How IT Projects Become 'Groundhog Day' for Insurers

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Insurance industry IT executives, undertaking projects to modernize core systems, improve customer engagement or adapt to the Internet of Things can feel a little like they are in the movie Groundhog Day: They find themselves doing the same things over and over without seeing any real transformation.

In the movie, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman assigned to cover the traditional Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsawtawney, Pa. Phil dreads the occasion and vows he’ll soon move on to bigger and better things.

But things don’t go quite as planned. After lackadaisically covering the rodent’s encounter with his shadow, a snowstorm strands Phil in town. But when he awakens the next day, he discovers it’s once again Feb. 2, forcing him to repeat the events of the prior day.

Phil realizes he is stuck alone in a time loop and tries to break out. These include some wild and crazy behaviors, including some highly imaginative attempts to end the day by ending his life. But none of it succeeds: Each new day begins exactly as it did the day before.

Does this not remind you a little of the insurance industry’s IT projects, which go round and round, never seeming to fulfill the business needs and challenges that sparked them?

Phil’s eventually tries to make the most of his situation. He takes an interest in Rita, an attractive producer. But trying to impress her isn’t easy, as she starts off each new day with the same low impression of him she had the day before. This requires Phil to master new skills and change his attitude. Here are some lessons he learned that might also benefit insurance IT execs:

Take an honest look at your situation.

For Phil, predicting an early spring based on whether or not a groundhog saw his shadow seemed ridiculous. Yet it’s similar to how some insurers rely on company culture, standard operating procedure, habits and politics to make major decisions. Many organizations have a culture of “the way we have always done it” that encourages the status quo and breeds resistance to change.

This can lead to applying the same thought processes to every decision about new technologies− often a go-nowhere approach. IT leaders may have already identified their technical and operational objectives, but still need to rethink the shifts in organizational attitude that are needed to pave the way.

Realize that what got you here won’t get you there.

When faced with new challenges, we tend to try to solve them in ways that worked before. But IT execs should shift their mindsets.

When it dawned on Phil that he needed new ways to communicate with Rita, he began to gain ground. Likewise, IT leaders seeking long-term transformations should stop basing their strategies on making short-term fixes to their existing systems.

Take the long view.

When you’re stuck in a rut, it makes sense to reassess your processes for change and consider what is really needed for a successful transformation, before going back into execution mode.

Phil got nowhere doing the same-old, same-old. But taking the time to learn how to play jazz piano got Rita’s attention. Likewise, IT leaders should consider which new resources and skills they need to make greater strides toward transformation.

Accept what you can’t change and change what you can’t accept.

Phil tries to save an old man from dying several times during his endless day, but never succeeds. Executives must realize there are some obstacles to transformation that are beyond their power to change: a long-term contract that can’t be terminated; a key business system that must be integrated rather than replaced; important resources in short supply.

But there are other things you simply can’t accept: a popular system that costs more to integrate than to replace; a lack of support from upper management. That means stepping back and considering how you find a way around it.

To get others to participate, be transparent.

Communication needs to be clear, constant and consistent. Present a clear case to stakeholders for why change is needed. As you go, communicate metrics, progress and challenges you’re still facing to ensure that the organization stays engaged and supportive.

Phil’s breakthrough comes when he decides to explain to Rita what is happening. He must gradually learn to communicate it in a way that she can understand. He does this by learning French poetry, ice sculpting and other skills, transforming himself into a better person. When the new day comes, everything is different.

For IT leaders, 2015 promises to bring new challenges along with lingering issues from the past. Their success at mastering these will depend on whether they repeat the strategies and solutions that got them here, or rethink their approach.

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