Allstate’s tips for getting analytics project support

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Allstate’s D3 -- data, discovery and decision science -- team comprises 300 professionals whose goal is to help embed analytics into every aspect of what the company does. But the team has to do more than just come up with solutions, says Greg Firestone, VP of data science.

In the opening keynote at Digital Insurance’s Dig | In Analytics and AI event, Firestone shared how he learned over his career to be ready to relate to the business area that is potentially being affected by a data or analytics initiative, and get them to sign on.

“Without buy in none of it happens,” he said.

Firestone told the story of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, the 1840s physician who discovered that sanitation practices like hand-washing were crucial to preventing the spread of disease between doctors and post-partum women. His work, which led to the development of the germ theory of disease, wasn’t widely adopted at first.

“Doctors didn’t want to think that they were killing their patients,” Firestone explained. Even though Semmelweis was himself a doctor, he didn’t quite grasp the emotional response of his audience.

That’s where Firestone starts in his question to get business-side leaders excited about data. “I was telling them I had all the solutions, but I wasn’t considering their short- and long-term goals,” he said. Rather than selling something as a multi-year transformation, “look for ways to sell wins along the way,” he advised.

Next, remember that you’re not presenting to yourself, but that you’re presenting to that audience. “Are all those equations I’m showing them for them, or for me to feel smart?” he asked himself. “Find what makes them believe in the work.”

Finally, look to develop an analytics-driven culture. “The culture of hospitals is very different now because they are based in data,” he said. Allstate hired communications professionals to help everyone relate to each other better and understand different perspectives, and partnered with Northwestern University on a Leading with Analytics course suite.

“The best ideas are going to come from people who work with customers every day. Make a workforce opened to analytics and AI,” he said.

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