What makes an insurer digitally savvy? Is it active engagement with social media? The use of predictive analytics? Deploying cloud-borne applications?

Recently, researchers at the MIT Sloan Management Review, working with Deloitte Digital, attempted to answer this question, suggesting that the companies closest to the digital ideal recognize that it’s not something that happens overnight; it takes commitment and investment in people and skills to get there.

(See Achieving Digital Maturity for the full report.)

The study looked at 3,500 companies across industries and determined what the digital leaders are doing differently from the rest.

While 85% of business executives and employees believe it’s important for their organizations to become digital businesses, only 25% indicated that their organizations are digitally mature. One-third of the study respondents say their companies “spend more time talking about digital business than acting on it.” A minority are deploying cutting-edge initiatives such cognitive computing, the Internet of Things and advanced mobile capabilities.

So, how does an insurer get from here to there? How does it begin to create a digital environment? The study’s authors point to its workforce, noting that digitally mature companies make a strong commitment to their people.

Become a talent magnet

Corporate culture, they say, is at the root of the digital transformation. “Organize and develop workforces, spur workplace innovation, and cultivate digitally minded cultures and experiences,” the study recommends. For example, it finds that “more than 70% of respondents from digitally maturing companies say their organizations are increasingly organized around cross-functional teams, versus only 28% of companies at the early stages of digital development.”

To become a digital leader, the MIT-Deloitte team recommends becoming a “talent magnet.” This is an interesting challenge for the insurance industry, which often is perceived as a graveyard of legacy systems and painfully slow innovation, versus the excitement a Silicon Valley-style startup. My colleague Pat Speer discusses this challenge in a recent post, offering suggestions for attracting more tech talent to insurance companies.

We’re not just talking about programmers, either. In the MIT-Deloitte study, the authors find that in the absence of digital opportunities executives are 15 times more likely to want to leave than are those with satisfying digital challenges.

“Digitally maturing organizations typically place a premium on attracting and developing digital talent,” the researchers state. “Their development efforts often go far beyond traditional training. These businesses create compelling environments for acquiring digital skills and experience, which make employees want to stay.”

Most insurance organizations have long been satisfying places to work, placing a high premium on professional development and quality of worklife. However, in an era when a typical property & casualty company is competing with an information services startup for talent, it’s time for insurers to begin exploring some of the same technologies – and, more importantly, developing corporate cultures open to innovation and change.

The secret to becoming ‘digital’, you see, really isn’t about technology at all. It’s about promoting growth and opportunities for the people who will reinvent the industry.

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