Tech Trends: Are These Technology Projects or Business Projects?
By Andy Scurto, President, ISCS

Attend almost any insurance conference and there will be sessions detailing recent case studies or “success stories” between vendors and insurers. Nestled among the evergreen discussions on legacy replacements and emerging technologies, there are typically one or two sessions focused on project management and illustrating what it takes to execute an on-time, on-budget, large-scale implementation project. With a little luck, there may even be a session on the divide or disconnect between the business and IT “sides of the house” within an insurance company environment. 

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Following, one of the most common tenets of every business vs. IT story are efforts by insurer leadership to proactively diffuse squabbles about priorities and ownership. The set-up of a project management office or building of a multi-disciplinary team typically leads the way in terms of initial requirements, changes in project scope, metrics to be tracked, milestones which must be hit, and results ultimately desired. Upon successful completion of the project, multi-disciplinary teams are dispersed to return to regular duties within roles and departments which obviously exist(ed) both before and after the project. Rarely, if ever, are multi-disciplinary teams held together after project completion, and that makes it worth asking the question, “Who owns the end result?” 

It may just, in fact, be possible to detect a hint of cynicism in the question, perhaps due to the fact that in putting together a team designed to eliminate the divide between interest groups, many times such efforts only succeed in driving in the wedge that expands or reinforces it. And, while this may sound like a simple question, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which a chief information officer might feel comfortable turning over ownership or control of a newly implemented core administration system to a chief underwriting officer, for example. 

So, the answer to the question of whether the implementation of a new core system, or any new technology solution for that matter, is seen internally as a technology project or a business project becomes infinitely harder to answer. The resulting improvements to processes, workflows and productivity are those of business owners, but integration with downstream systems, maintenance, upgrades, uptime and security are owned by IT. With that in mind, it seems further prudent to ask, “Whose system is this anyway?” 

While the politically correct answer to that question would be to say the system belongs to the company, to the enterprise, and to all users equally, it would not be truthful. Further, it would not be possible to pull off while maintaining any semblance of harmony. Achieving agreement on this issue, as well as more than a little bit of that aforementioned harmony, must be done by establishing a single point of ownership and a hierarchy that allows quick and easy prioritization of maintenance, integrations, and even the simplest of changes. 

Naturally and traditionally, this has meant that IT owns the end result. Who else could be better equipped to modify intricate and complicated code to affect a change in price or product parameters, right? Today’s insurance professionals grew up with technology in a way previous generations never did, or had the opportunity to do. This new generation coming into the insurance industry may take positions as underwriters, actuaries, or human resource professionals, but having used a computer or an iPad since the age of three these individuals are inherently more familiar with the realm of IT in general, and insurance technology (insurtech) in particular, than some folks in similar positions would be after years of additional training. To further complicate matters, the plug-and-play nature of emerging technologies combined with the innate configurability of the solutions themselves has put ownership and control back up for grabs. 

Even considering the heightened level of technology awareness of peripheral users today, most insurers still lack the internal expertise, and will, therefore, work with trusted technology vendor partners for the original creation, coding, configuring and customization work on truly complex projects, such as core administration replacements. During implementation at least, this relationship eases the burden of deciding final ownership. However, at the end of the day, ownership and hierarchy must be established for ongoing success to be possible. But, having more tech-savvy business users means no one is ruling out a shared ownership model where IT is in charge of the technology and business owns the processes and results. In this model, back end integrations are still the domain of experienced IT professionals who understand the domino effect changes can have, and business owners set priorities and determine what functionality is needed now or next. 

Once upon a time, sharing was the answer to most sibling rivalries and schoolyard arguments, it only stands to reason it will work for insurtech, too. And, that seems the right answer to all the questions. Don’t you think? 

Andy Scurto is the president of ISCS.  He can be reached for further comment or information via email at andy.scurto@iscs.com.