DUDS, FALSE STARTS, AND OTHER DISAPPOINTMENTS: GETTING TECHNOLOGY TO WORK AND KEEP WORKING – EPISODE 071
In this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds examines the challenges of implementing technology at insurance agencies. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- Which biases prohibit insurance agencies from implementing new technology effectively
- How to reset your expectations of technology
- How your operations team figures in the implementation of any technology
- How to define the problem and the solution in terms of a quantifiable metric
The Digital Broker is dedicated, in great part, to the elimination of soul-sucking tasks.
Some of the solutions we volunteer have to do with culture, leadership, project management, etc. Invariably, however, some of the solutions will be digital, requiring your agency to sift through technological options, select and purchase the right one, and implement it across the organization.
Exploring options isn’t the hard part; Insurtech vendors practically trip over themselves trying to get to your office to show off their wares. Neither is purchasing the product very hard: you just hand over your money. The hard part is implementing the solution across the whole organization. Scores of stories about false starts, underutilized software, and overhyped tools that went nowhere attest to the enduring difficulty of getting technology to do what it’s supposed to.
Some setbacks and failures are a natural part of implementing any change or new product. In other cases, however, the situation is more serious. Many insurance agencies chronically fail to implement any product because attitudes and biases within their culture make success almost impossible. Before looking at the ways to overturn those biases, let’s look at what they usually are.
Overestimating the simplicity of technology.
All technological solutions are sold to us as “easy” solutions. When was the last time you bought a product that hinted otherwise? Vendors tout their products’ best features assuming optimal implementation by the agency. But every agency is different, with different cultures, different agendas, and different attitudes to innovation. In other words, every agency is going to react to a new product differently.
Disconnect between leadership and the operations team.
Principals will sometimes fall in love with a product after hearing another principal rave about it. So they go out and buy it, drop it on their operations team’s desks, and demand its immediate implementation.
Three months later, you check in with those principals, and they’ll gush about how well the new product is working. When you talk to the operations team, you hear quite a different tale: we’re only 1% implemented; we’re only using it on two test cases; we can’t get all the buy-in we need. What’s going on?
Generally, if anybody has the right read on what is happening at the desks, it’s the operations team. And if they’re having trouble getting a new piece of technology to work, then you’ve got a problem.
Eventually, the other shoe drops. The operations team and the principal have to admit that the new product isn’t doing what it was meant to do. Perhaps, it has created new problems. The buck is passed until it stops with the product. Must be the product’s fault.
This is product blaming, and it’s dangerous because it blinds you to what else is keeping your organization from successfully implementing anything. Your agency might be suffering from some serious operational issues, but you will never know that if you only ever blame the product.
Some products are unquestionably duds, but if you’ve torn through five different CRM’s and none of them appear to work, maybe it’s not the CRM’s fault. It’s time to start having a better attitude toward technology implementation. Here’s how:
Reset your expectation of technology.
Stop expecting any product to “just work.” Technology is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, anybody could do it, and you wouldn’t be able to leverage it as a strategic advantage to outpace the competition. What would be the point?
Adjust your timeline expectations. Implementation will take longer than you expect—sometimes, a lot longer—and the path will be marked by problems, hangups, and failures. It has to be, or you won’t ever learn by overcoming them.
Give your operations team the support it needs.
Enough with what the principal at the other agency is saying about this or that product. You’re not accountable to other principals; you’re accountable to your team.
Implementing any change is one of the most challenging and time-consuming things for any organization to do, and operations teams usually have a lot going on as it is. You don’t make their job easier by repeatedly dropping new things on their desks. Try engaging with them instead. How much time would you need to implement this? Can we start right away? If not, when? What are the hangups going to be?
Define the problem—and the solution—in accordance with some metric.
Many solutions “fail” because the problem was never defined in the first place, and therefore, it is impossible to have realistic expectations of what the solution is supposed to do about it. Before you even shop for solutions, try to articulate the problem and define the solution in terms of a quantifiable metric.
Suppose your agency employs three policy checkers. You want to get that number down to one and reassign the other two, so you bring in an artificial intelligence policy checking tool. Six months later, were you able to reduce your policy checking headcount from three to one? Why or why not? Now you’re in a better position to have a conversation about what went right or wrong before you go out and buy another product. Maybe it is the product’s fault, but how will you know for sure unless you set some measurable expectations for it?
We don’t implement technology for the fun of it. We do it to get the value out of the solution. But there’s no value to be gotten unless the solution is doing what it’s supposed to after having been successfully implemented—a process that takes time and is marked by many failures. As with anything that’s challenging, you get better at it over time—by making mistakes, absorbing the lessons, and reapplying them the next time around. A good operations team and a plentiful dose of patience can see you through to success.
You could also benefit from some mentorship and guidance, the likes of which you can find at the Digital Broker LinkedIn group. Have you identified the soul-sucking tasks you need to eliminate, but you cannot put your finger on the right solution? Have you already picked out some solution, but you’re still struggling with implementation? Request to join our community and tell us what’s on your mind.