Since the turn of the century, technology has developed at an almost exponential rate. So quickly, in fact, that many businesses and entire industries have only scratched the surface of what’s possible.
In a world of advanced technology like supercomputers, digital twins, blockchain and 5G connectivity, it’s less about what’s actually possible, and more about what you think is possible. This means most businesses no longer need to worry about the constraints of the tools they’re using; they don’t have to engineer their innovation strategies around those limitations. Rather, they’re only held back by their own understanding of what’s available, how to use it effectively, and what it is that needs to be fixed.
If you have a clear picture of a problem, know what tools are available and have a vivid imagination, the sky’s the limit.
Recently, we worked with Dutch insurance company De Goudse to help them do just that: use technology pragmatically to solve a real-world problem and build something that actually matters.
When you think of the insurance industry, what immediately comes to mind? For many people, insurance is the perfect representation of the mundane, necessary tasks we all need to carry out as functioning adults. It’s the paperwork, the monthly premiums, the extra responsibility, that strange feeling of spending money on something you hope you’ll never actually use.
What people rarely associate with insurance, is innovation: taking a chance with new ideas and technologies. As an industry built around avoiding unnecessary risk, you can see why many insurance companies have kept their head in the sand with the same tools and processes they’ve had for decades.
But insurers are waking up to the fact that failure to innovate is the riskiest move of all. When the world around you is rapidly evolving, and your customers and competitors are riding one technological wave after the next, those tried-and-tested systems and processes will only take you so far.
These days, insurance services are less of an administrative chore and more about profiling and managing risk. As De Goudse ICT Strategy and Innovation Manager Joost Storms describes it, “I don’t think there’s an industry that can benefit as much from all technology has to offer. Everything comes together here.”
A key reason for this is that technology empowers us to collect more data from more granular sources. This data is changing the insurance game for players across the industry: from what clients can insure, to what they pay for that insurance, even down to the scope and detail of targeted coverage.
In the first stage, Inform, we aim to achieve three things. First, we need to frame the situation in order to understand the client’s vision, their strategy for achieving that vision, as well as their strengths that can help us get there.
Next, we embark on a discovery process to find anything and everything that may be relevant to the cause. This includes the latest developments in research and patents, what other businesses are doing, and what information is available to help us understand the challenge.
We then use our findings to see what opportunities are available, identifying those with the biggest practical impact and potential ROI. While working with the team from De Goudse, one such opportunity stood out: assessing how likely it is for a client’s roof to collapse.
A collapsed roof isn’t good for any business – it puts lives at risk, creates a heap of avoidable expenses and, depending on the business, can bring daily operations to a standstill. The thing is, because roofs are rarely insured, there had never been a clear reason for a company like De Goudse to invest in finding a solution.
With a bit of creativity and insight, we were able to make a strong case for why this was a challenge worth facing.
If De Goudse knew the risk of collapse, they would be able to expand their product portfolio to include roof insurance for customers whose buildings fit the right profile. And for those customers whose roofs were at a high risk of collapse, De Goudse would be able to let them know – so they can preemptively take action before disaster strikes.
Bit set out to achieve two things. First, De Goudse needed a way to assess how likely it is for a roof to collapse within a certain period of time. Second, they needed a way to present that information to key stakeholders in a clear, simple and useful way.
With the problem clearly defined, the team moved to the second phase of their methodology: Analyse.
We conducted further research to gain as much knowledge as we could on the feasibility, viability, and desirability of possible solutions. The solution needed a clear real-world application, so every new idea was assessed not only in terms of its outcome, but also its usability and ease of adoption.
As we touched on earlier, the size and structure of De Goudse creates room for agility and innovation. But there’s a drawback, as well: it also means there’s less room for error. As Joost Storms phrased it, “We don’t have economies of scale, so everything we do needs a strong business case.”
As such, the team made sure to consider the financial justification of the solution. There needed to be a strong business case with a significant potential impact on either cost savings, new business, added value for clients, or all of the above.
The two teams worked closely together to find the best route forward. While the client knew their problems, we were able to make those problems concrete, relevant and actionable. This left us with a clearly defined target that we could work towards.
We designed a solution that uses light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology in combination with a semi-public database of roof measurements and other key information. This allows us to conduct depth analysis to the nearest centimetre, so we can determine whether the incline of a given roof will undermine its structural integrity over a certain period of time.
In the third stage of our methodology, Activate, we execute on our plan and turn ideas into reality. We do this by clarifying the details of the scope, so everyone knows exactly what to build, when to build it, and where it should live.
With key stakeholders aligned and on common ground, we then move into weekly sprints to validate our theory with action. If an assumption is proved wrong, we correct our model and keep moving forward – with every iteration, our solution is better, stronger, more resilient and more useful.
Once the solution is close to completion, we amplify focus to justify further investment: be it additional use cases, areas for further development, or complementary projects to build upon the foundation of what we’ve done.
When activating De Goudse’s roof solution, we first needed to put everything together – the raw data, tools and technology – to create a model that could accurately predict the risk of collapse. We then needed to test the model on a historical use case.
We looked at a case where a De Goudse client’s roof collapsed and, while it wasn’t insured, they ended up paying for it out of hardship. After crunching the numbers, it was clear that we could have prevented the collapse and saved De Goudse a considerable amount of money.
Now that the solution worked, we needed to ensure it was helpful and usable for the people who mattered: employees, customers, anyone with a vested interest in keeping a client’s roof above their heads.
We achieved this by designing and building an application that was easy to use and clearly presented key risk data so anyone could understand. Joost Storms was especially impressed with this part of the process: