Few insurers are as well-known for their big data efforts as Divakarla’s own Progressive Insurance, which has pioneered insurance telematics and web-based quoting and sales, all of which lean heavily on big data technology. To serve that strategy, the insurer has invested considerably to build a big data infrastructure and a culture.

While many insurers think about big data as if it were an overlay, Divakarla says data is integral to the insurer’s mission: “Big data, small, it doesn’t really matter: We want it to be in our fabric.”

Divakarla is responsible not only for helping build and design the insurer’s big data infrastructure, he also educates and motivates business users to leverage and contribute to it. “I’m the supply man and the demand person at the same time,” Divakarla says. “I’m generating the use cases, helping folks to get in there, test it, and then move on.”

And that requires talent, but not just a handful of formally trained data scientists, Divakarla says. “They could be using data science principles but still be an analyst. It’s like a welder that also has good woodworking skills.”

Among the many big data related initiatives at the company is the Business Innovation Garage, Progressive’s latest expansion of efforts to improve employee engagement and the customer experience by bringing ideas to prototype and production. Most recently, efforts have centered on customer engagement and mobile applications for quoting and insurance telematics.

Agents increasingly want mobile enablement, and not just the ability to quote, but to bind and sell policies on smartphones and tablets. “Our quoting platforms that we’ve had for many years were not necessarily built for that,” Divakarla says. “We had to kind of retool our way into these systems so they can be more modern. Up until a couple of weeks ago, we had a quoting application that was using Adobe Flash. We sunset that. The new mobile application has been serving a lot of the desktop customers for a while now.” He describes the construction as “modern stack,” including HTML 5, a responsive web design framework, JavaScript and more.

In the pursuit of leveraging big data and small across the enterprise, Divakarla stresses the importance of eliminating “technical debt,” the eventual consequences of poor system design. “We look at the entire architecture for everything and we say, ‘OK, this piece goes this way; what other pieces have to move?’” Divakarla says. “Those are sort of key pillars. None of these are meant to slow down the train.” 


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