Modern Business Intelligence for a Modern World

Modern BI is about business enablement, consumable dashboards, visual data discovery, self-service, leveraging the data capabilities of traditional BI, and producing insightful analytics that are both timely and actionable.

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Much like core systems transformations and mobile applications efforts in the insurance industry, the business intelligence trend in the industry is all about putting the customer at the center of the universe. The rapid advent and adoption of what is known as modern business intelligence (BI) and analytics is proof positive of that.  Put simply, the modern BI approach shifts the focus and effort from an IT-centric initiative where reports are produced with complex tools that require specific product knowledge, to a customer centric approach where reports and analysis can be generated quickly by business analysts or others without an IT background. This shift, already well under way, has implications in and across insurance verticals that should allow organizations to more quickly harness and leverage data and information for actionable insights.

Like most industry initiatives, however, conceptualizing modern BI is one thing, while successfully building and using a modern BI platform is quite another.  It’s not a well-kept secret that many insurers have expended copious amounts of time, resources, and money on BI and data initiatives that have not proved successful. The reasons why are many, but a short list that includes poor data organization and quality, complex and expensive tools, competing IT priorities, and soft business sponsorship/ownership are usually right at the top. These BI efforts have created data fatigue in many insurers, so any modern BI approach must begin with focusing on the ways these traditional risk factors are overcome.

First and foremost, modern BI efforts are business driven and as such are not as dependent on the IT department. The business owns the effort, and commits the resources necessary to make some data inroads. Second, modern BI efforts can be business driven because the tools (such as Tableau and Power BI to name just two) are more intuitive and user friendly. The tools require little to no technical training, and within days (as opposed to months and years) most business analysts can create rudimentary dashboards that can be built upon for insights. Third, since IT supports rather than implements the BI effort, issues like competing IT priorities and long delays for IT generated reports goes away almost overnight. And fourth, since the new tools are agile in nature—favoring quick development and incremental improvements along the way—it naturally leads both the business and IT down the path of working together in a more agile way.

Adopting a modern BI approach still has some challenges. Just as with traditional BI efforts, any successful and effective BI initiative still very much comes down to the data.  No modern BI tool will add any appreciable value to any organization if the data being used is locked in legacy data stores and formats. The good news there is that many insurers have been working on data organization and quality for some years now, and if at this point the data isn’t perfect, it’s still probably in much better shape than it was. Assuming an insurer has made some strides in improving their overall data and information ecosystem, there are some things to keep in mind when transitioning from a traditional BI orientation to a modern BI orientation.

Since a modern BI platform is designed for IT-supported (as opposed to IT-produced) analytic content development, it’s important that the appropriate communications channels and expectations are created between IT and those on the business side who will be developing the analytics. Both sides need to understand their roles and responsibilities clearly, as that will vastly improve the probability for a successful transition from a traditional to modern BI mindset.  One of the keys to the business level usability of modern BI platforms is that they have self-contained architectures. This is what allows business users to execute the full analytic life cycle—from data access to collaborative sharing of insights—and why they are quickly becoming so popular within the business functional areas of insurers.

That said, modern BI platforms do have limitations that this new class of business users needs to keep in mind. Chief among these limitations is scalability. For reporting and visual discovery purposes modern BI tools are providing great value. However, when it comes to advanced analytics where advanced data technology skills and larger amounts of data are needed, there should be an evaluation process to determine whether or not to keep the advanced analytics capabilities within the business function, or move such initiatives to a more centralized technology environment.

A Way to Leverage Existing Investments

Adopting a modern BI approach also serves as a way for insurers to leverage some of the investments already expended on the traditional BI and data approach.  One of the frustrations of traditional BI was low user adoption. Since business users couldn’t use the complex tools required and as a result had to request time and effort from IT, many just moved on after a few bad experiences. Now, however, business users can use modern BI tools with little or no training, so there’s an opportunity to rebuild some goodwill while producing actionable and useful analytics.  From a broader operational perspective, modern BI can be used as a way to improve data and analytics governance across an enterprise, by extending the traditional BI governance and data quality processes into the modern BI world.

The point of all of this is that insurers who are serious about their analytics capabilities should take adopting a modern BI approach seriously. Modern BI is about business enablement, consumable dashboards, visual data discovery, self-service, leveraging the data capabilities of traditional BI, and producing insightful analytics that are both timely and actionable. For any insurer interested in leveraging the investments they’ve already made in traditional data and BI initiatives, and in putting the power of insightful data into the hands of their frontline service providers, modern BI is worth a look.

Panorama 360 Insurance Enterprise Business Model: Q&A with Author Pierre Gagné


Zahid Ansari // Zahid Ansari is a Data Architect at X by 2, a technology consultancy focused on the practice of application and data architecture in the insurance and healthcare industries. Zahid has 19 years’ analytics solution design, data warehousing, data integration and data visualization experience.

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