Amerisure CTO on staying Agile in a pandemic world

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Amjed Al-Zoubi is Chief Technology Officer at Amerisure Insurance. Prior to joining Amerisure, he held senior IT roles at USAA and CUNA Mutual Group and served as a consultant at IBM. He holds a BS from University of Michigan and an MBA from Wisconsin School of Business. He spoke with Novarica in the late second quarter of 2020; Novarica granted Digital Insurance permission to repost that interview here.

What are your top priorities for the second half of the year?
It continues to be business enablement through technology. In some cases, it’s ensuring that our core processes continue to be healthy and have adapted to the changing world—strengthening underwriting, as an example. At the same time, ensuring that we’re putting out new digital capabilities based on what our customers are asking for. We have some exciting new releases coming up in the remainder of the year, both internally, like automating internal processes, and externally, for claims and billing. Continued digital growth is a high priority for us as well.

What are the most important digital capabilities that you see on the horizon?
Internally, ensuring that we can reduce friction in our processes. Externally, processing at the speed of our daily lives—eliminating paper, automating payments, getting real-time information to our agencies and policyholders.

One of our differentiators is our SureConnect platform, and we want to make sure it continues to be a platform that our customers go to for what they need. Right now, it has data and reporting features, and we launched Digital First Notice of Loss, known as FNOL, earlier this year with plans to enhance it and launch bill payment and presentment later this year.With travel being restricted right now, another part of digital enablement is enabling collaboration, especially video. We’ve started doing remote loss control and risk management visits to end policyholders, for example.

Do you see your second half of 2020 and 2021 priorities changing due to the pandemic environment?
I feel good about where our priorities lie. As an agency-driven organization, our eye is on the agency, so we’ve prioritized to make sure that we can provide the capabilities that make a difference to them. To the extent that the industry changes, we’ll have to adapt based on the need, but our planned rollout is good right now.

How has your technology team adapted to the remote work environment?
Really well. With our virtual desktop environment, we can work from anyplace, any device, and have the same experience as when we’re in the office. We accelerated our implementation of Microsoft Teams to create more collaboration tools. The capabilities are helpful, although there’s also a learning curve to stop emailing and start collaborating on the asynchronous communication wall, for example.

One challenge for companies shifting to remote work is maintaining Agile practices, which are often built around in-person collaboration. How has your company adapted to remote Agile? What role did Amerisure’s Agile practice group play in that shift?
One of the key things we did was to switch from broader in-person training classes that were a day or two long to bite-sized learning, every one or two weeks—just a small piece of an Agile method, its use, and its value. We really didn’t even talk about it as Agile. For example, using personal Kanban—we positioned it as a remote work aid to help people prioritize and structure their own work. Then we scaled that, from personal Kanban to team Kanban to standups to retrospectives. That has helped folks onboard to Agile at their pace. We’ve increased our leadership video presence as well, because transparency is a key part of our Agile values.

Many insurers are finding that much of their work relied on informal interactions—a lot of drop-ins, walking the floor—which is challenging to replicate in a virtual environment.
Absolutely. We’re recommending a daily standup to help with that, to create a defined point in time to check in with a team and identify impediments. I enjoy being able to walk up and down the hall and engage with the team, so I set up virtual brown bag lunches to engage less formally with my team.

The pandemic environment is focusing attention on essentials and things that drive business impact. What do you see, as you look forward to 2021, as some of your top priorities?
One strength of our digital innovation practice is that it gives us the ability to make small bets, if you will, on technology that might be more exploratory. We’re also creating a journey map to maintain our customer view and prioritize as we grow in how we balance innovation with agility. We modify priorities as appropriate based on the feedback we receive from our customers. That’s also what we do with our Agility practice group: understand what’s happening, use the data, use the feedback, learn, and modify our plans as we go. So, we’re growing as an organization to do that, while our focus remains on being agency-driven, hitting our service differentiators, and having the right solutions.

How have you and your team leveraged your Novarica relationship?
The relationship has been great. It’s helped us with package selection and understanding the tools available in our industry, at the detail level, all the way through to macro trends, both with technology but also with our industry and with other carriers. It’s really been holistic. We appreciate the partnership and expertise that Novarica brings to the table. It’s been a very positive experience on our end.

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