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Spotlight: Culture cannot be closed

Yes we're open

Jeff Picozzi, global insurance lead, Red Hat, discusses why open culture cannot be simply a buzzword - and that the insurance industry needs to embrace open source technology to innovate and meet customer demands.

Jeff Picozzi, global insurance lead, Red Hat
Jeff Picozzi, global insurance lead, Red Hat

While it does not always seem like it, the insurance industry is in a constant state of change. The change does feel a bit slower at times, but there are moments when the shift is more seismic, affecting not only the products and services but also the very culture of the industry.

In the past decade, the industry has begun to move from traditional transactional-based businesses, where insurers simply collect premiums and pay claims to a value-based business, one where providing customised lifestyle services and new products, have become the new business standard. Look no further than the rapid call for usage based insurance models  or parametric insurance products.

Insurers are looking to revitalise their culture by blending business practices with technology to deliver a better outcome for their policyholders. However, organisations need to modernise more than just their products and services to be successful. 

Open culture

An open, innovative culture stems from collaborative, open source technologies and processes used to create real business value and change. One of the unique values of open source technology is that it is designed to function and integrate with other components, ultimately allowing insurers to select the best technology for their business.

This is nowhere more evident than in cloud computing. For insurers looking to get the most out of their cloud strategies, an open, hybrid cloud approach can provide the flexibility needed to build and deploy anywhere.  49% of insurance companies cite using container-based application platforms as a critical or high priority for cloud-native development initiatives over the next 12 months, according to our own research.

Cloud technology is built for agility, allowing insurers to rapidly respond to changes and scale to meet policyholder demands. However, without careful planning, insurers can find themselves locked into proprietary tools and architecture, with the potential of facing the same lack of agility they experience with in-house, legacy solutions.

Many insurers are federated and, while many share some common infrastructure elements, core systems are often siloed, with lines of business operating nearly independently from each other. Adopting an open source approach promotes the use of best practices across the organisation. Leveraging an infrastructure based on containers has also been instrumental, not only in attracting new talent to the industry, but reskilling and retaining existing IT resources.

Fostering an open ecosystem

Insurance companies striving to transform the culture of IT need to look both internally and externally. Container technologies are community-driven, open source, open standards-based technologies. When selecting and implementing new technology like containers, finding a partner that understands how to participate in – and innovate within – open source communities is essential. They also need to be secure, and enterprise-grade, without losing the flexibility and open standards of the upstream community.

An open enterprise container platform allows developers to build, test, deploy, and run applications faster on any cloud. Having an open approach to your infrastructure means you can scale out
to a wider partner network. Collaborating with new third parties allows you to extend the value of your products beyond traditional insurance coverage and offer value to your policyholders.

Your partners should also know how to bring their respective technologies to your business in an accessible and supportable way. One of the fastest ways to accelerate innovation is by partnering with insurtechs that base their products and services on community-focused, open source projects and open standards, eliminating the complexity of proprietary technology.

Your people are your greatest asset

Applying the traits of open source technology to the living culture of your business is not easy.  Working in closed environments, disconnected from IT resources and even further removed from the lines of business results in ineffective action and can impede project and business progress. IT professionals in the insurance industry need to advocate for open ways of working to increase the visibility of information and decision-making processes in their organisation. Executive leaders need to encourage staff to share their knowledge and expertise with others and be open to mentoring and cross-team collaboration.

Another area where insurance organisations can increase open collaboration within their IT groups is by structuring teams for success. Team alignment can dramatically impact project and business success. We’ve all learned to work in new ways over the last year. By building small, cross-functional teams, insurers can more easily adopt new technologies and open design practices that allow them to deploy valuable new services and functions faster. Give teams ownership of and visibility across the complete software delivery life cycle. They in turn can share their knowledge and code with others, helping to make the next project more efficient.

Finally, insurers need to encourage experimentation and new ways of thinking. Innovation requires research and change. By encouraging staff to experiment, apply new ideas, and engage with partners to co-develop, insurers can rise to meet the demands of their policyholders. 

Open culture cannot be simply a buzzword. Insurers need to adopt an open culture across the IT organisation and across the enterprise. The industry needs professionals that are as flexible and agile as the open infrastructure that it is running on.  

With an enterprise-grade open platform, insurers can access new revenue streams from digital ecosystems. This will allow them to differentiate policyholder offerings, by enhancing products and services, developing new partnerships and distribution channels, and improving operational efficiency.

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