Canadian Underwriter

Steps to scale innovation at your company

March 8, 2019   by Jason Contant

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Scaling innovation across a business can be a challenge, as most organizations start innovation in a “pocket, team or lab,” a speaker said late last month at the Technology Conference.

Simon Chan, head of corporate innovation thought leadership at Communitech in Kitchener, Ont. was one of two speakers at the session The Three Biggest Innovation Challenges for Insurance. Also speaking was David Arbuthnot, director of Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company’s Innovation Outpost. The two discussed challenges, success factors and where innovation might go next.

For Chan, innovation can be broken down into six general elements:

  • vision
  • strategy
  • portfolio
  • process
  • governance
  • talent

There are a number of components and questions that can be asked related to the systemization of innovation, he said. The first step is to work with executive teams to discuss the innovation strategy. “Where do you want to focus your innovation to harden your business strategy?” Chan asked.

Once there is that alignment between business strategy and innovation, look at the mechanisms in place to sense emerging trends, Chan advised. In the insurance space, this is often framed from a risk management perspective, such as what are the tech and non-tech risks – both known and unknown – that need attention.

The next step is to build a portfolio of projects or innovation initiatives. Some will be core to the business, some will be around digitizing the business, others may be testing new business models.

The process piece could include the following questions: “What is your mechanism as you have these projects? Who is going to execute on them? How are you going to execute them? How are you going to take more of a design approach to doing that – is that a lab, a team?”

Once the innovation project is tested, how do you bring it back into the organization? “A lot of times we see labs will come in and they will prototype a particular idea, but they haven’t talked to their IT departments, there’s no pathway back into the organization to actually implement it and scale it,” Chan noted.

Governance is also important to consider. “Do you need to have some governance that is going to govern that portfolio, that strategy, and the sensing mechanism in the process and deployment?”

Lastly, look at the people aspect. “You can have the best system in the world, but if you can’t attract the right talent to your organization and create that diverse thinking, the new skillsets that are required, etc., you are going to lose,” Chan asked.

During the session, Arbuthnot discussed Wawanesa’s innovation outpost, as well as some barriers to innovating at scale. For example, one of the main challenges is the need to complete the day-to-day operations of the business in addition to innovation projects.

“Sometimes that means timelines get pushed a month because there’s some resource constraint or something unforeseen has happened,” Arbuthnot said. “That’s the reality of doing it right. You want to make sure what you’re doing is built into the realities of the corporate business.”