Winning Data Strategies

Increasingly restrictive data privacy regulations have made it more crucial than ever for insurers to have a carefully planned data strategy. Communication, teamwork, and a well-defined framework are critical to creating a successful data strategy. Organizations will face several complex challenges as they define their data strategies, but the rewards of robust data and analytics capabilities are well worth the effort.

On July 28, I hosted the sixteenth Virtual Meeting of the Novarica Women’s network on the topic of winning data strategies. Our panelists, Glatfelter Insurance Group CIO & VP of Insurance Technology Larissa Tosch, Penn National Insurance IT Data Warehouse Manager Michelle Furjanic, Pinnacol Assurance Data Science Manager Ashley Smith, and Novarica VP of Research and Consulting Deb Zawisza, described their experiences working with data strategy. I’ve included some takeaways from our discussion below:

Communication across an organization is critical to keeping a data strategy on track.

Business and IT leadership must make a cohesive effort and communicate at every step of the way. Panelists suggested bringing leaders from all areas of the organization together to avoid fragmentation or silos. As one panelist shared, “The creation of our data governance board was one of the first steps we took.”

Ensure that your organization’s board meets regularly so that other priorities don’t sidetrack your data strategy. Another panelist recommended focusing on soft skills: Organizations won’t reach a consensus on data definitions or requirements without collaboration and negotiation skills.

Panelists recommended building a relationship with a business sponsor and connecting strategic goals to the business plan to improve messaging to areas outside IT. Everyone in an organization should understand that data strategy is a corporate project with a shared business goal. On the flip side, one panelist noted that targeting communication to the right people is also essential. Not everyone in an organization will need all the details. This approach will avoid diluting the overarching message.

Another aspect of communication is the availability of data. One panelist advised that “availability without dialogue is not very effective.” Regardless of availability, departments will not be able to use data without IT’s help without the appropriate tools or education, slowing down operations and discouraging frequent use of insights.

The format in which data is made available can also influence how it is used. One panelist related that their organization uses data cubes with overlaid Excel templates to enable self-service analysis for users outside IT. The key to communication is to know your audience.

A detailed data strategy framework can help avoid “boiling the ocean.”

“In each iteration of our data strategy, we categorize things,” shared one panelist, who suggested possible categories of processes such as data architecture, data management, and sub-divisions of those, e.g., data quality, profiling, cleansing, monitoring, integrity. Another panelist advised that a successful data strategy must be highly organized and focus on broader goals rather than specific reports: “Separate data integrity from insights.” Individual requests should not take precedence over the previously set business goals.

Third-party data and other sources can enrich and augment an insurer’s existing data. Many insurers use big data capabilities to ingest patterns and trends from unstructured data. The key to using big data is keeping objectives straightforward and simple.

The next Novarica Women’s Network Virtual Meeting will take place on August 25, 2021, at 11 AM ET on the topic of “How to Say No.” Speakers include Novarica’s Vice President of Research and Consulting, Deb Zawisza. More information is available at here.

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