“Digital” is one of those terms that is every these days – go to any conference, read any analyst report, or read any industry publication article (yes, including this one).  But what, exactly does it mean to go “digital”?  As with the tale of the blind men and the elephant, with everyone interpreting what they feel as the be-all end-all description of the animal – the trunk feels like a tree, so the animal is like a tree – perceptions of digital are filtered by the observer.

To a marketing person, digital is all about social media and engaging with customers online. To a sales rep, it’s e-commerce. To an IT person, it’s all about moving operations to the cloud. To a data person, it’s all about analytics. To a rates specialist, it’s about initiatives such as telematics. To an insurance administrator, it’s all about achieving an online workflow. To a fraud investigator, it’s about predictive algorithms in big data.

So is digital a combination of all of the above? And what does it mean to become a digital insurer?  When does that happen?

John Cusano, senior managing director of Accenture Insurance, recently provided an interesting discussion on the transition between being a physical insurance company and a digital one. In a video posted at the Accenture site, he defined the advancement into digital as the weaving of various technologies – analytics, mobile, social networking and cloud – “into the next generation of business strategies.”

While everyone has their own filtered view of digital, it’s notable that it’s growing increasingly pervasive, Cusano says. “Digital innovation is affecting every facet of the insurer’s operations. It’s changing the ways consumers interact, and the types of service they expect from their insurers.”

Cusano says digital is re-shaping insurance companies in six ways:

The digital-physical blur: “As the real world comes online with wearable devices, smart objects and machines, real-time intelligence is becoming a practical proposition.

From workforce to crowdsource: “Technology now allows organizations to tap into a global, virtual workforce that includes any willing individual who’s connected to the Internet.”

Data supply chain: This “enables data to flow easily and usefully through entire organizations.”

Hyperscale infrastructure: This “recognizes that hardware is now a hotbed of innovation that’s creating new opportunities to massively scale, increase efficiency, drive down costs, and boost system performance.”

Agile apps: “Just as in the consumer world, enterprises are rapidly adopting apps in a push for greater operational agility.”

Achieving 24x7 resilience: Successfully meeting demands by businesses “to support the non-stop demands placed on their processes, services and systems.”

I would add some additional elements, such as conversion to digital revenues, and real-time interactions. Otherwise, it sounds like a pretty good way to define the digital elephant in a more holistic way. 

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