How State Farm tackles technology research and innovation

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For insurers, identifying which digital trends are winners and losers is a crucial skill. With budgets and resources stretched to the limit, carriers need to be sure that they are pursuing the innovations that will truly define the industry for the next several years. At State Farm, that task is handled by technology research director Chris Mullen, who discusses which trends she's following and how she works with tech leaders to realize that vision.

Digital Insurance: What are your major duties as director of technology research?

Chris Mullen: As a director in our strategic resources department, I oversee the technology research division that concentrates on auto and building safety and technology, with a focus on loss mitigation and prevention. We serve as the enterprise resource for research and consultation involving automotive safety; vehicle design and functionality; automotive reparability, safety, and security; advanced technology; building safety and durability; and materials.

Our main priority is the safety of our customers, their families, and their friends. Through internal expertise, research, and analysis, coupled with external collaboration, we apply sound science to drive the development and the execution of evidence-based interventions that can help make vehicles and homes safer.

DI: What are some of the major challenges insurers face from a tech standpoint today?

Mullen: It is not a new phenomenon that the pace of technological change presents challenges for all industries, not just insurance. A key facet in successfully navigating these changes is understanding the fundamentals of the technology and assessing how it could impact our business. A wide range of external dynamics will impact State Farm customers in every market we serve. As a result, the way we serve our customers continues to evolve. Vehicles are getting safer due to advancements in technology. Economic conditions are impacting home ownership rates. Sensors are becoming pervasive in our lives, allowing us to use data in new ways. These circumstances and so many others create opportunities for State Farm to improve consumers’ lives in new ways and on a scale few organizations can achieve.

DI: Can you give an example of a particular technology you're looking into closely?

Mullen: One huge technology evolution going on right now is automated driving technology. State Farm has a long history of supporting technology advancements that improve safety for the benefit of our customers and all others on our roads, and this is no different. This technology’s potential to improve safety on our nation’s roadways is the key tenet of our focus to understand the likely path of its introduction and the impact it will have on our customers.

DI: How does that manifest itself in strategy decisions?

Mullen: We work with the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) on automated driving technology. This gives us early access to the latest data and research findings in the area of vehicle automation while collaborating with top industry stakeholders. It provides us with data to learn about the risks that may be mitigated by this technology and about new risks that may emerge.

DI: How do you work with the IT/innovation departments within State Farm to actualize your research?

Mullen: The research and analysis performed by State Farm experts is completed in cooperative environments involving representatives from multiple departments all bringing their experience and expertise to the table. The research conducted by these collaborative teams serves as the company’s primary resource for insights and information.

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