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Creating New Big Data in the Information Age

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European Industry Leader - Insurance, IBM

Visitors to the London-based Chartered Institute of Insurance are able to visit the small museum, which includes policy documents and ‘contracts of insurance’ going back 300 hundred years,

These documents are, in numbers of years, as far away from Gutenberg’s printing press of 1439 as we are today in 2013 from the origin of insurance. Despite three centuries of providing insurance cover, the proposal form remains a key element of the insurance process – even if answers are now given verbally, on-line, or still in paper.

But in recent years, computing and network technologies have caused an unprecedented change in the way we think about documents – their creation, storage, distribution and access. In fact, even our understanding of the expression ‘document’ might be beginning to change. Isn’t a ‘document’ just a method of collecting and sharing information?

New ways of collecting and sharing information provides new opportunities, shapes new ways of working, and also creates new challenges. Within insurance organisations collaboration becomes simpler; the walls of departmental silos are broken down; internal information can be contextualised; and structured and unstructured information finds a point of convergence.

In real terms, we start to see that customer retention is affected by service and cost, pricing depends on efficient claims handling, and acquisition by reputation and advocacy. Data from within and outside the insurance organisation potentially provide a complete picture which give insight into customer behaviour at time of purchase and time of claim.

The way we digest this big data information is also an interesting area – are there social, gender or cultural issues? Paper has been the most popular document medium for nearly twenty centuries, since the time of the Sumerians. Can we expect a step change from paper to the screen to be taken easily, especially by the ‘old brigade’ ? Can new tricks be taught to old dogs?

I wondered if this is a generational thing?  Many of today’s young people take social media for granted, sharing information through instant messaging and collaboration sites like Facebook. For that generation, which will be the future leaders of the insurance industry, even emails are old technology. How will their energy transform the insurance industry globally? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for my third blog this month “Analytics in context – and how insurers can thrive on chaos.”

But there is another side to the coin. People still have concerns with collection, storage and sharing of digital information, or big data, compared to what is held in print. This is especially true in an industry where there are issues of trust, even if these doubts are most likely emotional rather than real.