generative AI. It’s helping them do their homework, so I don't think it's out of reach for most people these days. It's important for every company to start thinking about what this technology is. You need to have a viewpoint on what it is, what it isn't and how it applies to your business. You can conduct research, develop planning around it, understand what it can and can't do and then start thinking about how you can actually develop business applications that help you win with customers and drive value to your bottom line. 

The most important piece is understanding your tech stack and thinking about where you need to go. What’s your roadmap to getting to AI? It starts with being true about the state of your IT infrastructure, evaluating it and understanding how much needs to be in the cloud versus a hybrid environment. Explore AI, experiment with it and plan for scaling it to maximize value. It’s a great time to be in insurance.”


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