RLI CIO Bryan Fowler on insurtech, cloud

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Bryan Fowler is VP and CIO at RLI Insurance Company, where he is responsible for leading RLI’s IT strategy and initiatives to support company business goals. He previously served as VP and CIO of Oregon Mutual Insurance and in various IT leadership roles at Progressive Insurance. He earned his Executive MBA from Kent State University and undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina. Bryan was interviewed for the Novarica Update in 2019; Novarica granted permission to Digital Insurance to repost the interview in part; for the full item click here.

What are your top priorities for the next six to 12 months?

Last year, we made a business case and received some notable investments in Enterprise Architecture, Digital, and Data and Analytics. First and foremost is to see these continue to advance and realize their business value according to our plans. We have a lot of demand in these areas, data and analytics in particular, where a few of our new capabilities have generated a lot of interest around the company.

We’re also investing in new technology. RLI is a company with very diverse insurance products. Some of them use technology not just as an enabler, but also as a driver of business and even for competitive advantage. We are explicitly investing in these areas. At the same time, we’re working to evaluate technologies and processes that advance operational capabilities for the non-tech-heavy lines of business, including AI to improve analytics and RPA to lower expenses.

We have some focus on our ability to innovate, too. The goal is to make quick decisions on what to operationalize and when trying something new, to fail fast. We have a framework for trying things with the business that we’re now spinning up, and will evolve as the year progresses.

Internally to our IT group, our priorities are developing our people and working the roadmaps that we developed last year that are focused on reducing or eliminating technical debt that’s grown over the years, and advancing our solutions delivery.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past couple of years?

As far as our industry is concerned, there are a few that stand out. First is the evolution of the insurtech space. Within that, there is the change and maturity of the startup companies and their attitudes that have advanced from the notion that they’re going to disrupt everything to the realization that their ideas and technologies and even cultures can be a valuable asset and partner to incumbents in the insurance value chain, from agents to carriers and even regulators and regulations. This same evolution has awakened many insurers too, who have realized they can participate more intently in the innovation that insurtech has fostered.

Secondly, the focus on cloud-based applications and services is a big change that’s happened over the past couple of years. We’re moving from a “I have to be able to see and touch it in my data center!” to much more open-mindedness about using cloud. In part, the fact that the major software players have finally begun to adopt and push cloud offerings into the marketplace is a catalyst for this open-mindedness.

Within RLI, one of the more significant changes has been our evolution to a more customer-centric development and delivery process. Some of these changes preceded me, but they’re good changes and definitely the right direction to be going.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges ahead?

The biggest challenge I see is trying to deliver on all our needs while managing our talent pool and trying to tackle our legacy and technical debt. Road-mapping and careful planning are required to make sure we’re addressing both components.From the innovation perch, maintaining focus requires resources that are already scarce, both technical and leadership. We are putting focus on generating small wins that create momentum and tailwinds to grow the capability.

Finally, related to managing our talent pool, we’re growing our organization, so talent is always a challenge. We’re looking to invest in higher education partnerships, but we’re also evaluating expanding location options for recruiting purposes.

How do you see emerging technology affecting technology strategy in your business segments?

We have a diverse set of businesses with a diverse set of interests in emerging tech. Claims has been an early adopter of exploring new technologies and capabilities, and they’ve achieved some successes. Many other units depend on us to bring them new ideas. There’s definitely interest in IoT and telematics and in AI to improve analytics and fraud detection. We’re just now getting into RPA. We don’t have huge transaction volumes, but there are opportunities. Within IT, we’re also exploring new technologies that improve delivery and security.

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