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Chubb Pursues Collaboration As A Disruptive Force

Chief innovation officer Jon Bidwell discusses how Chubb is using internal social media platforms to rapidly improve products and processes.

As a specialty lines insurer Chubb Group of Insurance Companies (Warren, N.J., $52.2 billion in assets) is challenged constantly to respond rapidly and effectively to trends and opportunities in some very dynamic markets. These efforts have become much more successful in recent years since the company implemented an internal social media platform that enables collaboration, information sharing and product fine-tuning.

The platform, powered primarily by Jive Software, now supports some 420 different internal groups or "communities of practice" (specialists such as loss control engineers, personal lines appraisers, underwriters and brand marketing teams) that need to share information about products, risks, pricing or anything else that goes into the services Chubb provides to its policyholders and distributors. This is a "game-changing" capability, according to Jon Bidwell, Chubb's chief innovation officer, who has championed the adoption of these social platforms within the insurer. "These platforms represent a truly disruptive force in how we do business," he declares. "We're seeing knowledge actually emerging as a measurable and definable corporate asset in way it never did or could before. It becomes something we can leverage and turn into a constant stream of innovation, and new things we can do with our customers."

Bidwell's charge as chief innovation officer is "improving and increasing the velocity with which we are able as an organization to build what I call sustaining innovation -- taking existing product lines and distribution and finding ways to tweak and make things better, as well as helping develop and bring to market these things that will have a big and disruptive impact over time," he explains. Because Chubb serves a number of specialized and fast-moving markets, such as life sciences, high-end manufacturing and high-net-worth individuals, "The issue we have is to stay relevant and cutting edge to those customers that themselves are changing very rapidly. We found ourselves needing to shorten and speed the lines of communications and knowledge sharing within the firm."

Jon Bidwell, Chubb
Jon Bidwell, Chubb

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Not only were the various subject matter experts spread throughout the company, they also were scattered across numerous geographic locations. "We needed a way to force multiply the expertise we had in that business over a much wider audience, and we needed a way to make certain we had a good flow of marketing competitive intelligence, coming from the people at the point of sale who really understood how customers were changing, their needs, and how our products would perform," Bidwell says.

Prior to the introduction of internal social platforms, the Chubb experts relied on different web sites, email and other channels that "were very much one-to-one or one-to-few -- not really collaborative mediums," Bidwell relates. "We learned early on, going back four or five years in innovation work: Rarely do good ideas or solutions to problems spring from one individual who happens to be so brilliant they can solve all aspects of a problem. Rather people [need to] come together on an ad hoc basis to solve the problem. That's where I think these tools really become game-changers in how organizations are run and how they can serve their customers."

Today, the platforms enable the various practice communities to have "a sense of what is going on in the marketplace -- how do we design new solutions, how is a new solution being received, what do we need to do to evolve that product offering more quickly? It's real-time collaboration that you never really got using the old static tools," says Bidwell, who estimates he spends 50 to 60% of his time promulgating the social platforms within Chubb.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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