Brief history of life insurance tech horizon in the recent past

When I met a friend in the evening from the insurance industry, I expected him to tell me few exciting things on tech horizon in the insurance industry in India. Instead, he told me that they were evaluating an integrated back-office system, which would replace many best of breed systems including core insurance system. This would mean the company would discard investment of millions of dollars and efforts of thousands of person years. About 5 years back when I came across world’s leading ERP and Enterprise systems provider’s plans to bring in an integrated suite for insurance companies in India, I wondered whether there would be any takers for them in India.

It has been for a while since I gave serious thought to tech matters for life insurers since I quit my last assignment as the CTO of an Insurance major in India. Sometimes, its very interesting to just look back and ponder over the past while one looks ahead. Here is how insurance tech scene was when I left to co-found Navitus Education, an eLearning venture in 2013:

  1. Mobility: My company was engaged in revamping a very successful mobility initiative that we had launched, one of the first of its kind in the industry. While we had started working on the version 2.0 of our initiative, our other peers in the industry had started to work on their version 1.0.
  2. Enterprise Social Collaboration: Corporate versions of Facebook, Enterprise social collaboration was expected to be big. In fact so big that few reports predicted that email was going to be dead. Few early adopters including our company in the industry did make attempts to implement enterprise social collaboration, unsuccessfully though.
  3. Analytics: Analytics has been the darling of the industry in different shapes and forms for years now. TheĀ  buzz in 2013 then was to hire analytics as a service thanks to attention that some of the start-ups received in the media. However, due to the huge cost involved in hiring the data scientists and associated tools, analytics as a service remained out of reach for the industry.
  4. Customer facing Apps: Customer facing apps such as self-service Portal, CRM, Illustrations Application, Insurance receipting systems had entrenched themselves well in corporate IT landscape. The corporate IT spend in these areas mostly was for incremental enhancements.
  5. Distribution Management System: EDM/CMS, whatever name they existed under continued to be the trouble maker “numero uno” for the IT departments for various reasons: complex distribution hierarchies, unrealistic expectations by distribution teams, over-promise by vendors, and so on.
  6. Core Systems: After the initial flips flops the insurance settled for 2-3 core insurance and auto underwriting systems.
  7. BPM and Document Management Systems: Afte the initial hiccups and accidents around scalability, the dust had settled in case of most of the insurers.
  8. HR and Related Systems: HR managers first were busy hiring and later particularly post 2008 firing employees. Most of the companies were satisfied with implementations of solutions such as HRMS & self service employee portals.
  9. SOA: SOA was something on which consultants & vendors made money. Consultants sold SOA engagements & held seminars & workshops. Whereas, SOA vendors claimed that theirs was the only comprehensive SOA platform & product vendors claimed that theirs was the only product that was fully & truly SOA compliant.
  10. Cloud: Whether it was Infrastructure As a Service, Platform As a Service or Applications as a Service, industry was extremely cautious in adoption of cloud thanks to the regulations.
  11. IT Infrastructure (DC, NW, etc) and Infrastructure Operations Management: Companies followed models largely driven by what Indian promoters implemented. Few leveraged their parents infra while others outsourced. Notable experiments included opex financial model for computing infrastructure and VDI.
  12. Information Security/BCP: Was just a lip service and largely addressed to keep the auditors and boards happy. Considering it as a strategic investments area was out of fashion then. In the quest for topline, efforts and investment in these areas were considered sin. However, as data leakage issues surfaced, few companies including mine did start looking at particularly Information Security a little more seriously.

 

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Sidewalk: Innovation is the flavour of the season!

In the last week, I attended two events, first IBM Forum 2008, a premier event held by IBM across major business capitals and second, Gartner CIO Summit. And surprisingly when I attended Gartner summit, which took place after IBM Forum, I couldn’t help but experience deja vu feeling. There was a pattern. Innovation and Talent management were the topics discussed by many a speaker!

The most notable speaker at IBM Forum 2008 was Ginny Rometty, IBM’s chief of global business services. Her speech centered around 3 key challenges for organizations today: Innovation, Globally Aware Talent, and Mindset. Interestingly, she observed that Business Model innovation is more important than pure product or service innovation. What that means is that innovations in Business and process models will bring about competitive advantage for organizations as product and services get commoditised.

Gartner India CIO summit held over two days in Mumbai had two primary themes: Business Alignment & Workforce, and Technology & Processes. During these two days, while there were few generic presentations on Technology Trends for 2008 & Beyond, there were few interesting sessions.

Frank Kern, IBM’s Asia Pacific leader, shared his views on the forces shaping the next generation of global business, and the lessons emerging from leaders who make no distinction between their business strategy and the role of IT. His crisp and well received presentation had a strong under current of IBM’s Innovation agenda. I had a question for Frank; what was more important – technology(BPM, SOA): that brings about flexibility & agility or rapid process of development (SDLC) – for high growth organizations today? Not surprisingly, he suggested that both were equally important.

Greta James, Research VP of Gartner, presented Gartner’s BPM Maturity Model and addressed issues such as how should ogranizations assess their readiness for BPM, How should organizations plan for BPM initiatives and What the typical CSFs are for initiatives such as BPM.

Kathy Harris, VP & Distinguished Analyst of Gartner, made an excellent presentation on Application Maturity Model. She made an interesting point about system development process while responding to a query on the need for rapid and flexible system development approach. She quoted a European company’s IT function that was required to bypass standard SDLC to deliver quickly so that the company could compete in a a highly competitive business environment. She seemed to be one of those rare western experts who viewed process as a means to an end and not the end by itself.

Andy Kyte, VP & Gartner Fellow, made a fantastic presentation on the changing software systems horizon, how the Big 4 – Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and SAP – are likely to play this game and how should user organizations evaluate the ecosystems from the Big 4.

Diane Morello, VP & Gartner Fellow, made an interesting presentation on identifying changing assumptions and practices that will put companies on the leading edge of the quest for talent.

These were interesting 3 days that gave me an opportunity to listen to some of the best minds in the industry. Like me, the event was attended mostly by the IT professionals. However, considering the high quality of these presentations and issues discussed, I strongly felt that audience of such conferences should have been my business colleagues rather than IT professionals alone.