As I&T senior editor Anthony O'Donnell said when he introduced the first session of our 2007 Executive Summit, "The Need for Speed: Product in a Day," speed to market is a perennial topic, that we often report on.
However, as Anthony also noted, the topic has seen a kind of resurgence recently. Perhaps that's because many insurers have undertaken related product development initiatives, and as a result, best practices are beginning to emerge - thus driving speed to market discussions in a new direction.Speaking of best practices, Michael Hicks, VP of US wealth management, Hartford Life took time in his part of the presentation to urge attendees to view speed to market as more than just a technology issue and instead as a two step process-with an invention and an implementation stage.
In the invention stage, when actuaries are determining what exactly they want to develop, Hicks says there are big opportunities to speed up the overall process. Many look at speed to market opportunities in the technology realm, but the opportunity, in the case, is on the front end.
While working at Lincoln National, Hicks says the insurance carrier put together a detailed guide of capabilities. Then the IT organization would work with the product organization to develop understanding around those capabilities.
"It really became a boon to our speed to market because it allowed our actuaries to develop products around existing capabilities and features, versus having to build one-off features that may take significant amounts of time," Hicks explains.
Hick says that Hartford Life has focused their speed to market efforts on the front end of the process as well, by bringing together different departments early on in the process. However, IT had to earn its place in those early discussions.
"Service and IT had to invite themselves to the table and really show what they were going to add from a value perspective," Hicks says. "But bringing those cross-disciplines together and validating concepts really has helped set expectations on the front end. It helps insurers architect solutions and avoid over-engineering and over-complicating the process."
Later on in the presentation, Robert J. Reynolds, director, life product management, Minnesota Life said the key to improving speed to market is to ensure that the right process and the right people are in place. "It's a constant evolution that we're all struggling with and trying to improve upon all the time," Reynolds says, while also identifiying legacy systems as a speed to market barrier, especially as it relates to a lack of reusability.
In part to break through some of those barriers, Minnesota life purchased a new SOA-enabled system. Meanwhile, process changes are underway that will streamline the hand-offs that occur during product development.
"We're going through a revamping of our process right now. There are about 400 people that get involved in a product's development from all over of the company - although there might be about ten to 15 on the core team. There are a lot silos and, to me, that means a lot of hand-offs."
Also important is the culture within a given company. "It's critical that your culture be willing to make the necessary changes to take most advantage of the new technology that is out there, or you will not get there," Reynolds says.
So, in the end, the key may be how a carrier's culture adapts to the new way of doing things. "That is a whole lot of new," Reynolds says of Minnesota Life's new system and its new process, "and there's a whole lot of change management going on to support that. Don't underestimate how important that is. If you don't address that along the way, you could fall flat on your face."