I borrowed the title of this blog from a whitepaper being offered through the INN Web site, “From Broker to Carrier and Back: Why Life and Annuity Insurers Must Rethink the Data Journey.” As competition gets more intense within the industry, and as margins tighten up, companies are recognizing that the way to get ahead is to compete on analytics. This is the time to rethink the value of the data that is being generated and stored across the enterprise.

I’m not talking about just throwing up a dashboard or two with reporting features—that’s been done over and over again, with questionable results. What is needed is an information-driven culture that pervades the entire organization. This requires awareness from top to bottom of the value of data to understanding the organization and its customers, not to mention all the behind-the-scenes integration work it takes to provide decision-makers and systems with information that is trustworthy and actionable. But moving to such an information-driven culture doesn’t have to be a boil-the-ocean proposition—it can and should be done on a step-by-step basis, one project at a time.

But don’t just take my word for it. Look at the example of Aetna Inc., which teetered on the brink back in 2002. The company adopted an information-driven culture as its new religion, with impressive results. Aetna’s data journey was documented in a new book, IT Savvy: What Top Executives Must Know to Go from Pain to Gain, written by MIT’s Peter Weill and Jeanne Ross. 

The authors report that Aetna was bleeding losses in 2002, but employed savvy IT to turn itself around within five years. The company employed an executive information system to employ data to drive decisions. The insurer first mandated that executives move away from gut-feel decisions and begin employing the use of the EIS, which provided views of income statements for the enterprise and its divisions.

But Aetna’s data journey didn’t stop there. As top decision-makers grew more comfortable and satisfied with the results they were seeing as a result of smarter, data-driven decisions, they began extending analytical capabilities across the workforce, and eventually out to customers. The company’s analytical environment “encompasses the daily servicing of customer needs, ranging from opening an account to settling a claim. Aetna has built a solid technology base and layered it with reliable, predictable business processes for daily transactions.” The reliability and predictability of daily transactions is only the beginning, however. Aetna uses the data generated from its core transactions to empower decision-makers.

With just about every conceivable business function and transaction now digitized, most companies now sit on huge, growing gold mines of data that can help them analyze where they are and where they need to go. However, an effective information-driven culture depends on three key elements:

•    Trustworthiness: Data needs to be aligned and effectively integrated from all enterprise sources to provide a “single version of the truth.”

•    Pervasiveness: Analytics engines and capabilities should be available to as many decision-makers as possible across the organization—not limited to a few analysts or top executives. One way to accomplish this is by integrating analytics in the background of applications.

•    Empowerment: Decision-makers that access the information need to be empowered—or entrusted—to make the right calls as they relate to their areas. All the information technology i the world can’t help an organization that is slowed down by ineffective chains of command.

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