by Charles Sybert –
I heard in a zoom meeting the other day, “large companies empower their staff to set up meetings, small companies empower their staff to be entrepreneurial.” When I heard that, it reminded me of how the world needs to change in light of the Covid-19 environment. Today we can no longer meet in person to discuss a concept, draw on the board to convey an idea, or read the non-verbal communications as we are all working remotely. When people lifted and shifted the desk from the office to a remote location, the dynamics of the environment changed, but the culture and processes did not.
To emerge from this crisis as a vibrant company, a shift in business operations will be required. Before any real work is started, the teams need to adjust to working at home, which comes with its own set of challenges, including adapting to new routines, learning new collaboration tools, and getting comfortable going on camera for face to face video meetings. Learning to manage distractions like dogs barking when the delivery person rings the doorbell, children having to be fed and kept busy, or my favorite –
fighting for space in the kitchen table with everybody else in the house. Once the teams are settled and communicating smoothly, it is time to turn the focus to gaining that competitive edge and leveraging technology to get there sooner. The time is ripe to explore concepts such as citizen developers and digital co-workers to remove non-value added tasks and optimize how work is accomplished.
Take a pause and evaluate your team
With the minimum required support structure now in place to allow remote work for employees, it is time to take a pause and honestly evaluate the efficiency of the team and determine the degree the culture can absorb new changes such as refined processes, new systems, and other improvements. For example, at RCG, we are lifelong consultants who are used to collaborating with our teams halfway around the world, but insurance companies are used to having in-person meetings and walking by people’s desks to have drop-in conversations.
While the work of keeping the lights on and new innovative delivery are still driving business factors, the implementation road map needs to be redrawn and reimagined. The questions you need to ask are
- Is my IT team working as a cohesive unit?
- Is the business communicating with clear direction on the wants, desires, and needs?
- Are there more defects/outages than expected?
- Are my current program deliveries still performing at the same velocity?
Most likely, your teams are still trying to figure out the work at home model was, for the most part, instant messenger has replaced the “drop by a colleague’s cube to for a quick discussion.” The availability of video-capable collaboration tools has been a great addition to the remote warrior’s tool belt, but I would venture a guess that many still face difficulties and often hear the familiar you are on mute, we can’t see your screen, or my internet is dropping out.
So how do you deliver in an environment where the team is having a hard time communicating with each other, let alone deliver? The answer is the same way a 1,000-mile journey is accomplished, one mile at a time.
Instead of tackling the massive cloud migration, infrastructure upgrade, or refiling all of the forms, look for smaller, simpler, and targeted projects that can be accomplished by two or three people, such as working down the ever-looming technical debt or review of the policy declarations language for compliance. These should be shorter, quick hit, simple types of projects.
This will provide the team a sense of accomplishment, allow members to adjust to the new delivery approach, and overcome the technical issues with remote work. You will quickly realize the team has developed new bonds, adapted to the new means of communication, adjusted to the remote work style, and can return to high performing teams.
Remove the noise
Now is the best time to reorganize the workload and make it more widget-based with crystal clear expectations of each step and lighten the load of email management. Perhaps move to a tool similar to Service Now or Jira to provide a metrics-based approach even for areas that don’t seem like it would fit. For example, updates to the forms can be an e-mail with a form attached to it for implementation efforts. Instead of email, move to a Service Now tool where the requestor logs all of the information, and the necessary tasks such as development, testing, and implementation are automatically generated.
The teams were previously drowning in emails with limited time due to other meetings, and now adding the additional stress of adjusting to remote work can cause the team to be less productive. If you can clearly outline the tasks, remove the mountain of email traffic, and clearly define the goals, the team will surprise you with creativity. This type of environment will help breed ownership of the tasks at hand, clearly understand the responsibility, and defines accountability reinforced by leadership.
Developers are no longer only in the IT area
Previously, if a business team wanted to make a change, there was a long process – documenting the business case, review of the request estimates, and then scheduling the work. Through recent advances of low-code and no-code tools, the development efforts can now be done by the business team members directly as a citizen developer. This does not replace the need for skilled and talented development staff but rather shifts the roles to one of mentorship and building frameworks.
A citizen developer is a person who has the technical aptitude, a desire to create a new function, and the vision to turn the concept into code. No longer will the developer be required to have years of technical expertise when the new tools allow point and click the type of interface development, English like coding, and application of logic. This change can empower the business user to develop and rapidly deliver the exact business requirements without having to go through translation and the sometimes intimidating IT delivery process.
To my IT colleagues, this does not mean the role of IT is gone but rather shifts into one of oversight. Instead of developers doing all of the work, they can do the heavy lifting of setting up the environments, build frameworks, and develop the more complicated aspects of the delivery. The Project Managers/ Solution Designers will need to divide and sequence the work to accomplish the vision between citizens and experienced developers. The role of governance is even more critical as it is important to keep all development focused on moving the code to production and not allow for continual development. The testing team will have new challenges of testing new code within the new paradigm of requirements will be documented differently.
Once the citizen developer environment is established, and the team is proficient, the business can be enabled to create targeted solutions that would work with the current core systems. For example, an underwriter needs to review 5 pieces of information from 3 different systems, combine it into a single document, and then evaluate the results. A citizen developer using the previously developed frameworks could develop a targeted solution that automates the entire effort, which could be shared with the team following the IT citizen developer governance process to ensure quality and compliance.
Building your digital co-worker
The workforce has evolved from agriculture to manufacturing to technology, and that evolution will continue as companies harness ever-evolving technology.
The next evolution will be digital co-workers that can perform routine and lower-value tasks such as extracting information from inbound invoices or police reports or performing thousands of complex calculations to better price risk.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been present in the technology landscape for over 10 years, but until recently, it was very limited to simple and highly structured tasks. With the addition of machine learning, the tasks can be a bit fuzzier, enabling more complex tasks with higher degrees of variability to be programmed.
In a claims environment, the adjuster receives massive amounts of electronic documents such as police reports, medical bills, or invoices. Through the use of RPA’s computer vision, the tool can read the document, recognize critical phrases/words and not only attach it to the correct file but also enter the document’s text into the claim system. Using machine learning, the tool can adapt to variations in the documentation. For example, police reports are fairly standard but will have minor variations between agencies. The RPA can be trained to pick up these differences and adjust the update process accordingly with minimal business effort.
Machine learning combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) will improve the effectiveness of digital co-workers by performing more complex and comprehension based tasks. While the RPA can do the data entry of the police report, AI, through Natural Langue Processing (NLP), would be able to evaluate the drawings and narrative provided by the claimant. If there were a difference in the intent of the narrative between the police report and a recorded statement, it would be flagged as fraud for review by the adjuster.
Machine learning could be very helpful in the rating of a policy by running millions of rating scenarios accounting for loss runs, the company’s unique experience in the area, etc. that are continually adjusted from real-world experience. For non-admitted lines, the model could be augmented with customer’s propensity to purchase the product to create an ideal price to maximize profitability. The quantitative results could help improve straight-through processing for commercial and specialty lines helping set the company apart from the competition allowing underwriters to focus on more unique cases.
So what do I do?
The most important piece of advice I have ever learned was from my private pilot brother. He said when the engines are on fire, it is time to wind your watch. I thought he was insane as the plane is crashing you need to do something NOW! He said, when you wind your watch, you take yourself out of the crisis, allow your mind to evaluate the situation, determine the best course of action and not allow emotions to drive your decision.
The same can be said about the current environment. Most companies have successfully overcome the immediate of ensuring that employees are safe and able to work. Now is the time to wind the watch and evaluate what do we do next. Have the teams adjusted to the new working style and ready to take on new challenges? Has the company made the changes in culture and process to account for the new way of working, or did you do a simple lift and shift? How are you bringing your team closer to technology and reducing the noise of the daily work functions? How do we react to the executive requests to implement a program that was slated for 2 years in 2 months?
Do not think you are alone in this effort. RCG is ready to bring our expertise to help creatively overcome the obstacle. At RCG, we focus on partnering with companies taking what appears to be an impossible journey and breaking it down into smaller achievable tasks and guiding you to achieving business outcomes.