BRINGING INNOVATION TO
Three years ago, Innovation Group made the bold decision to remould into a digital-first business and build out a cutting-edge technology platform for insurance claims management. Group Chief Technology Officer, Mike Hinton, and Group Chief Revenue Officer, Andrew Considine, tell Digital Bulletin a tale of true transformation
Project Director Romily Broad // Author Ben Mouncer // Photography Krystian Data // Videography Joe Murray & Adam Turner
The business landscape is evolving at quite a rate. A sharp focus on technology is seeing organisations dig up their roots and sow fresh seeds for a future dominated by digital. To leaders with their hands on the wheel, technology transformation means different things at different times and the scale of change varies in each instance. In fact, the only constant is the requirement to change. Those who failed to adapt for this enterprise era have been left behind and harbour little hope of making up lost ground. Innovation Group is one company to which transformation has been the plain objective over the past three years. Since launching in 1996, the UK-founded BPO (business process outsourcing) provider has supported some of the world’s biggest insurers with its services and products. For two decades, technology was merely a means to that delivery - but in 2017, everything changed. Saddled by around 350 disparate applications across its business, Innovation Group grasped the nettle and set about a true transformation. Under the guidance of Mike Hinton, its new Group Chief Technology Officer, a plan was formed that would see this BPO adopt a digital-first strategy centred around a single platform that would bring exciting capabilities to its 1,200 clients. Three years later and that platform - named Gateway - is live. When the switch was finally flicked last November, Innovation Group made one giant leap forward. With efforts now concentrated on pushing its offering to market, Hinton took some time out with Digital Bulletin to go over the whole story, to reminisce and remind himself how far his teams have come in a relatively short period of time. “It was probably the hardest task that I’ve come across to date in my technology career,” begins Hinton, who started out in pure tech with Oracle before moving into senior roles in financial services and then insurance.
Group CTO Mike Hinton joined Innovation Group in 2017
The picture Hinton paints isn’t a pretty one. Before 2017, Innovation Group delivered its BPO services in North America, South Africa, Australia and Europe, yet lacked a coherent approach around its technology. This led to the steady implementation of hundreds of regional applications on their own architectures and operating systems, each generating support costs that added up to an OpEx spend of approximately $38 million. The unsustainability of that model quickly became clear to Hinton, who spent his first six months in the role auditing every technology region, each led by its own Chief Information Officer, and mapping how things should be reorganised. “It was very much about understanding what each of those regions had, what their strategies were and understanding the amount of people we had and what their skill sets were,” he recalls. “At the same time it was very important to understand what we as a business needed to deliver. It was pretty clear that Innovation Group had been talking about innovation, in particular software product applications, for some time but hadn’t really delivered.” Innovation Group boasts an impressive roster of clients, with the likes of AXA, Aviva and Zurich relying on its services to successfully process tens of thousands of claims and guarantee a satisfactory experience for their customers. Between 1996 and 2017, it became a well-established player in the BPO space primarily covering motor claims, small and large-loss property claims and service plans and warranties. All the while, however, the BPO market was edging towards a tipping point. The low-cost, labour centric model, for so long the backbone of BPO, was under threat from technology with the capacity to shake up the industry’s very fundamentals. “I think the BPO industry itself is quite fragmented,” says Andrew Considine, Innovation Group’s Chief Revenue Officer. “I think you’ve got a combination of companies that have been around a long time, which have perhaps not invested as much as they could in technology, and you’ve got a lot of startups that have focused on the front-end, digital side of things but not necessarily paid enough attention to the back-end management and the foundations of their platforms.” Considine only took on the CRO job in December, having previously overseen the development and rollout of Gateway in his capacity as Global Head of Product. Alongside Hinton, Considine has been a driver of technology transformation at Innovation Group, calling on 20 years’ experience in telecoms, financial services and insurance. Once Hinton had made sense of the firm’s complex structure, the pair began work on untangling it and creating teams to realise their vision of a consolidated single application for claims management - and one that would be groundbreaking for the insurance BPO sector. “We really went back-to-basics with Gateway to look at what we wanted to deliver,” Considine adds. “What we haven’t done is a lift-and-shift approach where we’ve taken legacy applications and put them up in the cloud. We really have started from scratch.”
"The partnership with Microsoft works because not only have they got good tech that we can use, but from a relationship perspective, we’ve got executive sponsors right at the top in the UK"
Hinton and Considine knew that making Gateway cloud-native was the only option if Innovation Group wanted to meet its global requirements through a single platform. It chose Microsoft Azure as its cloud partner, Hinton having enjoyed a positive experience with Azure in a previous role. Innovation Group worked closely with Microsoft from the very beginning and Gateway leverages a number of its PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) products to deliver complete application performance out of Azure, from the security layer with Microsoft ADFS to continuous integration through CI/CD and database services with SQL and BlobStorage. “When these services are readily available and served to you on Azure as PaaS products, it enables you to transform quicker. I think the speed of transformation was absolutely key to Innovation Group in terms of achieving its goals,” explains Hinton, who also highlighted the number of Azure Availability Zones worldwide as an important factor. “The partnership with Microsoft works because not only have they got good tech that we can use, but from a relationship perspective, we’ve got executive sponsors right at the top in the UK, going all the way down to engineering resources out in Redmond. That enables us to implement their products very quickly and it enables us to solve issues very quickly.” Gateway exists to offer end-to-end management to every stakeholder involved in an insurance claim, from FNOL (First Notice of Loss) to settlement. Policyholders are able to log a FNOL from any device, with Gateway recommending certified body shop or home repair contractors based on factors such as location, quality of service and customer preference. All parties are then able to monitor the progression of the claim through to completion. Innovation Group says the platform is built on the principles of “simplicity, connectivity and collaboration” and that it fits the future of an insurance industry intent on putting customer service at its heart. Automation is the glue that holds Gateway together, with a number of previously manual processes now automated and enabling huge strides in operational efficiency. “Previously, a lot of the operational processes were being managed through call centres and there was a lot of hand holding of policyholders and customers. With a single platform, we’re able to bring automation into that entire journey,” outlines Considine. “We’ve moved from a very manual environment into one where we have centres of excellence, where we’ve got app support and experts who are able to guide the customer through the journey.”
“Overall, the best way to think about Gateway as a product is to think of it in terms of Amazon. We are joining insurers, clients and customers together with suppliers”
For its automated recommendations capability in Gateway, Innovation Group has tapped rule-based machine learning and smart data analytics technologies that help it offer instant and accurate suggestions to users, a core function that greatly improves workflow and helps it build a compelling case to insurers by personalising the experience for customers. “Machine learning gives us quite a big advantage within the marketplace,” Hinton believes. “And it also enables us to drive efficiencies within our own business. Sometimes we as a company need to take the risk financially around a product. In order to calculate that financial risk, there are some very complicated, manual processes. Now we have machine learning and the ability to pull in so many other data sources, it’s far easier. “Overall, the best way to think about Gateway as a product is to think of it in terms of Amazon. We are joining insurers, clients and customers together with suppliers.” Those onboard with Gateway are already relaying their positive experiences back to Innovation Group, with clients suggesting that the visibility offered by the platform is adding tangible value into their own environments while improving how they treat their customers, how they look at their data and how they make decisions for the future. Considine is now steering the company’s wider go-to-market strategy. Innovation Group processes four million claims annually but he says it is aiming to drive that number up quickly through the open nature of Gateway as a platform. “We built the platform to be agnostic. We can open up the platform into any network that’s running within the insurance space, applying the same kind of services, features and capabilities within Gateway directly to our clients as well.” It is this SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) capability in which Hinton sees the real potential for Innovation Group to capitalise on the technology it has spent the last three years meticulously building. He believes it “critical” that it is able to sell the Gateway product to the market directly, separate from its BPO business. “We want Gateway to be a true SaaS platform for the insurance industry across claims in motor, service plan and warranty and property,” he asserts. “Ultimately, I see Microsoft being in partnership with Innovation Group as a platform for selling our SaaS offerings through their marketplace. That’s something we’re talking to Microsoft about at the moment.” Agile software development methodologies have been put in place by Hinton to ensure that Gateway is continuously improved, which will be especially important over the next 12 months as Innovation Group sees an upsurge in users on the platform. As part of its agile cycle, it releases fresh code every two weeks.
“It’s really exciting to be here at Innovation Group now. We work with some of the largest Tier One insurers in the world, we work with the largest original equipment manufacturers in the world"
The firm is also bringing its Development, Product and Infrastructure teams under one roof in London - a move that is close to completion and which will result in a setup a million miles away from the global spread of talent previously encumbering the business. “We’ve centralised to drive transformation,” adds Hinton. “The team that has helped me support that has helped to change quite a lot. “In London we’ve got access to a much bigger talent pool and a different demographic of people. Development is absolutely key when we’re talking about our product so our Product and Development need to work extremely closely together. Having them in one area within one office has potential gains for us as we move forward. “Product used to sit directly within the business; the problem with that was they are fed and watered by the business and therefore the product they are designing traditionally would be to just that part of the business, there would be no wider picture of what Innovation Group as a global company needed.” The pieces are falling into place for Innovation Group to attack and disrupt the claims management industry. At the beginning of March it unveiled a complete brand refresh to tally with what CEO Tim Griffiths calls its standing “as a technology platform business supported by a world-class services capability”. Considine is adamant that, with its combination of a robust platform and first-class client base, Innovation Group is in position to realise the ambitions that it set out at the start of its technology transformation in 2017. “It’s really exciting to be here at Innovation Group now,” he says. “Looking at the capabilities and the skill sets of the technology team and our services organisation, looking at what we’ve invested in technology over the last two or three years and will continue to invest, and then also the breadth of the clients that we work with globally - we work with some of the largest Tier One insurers in the world, we work with the largest original equipment manufacturers in the world - for me, those three elements, are a real recipe for success going forward.” Hinton concludes: “We’ve had three years of fixing, of stopping, of saying no a lot of the time - we’re now in the process of growth, which is much more exciting. “I think the future for Gateway as a product and indeed Innovation Group as a business is very much to become that partner of choice within the motor, property and service plan space. Really the only way we can do that is to get our name out there, and have an enterprise-class application. I believe we’ve now got an enterprise-class application.”