A clear trend that is on the rise heading into 2016 is insurance companies opening innovation labs — like Progressive’s Business Innovation Garage and John Hancock’s Lab of Forward Thinking — and holding hackathons.

“You have more insurers saying they want to use innovative technologies, and trying to transform their businesses in the way they’re collaborating,” says Ellen Carney, an insurance analyst for Forrester Research.

These initiatives serve a dual purpose: They both get new ideas flowing within the company, and serve as a recruiting tool to demonstrate to top IT talent that insurance is a growth industry for technology skills. Swiss Re held a hackathon on December 5 and 6 in New York in partnership with IBM, where the company invited technology students to work on an insurance app using IBM BlueMix technology. Many of the hackathons or innovation challenges at insurers revolve around hot technologies themselves, like mobility or analytics.

“We haven’t been hiring a lot of IT people here in the US, and we want to change that,” says Jayne Olsen, SVP in the North American analytics department at Swiss Re. “But we need to first raise the awareness out in the tech community that Swiss Re is investing and involved in big data technology.”

For Swiss Re, building an innovative culture is a relatively new priority, adds Neil Sprackling, head of life and health for the company. The insurer worked with an external partner – which Sprackling declined to name – to begin training executives in the language and processes of 21st-century innovation.

“We went on a real cultural journey with this organization through 2013 and 2014 to stretch ourselves in thinking much more broadly and innovatively about what is going to be required to take us to that end consumer,” Sprackling explains. “We need to embrace innovation culture to do that.”

As it became increasingly important for Swiss Re to start getting all levels of the organization involved in ideation and innovation, the company started “innovation incubators” where anyone could submit a concept or implementation they had completed, and the best ideas were invited to share with senior leadership.

“You can’t just send people off to an offsite for a few days and think [innovation] has become embedded in the organization,” says Sprackling. “We wanted to start to try and embed this, and to do that, you’ve got to have engagement from the ground up.”

Swiss Re is also making an effort to ensure that IT is involved early on in the innovation challenges, so that any good ideas can start moving into production expeditiously. The goal is to have a unified effort that doesn’t end up with good ideas lost in the shuffle.

“We are looking to integrate the IT folks early in the process,” says Olsen. “Our IT folks are involved in these initiatives right from the beginning. And with some of the research and ideation sessions, there are pieces in there that are interesting, so we definitely want to take some of that into account in the challenge for the hackers.”

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