Industry Watch: Digital Focus in Insurance

Our journey with Digital transformation with our customers began several years back. Due to the circumstances of the last year, for many of our customers this has been brought to focus.

As a Digital practitioner, I interact with customers across industries. Financial services perhaps stand out for its focus on Digital Transformation. From customer acquisition to Risk mitigation, the financial services industry is investing heavily on the possibilities offered by Digital. Since it’s such a vast area that is spread across ecosystems, it makes sense to cover Financial services as different sub-parts. In this blog, I’ll focus on my conversations with insurance company leaders and how they are looking at the digital landscape with respect to their business.

Insurance is no longer viewed by insurers as a stand-alone industry. It is increasingly part of an insurance ecosystem. The start-ups in the insurance industry have disrupted and integrated with insurance majors. Insurtech start-ups, aggregators, platforms, and ecosystems are key to the digital initiatives of traditional insurance organizations. The focus of insurance leaders is to integrate well and get the most out of these niche technology-driven players. The niche players are aggressive in their approach. Take the example of aggregators who compare insurance products and help insurance players acquire customers. Apart from having a very strong technological edge, they come with additional strengths such as credibility (as an impartial aggregator) and more importantly lean balance sheets – which give them the ability to disrupt without taking some of traditional insurer risks. The disruptor organizations are much more flexible and are expected to be a formidable challenge for traditional insurers.

It’s possible that this will most likely be the case in the India market as well. As such, the role of the channel in the Insurance business is well established in India – thanks to the large network of LIC agents. Powering this and replacing with technology wherever necessary, is very likely to happen. Aggregators are already making a mark in India.

In a recent report Mckinsey has called out four markers that indicate the readiness of traditional Insurers globally to thrive in the new ecosystem that includes the Digital attackers:

  • How much of your customer acquisition is Digital?
  • How well is the organization using Data, Analytics and AI – are you moving towards it as a core competency?
  • Do you have state-of-the-art technology on the cloud?
  • Talent management and the adaptability

This report is a clear recognition of the role technology will play in the future of insurance. Some large Insurers have made many of these points part of the strategic roadmap. Many of our insurance customers are approaching it in the following manner from a digital disruption viewpoint.

They are making a matrix for customer-acquisition and the potential to scale up.

  • Identifying IT initiatives to make that happen
  • Making this a part of the technology acquisition plan
  • Scaling up usage of Data- traditional and big data
  • Analytics and AI initiatives plan

Some of the technology initiatives that will be very relevant in the given construct are:

  • The initiatives mentioned above demand high-speed deployment and ability to adapt on the go – all internal developments will have to be agile. DevOps is a top priority for most insurance organizations.
  • Having the right cloud strategy is imperative. Insurers are recognizing that much of their ecosystem already exists in the cloud and their ability to interact and integrate is something that will make them competitive.
  • Ability to automate many of their traditional tasks. These tasks include not processes but also external-facing tasks such as customer acquisition. Some of our customers are at an advanced stage of their automation journey.
  • Talent Management is critical. Traditional insurers have deep domain and customer expertise. Combined with the technology strengths of insurtech, the traditional insurers will be able to use technology as a growth hack. In order to leverage the best of the inhouse talent – insurance leaders have the following talent focuses
    • Designing a digital workforce that scales up agility and talent
    • Collaboration with resellers and aggregators
    • Supporting talent initiatives through technology

It will be interesting to see another traditional industry attempt to use technology levers to reach out to markets and grow exponentially. Will this be the ATM moment for Insurance? There are signs that a major technology-led transformation is already underway. How many of you have bought insurance in an insurance providers office in the recent past?? Or for that matter paid your renewal insurance premium in that manner??

Practice Head - Digital Services

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Next Generation Cloud Adoption: Distributed Cloud

Cloud Computing is an evolving discipline. Newer innovations in cloud management are coming into fruition as we speak. What started out as a ‘High-Availability Storage Space’ is now integrated into every function of business. The Cloud opens possibilities for customers to gain benefits and be agile with their workloads. By shifting to cloud they leverage the economics offered by cloud like elasticity, pace-of-innovation, better uptimes and much more, from cloud-based scheduling, cloud-based applications to cloud-based Data-backup and DR. Practically everything has to come prefixed with ‘Cloud-based’ to ensure BAU continues uninterruptedly. However, there is still a pinch of resistance and hesitation seen in organizations when deciding to go for a public cloud model, entirely.

Some prefer private cloud or to an extent are willing to adopt hybrid cloud. Private cloud, is designed in a way that they are, owned and controlled by the customer and operated by the service provider’s teams or the customer’s own technology team and in the hybrid cloud, the public cloud provider manages their set of cloud offerings.

Hybrid Cloud was introduced to further the ‘best of both worlds objective’ for businesses that were not keen on completely abandoning their Legacy Systems in favour of a fully Cloud-based IT Infrastructure. It provided a sort of ‘safety net’ whose requirement was triggered mostly by data security concerns. Distributed Cloud does all this and more.

Distributed Cloud is Cloud-based Technology’s newest offering. Gartner identified Distributed Cloud as one of the top 10 trends of 2020 and the hype around it does not seem to be slowing down and will seemingly continue well into 2021 as well, by the look of things. Distributed Cloud basically leverages Public Cloud to interconnect IT Infrastructure irrespective of Physical/Geographical Location.

Gartner describes Distributed Cloud as “the distribution of public cloud services to different physical locations, while the operation, governance, updates and evolution of the services are the responsibility of the originating public cloud provider.”

Let’s consider the scenario where a business maintains some data on-site, some on private/public cloud and others on edge environments. Maintaining all these complex IT environments require overhead and maintenance to some degree. There is also the issue of all these being physically apart. Not to mention delay/latency concerns. What a Distributed Cloud Arrangement brings to the table is the ability to extend Public Cloud Capabilities to these complex systems and manage all of a business’s spread-out IT Infrastructure.

Cloud-computing involving Distributed Cloud utilizes so-called ‘substations’ as coined by Gartner. These tactically located substations act as a shared cloud pseudo-availability zones with networking, computing and storage capabilities.

Hybrid Digital Infrastructure Management vs Distributed Cloud

In a way Distributed Cloud Management makes up for everything HDIM falls short of. This type of cloud management does not rely on a unified approach to IT Infrastructure Management. It rather focuses on usage-consistency, customization and most importantly governance.

Firstly, Distributed Cloud raises the bar in terms of networking capabilities of IT Infrastructure Clusters. Inter-communication amongst IT clusters whether it is based on-premises and on Public platforms or Edge environments, is a striking feature of Distributed Cloud. This ensures users will have consistency across the board while utilizing the IT Infrastructure. DC also dissipates chances of network failure owing to the presence of sub-stations. This was not possible in a hybrid cloud arrangement.

This uniformity in usage does not hinder customization in Distributed Cloud Systems. Personalization based on the pertinent requirements of a particular location is possible while using distributed cloud. This drives value for the customer as well as the system administrator.

Dev Ops efficiency while deploying high-value services is also augmented by Distributed Cloud. It gives freedom of choice to users when it comes to deciding their preferred cloud clusters/locations. Integrating with Public cloud features allows Distributed Cloud to have the ability to implement innovations like AI/ML based automation capabilities to all IT environments.

Source: O’Reilly- Cloud Adoption in 2020

Another key characteristic of Distributed cloud is its ease-of-governance. If any new policy is introduced at the on-site level, it will be reflected on all cloud-based and edge systems as well. Data security is thus maintainable across the whole IT Infrastructure. This ensures the same level of security at all IT environments regardless of whether it is Cloud-based or on-site. This obliterates the security concerns posed by Hybrid Cloud.

Unifying Public Cloud and IT Infrastructure

To say it in the simplest of terms, Distributed Cloud can bring the unique competencies offered by Public Cloud to IT Infrastructure and make the experience of using cloud-based and non-cloud-based infrastructure less challenging, not to mention the reduction in cost. All this drastically reduces delays to service-delivery and makes the customer-business interaction a delightful encounter.

Source: IDC 2020

But with the unification comes issues like trouble-shooting complexities due to increased chances of interaction between cloud and on-site environments. Replicated data at all these environments also have to be kept track of and secured. So, although it is the same level of security across all platforms, the intricacies regarding the same may increase. Another factor to consider is the cost of deployment. Although operational costs may drop, the resources required to deploy such distributed systems may shoot.

Is this truly ‘The Best of Both Worlds’?

HDIM is constantly described as such but distributed cloud systems may be the new ‘the best of both worlds’ scenario that will see more adoption-rates with businesses requiring more customized offerings that do not compromise on security. But Distributed Cloud is not as ‘tried and tested’ as HDIM and may only look good on paper. that may depreciate ROI, as mentioned earlier. Only time will tell. But once perfected Distributed Cloud Systems are projected to be the future of cloud-based IT Infrastructure management.

Head, Automation Practice

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Enjoy the Best of Both Worlds with Hybrid Digital Infrastructure Management (HDIM)

The purpose of IT Infrastructure and ITES is to provide continual services, without disruption and deliver best-in-class customer experience. This is only possible when the triad of end-users, customers and employees, all receive consistent response and support. Solely relying on legacy infrastructure to maintain digital assets is a thing of the past. Organisations are restructuring and automating their IT Infrastructure at a faster pace than ever deemed prior. Enterprises are drawn to a system where they can leverage the advantages of their heritage systems as well as newer technologies with more advanced features like cloud and AI.

IT infrastructure modules are no longer static entities; they are acknowledged as dynamic integral units and organisations are moving away from on-site IT Infrastructure to Cloud-enhanced systems that is better suited to the times and comes with short term and long term perks like ease-of-access, cost-efficiency and low maintenance owing to the lack of physical support infrastructure.

The Selection: ‘Critical Decision’

The most difficult part of a journey is staring it. For organisations, deciding on which systems are to stay in the legacy mode and which are to be moved to the cloud is a haunting question. The key is to identify the advent of the journey towards cloudification of systems and have a defined point of inflection that will pace up the journey of adoption.

It depends on the type of business and the kind of applications that are being used in the environment for one to decide which cloud is to be adopted and which application will be shifted first to the cloud.

There are many proven and tested approaches that are used by organizations to embark on the cloud journey, such as,

  • Moving the test and Dev environment to the cloud
  • Moving some Disaster Recovery systems to the cloud
  • Moving specific non-business workloads to the cloud
  • Consolidating distributed systems into a single large compute environment

The cloudification of infrastructure helps the ITOPS team in managing the cloud infrastructure seamlessly and focusing more on the legacy systems migration to the new platforms by restructuring or redeploying them inthe new environment.

The Transition: ‘Comfort Zone’

Companies are enthusiastically starting their cloud journey and they are systematically making the transition of a portion of the infrastructure to cloud while some are still using the current legacy systems and the rest are migrated and maintained on private and/or public clouds, this is where most firms consider to be their comfort zone. This partial Cloud adoption provides leeway to companies where the cost of replenishing their phasing out or phased out physical infrastructure significantly out-weighs the monetary gains of implementing an entirely cloud-run configuration. On the other hand, some organisations may face challenges in adopting cloud because of restrictions imposed by governing regulatory bodies, fear of data-breaches, concerns over compliances &security factors.

Post-Adoption Management: ‘Continual Journey’

This ‘best of both worlds’ scenario is what led to the development of “Hybrid Digital Infrastructure Management” (HDIM), these evolved systems allow enterprises to maintain a steady balance of physical/on-site IT assets and private/public cloud-based infrastructure while workloads keep growing with the business scaling up. Organisations are thus able to take advantage of the security and compliance benefits of their own legacy systems while at the same time have their cloudified infrastructure that is easily accessible and manageable.

According to Gartner, around 20% of enterprises are projected to employ HDIM tools to optimize their workload and IT configurations by 2022.

The best part of Hybrid Digital Infrastructure Management is that it incorporates both on-site heritage systems as well as the latest innovations. The hybrid environment is best for DevOps tools to flourish and deliver better results. HDIM also reduces complexities associated with migration of entire configurations to an online shared platform by making the move to the new system smooth and uneventful.

What does HDIM entail?

Hybrid IT Management monitors all assets 24×7 across domains and utilizes predictive data analytics backed by Artificial Intelligence. Hardware probes capture data from physical assets storage, servers, and networks while digital assets are monitored by software probes that access this information without disrupting the running of devices. This information is gathered with or without the involvement of agents and is cross-referenced, evaluated, and everything from the largest to most miniscule amount of Information that is gathered by the HDIM systems is virtually recorded, analysed and reported for action to make sure they are running efficiently. This data is recorded for future reference and can be retrieved at any time. Hardware and software probes also alert the system in the event of security breaches and illegal access attempts.

Is it all Good?

Infrastructure when Managed by HDIM tends to witness a drastic improvement in connectivity and collaboration efficiency of the ITOPS team and makes remote management easy for operations. While shared platforms give diversity they also enhance scalability and plays the role of a catalyst in business growth.

With HDIM, automation of major processes can be deployed easily. Cost involving maintenance of assets and development is reduced with the adoption of Hybrid Digital IT Management.

With so many benefits also come a host of complexities associated with HDIM. The concern of data breaches and cyber attacks is a constantly in question, organisations hence opt to retain critical and important business-data centric configurations under legacy systems.

Continuous examination of Hybrid systems is required to ensure there are no data audit errors. There are major challenges linked to having Hybrid system-management considering the fact that it is a  daunting task to handle ever-growing data across multiple systems that are poles apart in terms of physical infrastructure. The Management of Hybrid IT systems also requires niche skills that may drive up talent development and acquisition costs. Also, weightage needs to be given on allocating the right bandwidth to run these systems as personal devices from various locations may connect to the systems in the current and post-pandemic scenario.

The long-term benefit of an HDIM is truly attractive and it certainly will become the new standard of running DCOPS in the future. We are seeing more and more organisations turning to Hybrid IT for their IT infrastructure Management needs. HDIM brings to the table, the superior aspects of both heritage systems as well as newer technologies and proves to be effective on both fronts and drives innovation with minimal disruption.

Head, Automation Practice