It’s time to evolve how you collaborate in a data-driven world

Posted on September 26, 2016 by Tom Link

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When I first discovered how well the insurance industry collaborates, I was blown away. As an outsider, learning how agents, brokers, carriers, and reinsurers all work together to identify, write, and share risk was both overwhelming and fascinating. I was impressed at how multiple insurers participate in sharing a single risk and how each does so leveraging its unique strategy and specialty. An industry that initially seemed boring to me became artful and fascinating, even noble. I continually reflect on how this level of collaboration and risk sharing makes tremendously ambitious projects—from skyscrapers to city centers— possible. And yet, surprisingly, this industry that is so fundamentally built upon collaboration seems to lag far behind its peers when it comes to technology innovation and collaboration.

Before starting SpatialKey, I co-founded Universal Mind, a digital agency dedicated to helping businesses figure out how to use technology to differentiate themselves and improve customer experience. SpatialKey is a natural extension of that simple idea, except we focus specifically on helping insurers. As I’ve worked to build companies I’m proud of, I’ve learned some invaluable lessons I think can help everyone participating in the insurance space.

To me, the industry’s call to be more data-driven is a call to collaborate on solutions that simplify the process of interpreting data. After all, consider the caveman. Probably not where you thought I was going with that, right? Bear with me.

Neanderthals died out for one simple reason: they failed to learn how to collaborate with groups outside of their tribe. Homo erectus, on the other hand, thrived because of their ability to trade their specialized skills with outside groups, according to Matt Ridley, author of The Evolution of Everything.

Today, it’s really not all that different. Our economy is built on this simple exchange of skills, and I’m betting that’s hardly surprising to anyone. But I see business leaders thinking they can go it alone when it comes to technology in insurance. In talking with clients, I hear a lot of stories about data being difficult to interpret, contextualize, or provide in a timely fashion to decision makers. I hear about internal teams building systems that stray from their areas of expertise, and a cry for a way to get work done faster (not to mention cheaper). I can’t help thinking we’re ignoring some of the lessons of our ancestors. This is why I deeply believe in the power of focus, specialization, and exchange. The only way to survive—and let’s face it, evolve—is to hone our own skills and have the good sense to collaborate with other experts along the way.

I invite you to consider that outsourcing to experts is something you already do. You may use third-party administrators to manage claims adjustments during an event or underwriters and managing agents who specialize in writing certain regions and classes. So it makes sense to do this with the data you use to drive your business forward, right?

Data, to put it simply, has no value unless you understand it. Over the past several years, the explosion of available data sources you can access to make decisions has been amazing. But the creators of that data are frustrated because few people can deploy that data effectively (or sometimes, know it even exists). And you are challenged by having to manually manage disparate data sources and provide relevant data meaningfully and effectively to people making decisions. SpatialKey was designed to help both parties—making more data available and useful so it can be interpreted and acted upon. I’m proud of how we’ve made that happen—and I appreciate that it could have never have happened if we hadn’t collaborated with our clients.

That’s why I’m passionate about building an ecosystem where we’re an effective contributor and where we can be smart about how we collaborate with others. One of the ways we do that at SpatialKey is by partnering with data experts. We don’t make flood footprints or wildfire extents, so we understand the value of working with experts like JBA Risk Management, KatRisk, NOAA, USGS, and Location, Inc. (to name only a few), who do incredible work with data. Exchanging our skill of visualizing data with their talent of creating it helps us move technology forward for insurers. Without this exchange, there’s no way we’d be able to give our users the ability to visualize and interpret the data they need to make the decisions that positively impact their bottom line.

The truth is this: maintaining the status quo will hinder our long-term success. I knew this when SpatialKey was in its early days and was determined to make sure we were always thinking creatively to help our users stay ahead of their competition (while maintaining our own edge in the software space). We’ve always known that our specialization is building innovative software with a keen focus on purpose-built analytics and great design. What we didn’t always know is that it would be for insurers. One of our first clients, Willis Re, is a veteran in the insurance space. Willis Re are experts in placing reinsurance, and needed a way to effectively develop and convey their strategy and recommendations to their clients clearly, interactively, and fluidly. Rather than build their own internal solutions, as was the traditional route for other reinsurance brokers, Willis decided to collaborate with us. They appreciated that what we brought to the table could help them differentiate and create a better and more impactful solution for their clients.

“We are at the forefront of risk and reinsurance, but we recognize where others can provide exceptional capabilities for us—especially when it comes to software,” says Vaughn Jensen, Executive Vice President, Willis Re. “Investing in our partnership with SpatialKey has given us a real competitive advantage because we can stay focused on being experts on what matters most to our clients and business.”

As it turned out, we needed Willis Re  to help us see how beneficial our solution could be for geospatial insurance analytics. This exchange is one of many that pushed us to actively pursue developing our software specifically for insurers. It was through this collaboration that I saw the benefit of offering, not to just Willis, but to the insurance industry, one of the key things they’re always trying to provide their own clients: peace of mind. What excites me the most about collaborating in this way is the remarkable ripple effect it has on product advancement. The more we collaborate with our clients, the better solutions we can offer the entire industry.

It’s no secret that many companies in the insurance industry are working to catch up when it comes to technology. Collaboration is the clearest way for you to get where you need to be. Together, we’re building something that is advancing technology in insurance. The more collaboration that happens, the more we’ll see companies grow, innovate with technology, and maximize profits.

The cool part is that insurance is one of the most prevalent and necessary things in our world today, and it’s only going to keep evolving. I know there are endless opportunities for exchange, specialization, and advancement—new players in the industry, new ideas, new approaches. With so many ways to move forward, if you embrace collaboration as a way to innovate, you will not just survive, you’ll thrive.

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