During our company’s 200+ year history, we have successfully navigated many insurance industry changes. Today, however, the rate of change is breathtaking. Consumer expectations are forcing companies like ours to eliminate cumbersome paperwork that takes days or weeks to process and simplify complicated policy terms that come across as undecipherable to many consumers. People expect to interact with us digitally in a much more modern and straightforward way using computers, smartphones, and tablets.
Our customers are demanding a faster, easier way to get insurance quotes, buy insurance, submit claims, pay bills, and make changes to their policies. You’ve seen the ads: Now, even 15 minutes is considered a long time to wait for an auto insurance quote. And consumers also expect quotes and policies to be much more personalized than in the past. If we don’t deliver simplicity, speed, and personalization, consumers can easily find a company that does.
To help the business address the changes in the marketplace, IT is focusing on greater process efficiency, increased automation, and better code. And while that’s always been one of IT’s major directives, the job has gotten far more difficult. Not only do we have to respond to digital, mobile, and agile demands to provide business agility, we also have to deliver, support, and maintain a rock-solid legacy environment that functions at peak performance 24/7. The industry term for this is “bimodal IT.”
The catch is that all those new applications developed in the agile model and running in the modern digital world are calling on databases and applications that are part of our legacy infrastructure. IT has to make everything work together seamlessly. But we can move only as fast as we can simultaneously evolve our legacy infrastructure.
Making Bimodal IT Work for the Business
I expect our situation is like that of many other companies. We evolved into the bimodal scenario as a result of company growth and changing customer expectations. We don’t yet have everything figured out. But we’re taking steps to deal with the complexity that comes from working in the legacy and digital worlds simultaneously, and integrating those two worlds so we can be more agile while still retaining control. There are challenges to overcome and risks to mitigate, but that’s what makes our job so interesting. Here are some things we’re doing to transition to a digital enterprise:
- Getting the right people onboard. We’ve launched a number of important initiatives, from implementing private and hybrid cloud to educating the IT staff on agile development methodologies. As we staff up those projects, we’re making sure we pick the right people. We can’t put Joe on the team just because he has extra time on his hands, or Cindy because she deserves an opportunity for growth. Instead, we’re identifying forward-thinking individuals who are passionate about participating in our digital transformation. By having the right people on the team, we can put our best foot forward.
- Switching from tactical to strategic automation. Like IT organizations in many businesses, we have invested in automation. A diverse set of automation technologies certainly improves efficiency. However, to get to the level of efficiency we need as a digital enterprise, we’re transitioning to a more strategic approach to automation.
- Publicizing results. People need to know the results of their work. When automation shaves three weeks off a process, we tell people how much time and money we saved. Likewise, if we find that a requirement for a new application wasn’t planned for, we need to have the agility to fix it, and we need to show how much it costs to make up for that missed requirement so people understand the importance of careful planning.
- Sharing the roadmap. Our employees want IT to deliver the same kind of speed, simplicity, and performance they experience in the consumer arena. We’re responding by showing our progress in getting the company there. But we’re also explaining the speed bumps we face along the way. For example, we may show how we can automatically and quickly provision an environment, including the web tier, middleware tier, and database tier. But we also explain that if any of these or other components are lagging in maturity, we may come up short of our businesses expectations. Sharing the roadmap goes a long way toward setting realistic expectations and assuring people that we’re making progress.
- Engaging people in a conversation. Open communication is enormously helpful when business users want new apps, enhancements, and faster speeds. We discuss the specifics of their requirements and what it would cost in time and money to meet those requirements. We involve them in the process of determining if the investment has sufficient return. For example, if a business unit wants to shorten the time it takes to send email confirmations to customers, we work with the stakeholders to examine the current process and how it can be accelerated. We jointly explore how the cost of increasing capacity to speed up the response stacks up to the advantages that a faster response would deliver. Those conversations increase transparency and give IT more credibility in the eyes of the business.
The pervasiveness of digital and mobile technologies is forcing our company into a digital transformation that is somewhat at odds with the conservative nature of the insurance industry. It’s a challenge for the industry as a whole, but we’re excited about the progress we’re making. We still have a lot of work to do to increase our ability to support the demands of the digital enterprise. Our bimodal approach is enabling us to rapidly roll out digital services on the front end, while evolving backend legacy systems to meet the rigorous requirements of the new digital services world.