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Your Innovation North Star Part 2: How to Create and Use One

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Many insurance leaders view innovation as an imperative, but don’t know how or where to start. Lacking goals and direction, they keep putting innovation goals on the back burner, or invest in one-off projects that don’t always deliver intended benefits. And the lack of success can become a roadblock as people become frustrated and cynical.

In our August 4th post, we discussed what an innovation north star is, why it’s worth creating one, and what an effective one looks like. If you haven’t read that post yet, you can find it here.

An innovation north star is a vision of the future you want to create, along with a clear understanding of how that will benefit your customers, organization, and people. Having one gives your decision making and organization a clear sense of direction and shared purpose.

But how do you go about creating one? And how do you use it to define your first innovation steps and tactical roadmap?

Creating Your Innovation North Star

The best way to create your guiding north star is to workshop with leaders from across your organization. It’s important to have a diversity of perspectives.

Step 1: Identify the Key Problem You are Trying To Solve

How do you even pick ONE problem to solve? There will always be a wide variety of goals and strategic initiatives, but for an innovation north star, start with the end user. Review your firm’s top strategic goals and choose the one that most relates to enhancing the customer experience. This is where to start.

If your team hasn’t yet defined strategic goals, go back to basics. Think of what customers hire you to do and define that as an output. For example, if you run a brokerage, you might define your output as “helping clients identify potential risks and recommending best-value solutions for managing those risks.”

Next, think about how your customer needs are changing. What forces are impacting the risk environment and what they need from you?

For example:

  • Mid-market clients are facing more uncertainty, complexity, and risk than ever before - and many risks are interdependent. Their needs are shifting toward proactive, holistic, and dynamic risk management solutions that go beyond traditional insurance coverage.
  • In an era when people are used to instant online purchases, clients expect an easy and efficient buying experience. But it takes months to simply renew a policy. The buying process isn’t keeping pace with how quickly clients need to make risk management and operational decisions.

Step 2: Why is the Problem Unacceptable?

This is unacceptable because it requires significant time and resources, and long waiting times mean that policies can’t stay current with evolving risks. And if policies don’t reflect current risks, they aren’t as effective. 

Step 3: Paint a picture of what a better future looks like

In our example, a better future is one where renewing multi-line commercial insurance policies is easy and fast - taking only days to buy instead of months, and requiring minimal client input.

Step 4: Propose a roadmap that leads to this better future

Once you’ve defined your desirable end state, you can work backwards to define an overall roadmap and first steps you need to take to get there. What needs to change to take you from where you are now to your north star vision? At this point, your answer needs only to be high level.

In our example, the problem is that data isn’t flowing freely. Because data is siloed and hard to access, workflows include lots of inefficient processes like rekeying data because it exists in a form that can’t be easily shared. Another issue could be spending time verifying data because there’s no single source of truth for your organization. What needs to happen is to connect these workflows and silos, and create a single source of reliable data that can quickly flow through the system to the carrier.

Bringing it all together, here’s the north star innovation vision for our brokerage example:

Today when middle market enterprises want to renew multi-line commercial insurance policies, they have to gather large amounts of data for brokers, wait months for brokers to prepare competitive quotes, and ultimately recommend the best solutions and bind policies. This is unacceptable because it requires significant time and resources, and long waiting times mean that policies can’t stay current with evolving risks. We envision a world where renewing multi-line commercial insurance policies is easy and fast. We are bringing this world about by connecting workflows and data silos and using high-quality, enhanced data so that it takes minimal client inputs and only days to complete the renewal process. This will provide a better customer experience and ultimately grow our business.

Using Your Innovation North Star

By involving your leadership team in creating your innovation north star vision, you’ve already achieved buy-in on overall goals. This gives you direction and a guidepost for aligning tactical IT investments.

Start with the end in mind

You don’t need to flesh out your entire roadmap to get started. Your north star points you in the right direction. Use this to define initial pathfinder projects that help build momentum with small wins.

In our example, the overall goal is to have connected workflows and to make reliable data easily accessible. That means investing in projects that enable data sharing, data standardization, and data enrichment.

Data standardization is an excellent place to start. It’s worth the time and effort, as it’s the foundation for making any digital transformation projects effective. 

Data standardization starts with a review of data sources and quality. This initial pathfinder project will help you understand what data your firm uses, where it comes from, and how reliable it is. A data review helps to define what needs to be done to get data in shape to power connected workflows. This understanding helps you build a tactical roadmap.

Keep adding detail to your roadmap

Treat your roadmap as a flexible plan that guides an iterative transformation journey. At first, you just need to define the direction and starting point. As you complete initial projects, you gain momentum with each success. You also gain knowledge about potential needs, obstacles, opportunities you may not have initially anticipated. Use this knowledge and your north star vision to continue to adjust and refine your roadmap along the way.

Defining your north star gives you direction and helps you define the initial steps you need to take to get there. Your north star, combined with what you’ll learn with every project, helps you keep moving toward a fixed goal - the future you want to create. It’s the compass you need to guide your transformation journey. Don’t leave home without it!