Businesses that are striving to be innovative often embrace popular terminology. One concept that’s been receiving a great deal of attention is “data-driven,” as in a business that roots its operations and decision-making in solid data rather than subjectivity.

There are many businesses today that are truly driven by data, from online travel services such as Airbnb® that exist completely online and in databases, to heavily data-dependent operations that are tied to physical processes, such as Amazon®. When we talk about data-driven businesses in the insurance industry, we’re usually referring to what’s been called a data-informed operation, in which data is used with conventional business practices to optimize existing business models and improve competitiveness. 1

The goal of such organizations is to leverage data to gain the intelligence needed to make the kinds of decisions that can transform the business. Doing so requires those businesses not only to change their processes, but to make significant changes in their culture and the mindset of leaders and staff. Successful transformations into data-driven approaches are resulting in improvements of 20 to 30 percent in EBITDA as those organizations develop access to more granular insight and create efficiencies. 2

Among the advantages of moving to a data-driven paradigm are the potential for revenue growth, as it becomes easier to more precisely target clients, adjust pricing to their situations, and react more quickly to market changes. This strengthens client loyalty by better assessing and responding to their needs; increasing profitability and efficiency; and becoming better at identifying potential areas of risk so they can be addressed more quickly. 3

The key to making the transformation into a data-driven organization is ensuring that all business decisions will be derived from the data and the strategy. Signs that your business is doing this well include data always being incorporated in meetings and discussions about tactics, having the data strategy emphasized during onboarding of new employees, data being addressed in the budgeting process, and being able to identify an ROI for the data strategy. Just as important, your top leaders must be able to explain the strategy and its objectives to employees and those outside the business. 4

There are some common philosophies you’ll find in companies that make a successful transformation to a focus on data. They begin with a leadership team that embraces and evangelizes the importance of a data-driven culture, and places a high value on transparency and communication. That’s important, because success with this business model requires genuine collaboration among all levels and functions. Sharing data among all employees makes it possible to improve that collaboration and encourage greater performance among individuals and teams.

Companies that have become data-driven place a priority on the collection and storage of practical, usable data. They invest in the tools and knowledge needed to gather, store, and analyze new data as it becomes available. By creating this type of framework, they’re able to continually assess current systems and processes and gain immediate insights into areas where change is needed. 5

If your organization and its operations are not already built around obtaining, storing, and analyzing data, there are several steps you can take to achieve the transformation. From a high-level perspective, you need to develop analytic models that are relevant to your business, understandable, and that provide useful information. Ideally, those models should be based on your current processes for decision-making. Next, use the models to turn the analytics into simple tools your entire team can use to inform the decisions they have to make as part of their functional responsibility. Finally, use what you’ve learned to create value from all the data that’s available to you. 6

Here’s a practical framework for moving forward with your own transformation:

Start with the leadership. If the people running your organization do not embrace your goals enthusiastically and by example, the rest of your staff won’t make it a priority. It takes more than simply stating that data is important and must be considered. The leadership has to create a believable business case for how the focus on data will benefit both the organization and the employees.

Fix some things fast. It’s rarely a good idea to rush into significant changes, but identifying some key problems or opportunities and making those the first objectives for the transformation can produce evidence that the focus on data is sound and effective. If the team sees measurable ROI and value, they’ll be more likely to embrace subsequent efforts and to help the company’s leadership develop key performance indicators for gauging success.

Scale up in steps. Rather than jump into the new focus by making a significant investment such as the replacement of all technology, construct a transition plan using the resources the company has and open-source tools. Instead of trying to solve large problems in one fell swoop, break them into smaller components and develop incremental solutions. Thinking smaller will increase the likelihood of success and staying on a timeline, which will build enthusiasm for continuing to expand the effort. Along the way, look for opportunities to improve your data architecture and processes to create efficiencies and set standards for continuous improvement.

Prepare your people. As you move through the transformation to an organization that relies more heavily on data, you may begin to notice gaps within your team’s expertise. Employees whose enthusiasm for dealing with the new environment may surprise you. It’s a good time to consider realigning your staff to meet the needs of the changing organization by changing people’s roles or making strategic hires.

Celebrate success. Finally, as the company begins to derive successes from the transformation, take time to ensure everyone knows how well things are going. Recognize staff members for the contributions they make, and reward everyone in small but meaningful ways for their willingness to take risks. That recognition will encourage continued innovations. 7

Footnotes

1 Loshin, David, “What is a data-driven business?,” SAS.com Data Roundtable Blog, November 30, 2017

2 Gleeson, Brent, “The Benefits of Leading Data-Driven Organizational Change,” Forbes.com, Sep 28, 2017

3 Waller, David, et al, “Transforming into A Data-Driven Organization,” OlverWyman.com blog, May 2017

4 Karna, Henna, “5 Key Questions to Ask About Your Data Program,” Risk & Insurance, July 9, 2018

5 Gleeson, op. cit.

6 ibid.

7 Waller, op. cit.

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