The Data-Driven Enterprise: Transforming Business in the Digital Age
Wednesdays with Woodward webinar
May 19, 2021
The Travelers Institute hosted a conversation on the intersection of digital business trends and transformative technologies with Mojgan Lefebvre, Travelers' Chief Technology & Operations Officer and guest Dr. Tom Davenport, world-renowned author of The AI Advantage. They shared how leading-edge capabilities in everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to agile ways of working are forever changing business and the insurance industry.
Computing power is growing exponentially
Lefebvre opened the session noting that much of the technology we rely on today did not exist even 15 years ago. Rapid development and adoption are being fueled by several factors, she said, including an exponential growth in computing power. Meanwhile the proliferation of sensors and advances in cloud computing, application programming interfaces (APIs) and more, along with the convergence of physical, biological and digital technologies, has created an explosion of data, access and opportunity.
“Anyone anywhere can have access to unlimited computing power,” said Lefebvre. “Think of kids in a remote village. With a smartphone, they have access to more computing power than the U.S. government had just 20 years ago.”
Defining artificial intelligence
Davenport explored how large enterprises are using one of these rapidly developing technologies, AI. While there is no perfect definition, he shared that AI is generally considered a group of technologies that can perform tasks previously only done by humans. “Things like reasoning, perception and making decisions,” he said.
So, what’s at the core of AI? Davenport provided examples of applications and methods (below), but noted that they all boil down to three foundational tools: statistics, logic and semantics. Even deep learning uses statistics, he said, “No matter how complex an application, the model is still based on fitting lines and curves to data points.”
- Applications: Image recognition, speech recognition, intelligent agents/bots, intelligent robots/cobots, prediction/classification, robotic process automation
- AI Methods: Neural networks, deep learning, machine learning, rule engines, natural language processing
- Underlying Tools: Statistics, logic, semantics
AI at Travelers
Lefebvre shared how Travelers is using AI and other advanced technologies as a leader in the insurance industry. One example is the company’s Wildfire Loss Detector, which assesses property damage from wildfires using AI to analyze geospatial imagery and to more quickly identify properties considered a total loss, often before an in-person inspection can take place. “After a wildfire, the tool analyzes a set of aerial images and identifies customer properties with near-perfect accuracy,” she said, noting that the technology is increasing the speed of claim resolutions for Travelers’ customers and enhancing safety for employees.
She also discussed MyTravelers®, a reimagined customer-facing mobile app that provides instant quotes and simplified policies, along with the ability to pay bills, make claims, download ID cards and reach your insurance agent. This along with other projects, like Travelers’ API Developer Portal, are designed by Travelers’ Technology employees, working in Agile teams across the company.
“We have continuous hiring pipelines in this space,” she said. “We’ve been focused on data science for a long time, so we’re certainly leveraging these capabilities and bringing learning to other parts of the organization.”
Moonshots or low hanging fruit?
Many organizations are experimenting with AI, according to Davenport, but in the broader business community a relatively small percentage have successfully put systems into production. “You have to integrate AI with your existing systems, often using APIs. You have to retrain your people. You probably have to change your business processes. It’s hard and it’s expensive,” he said.
While it’s much easier to experiment, he noted that pilots provide little economic value. “One company said to me, ‘We’ve got more pilots around here than there are at O’Hare Airport.’ We need to bring some of these things in for a landing, so to speak, and get some value out of it.”
While Davenport thinks it’s important to consider big, transformational ideas using AI, he advises starting small. Even the largest, most well-known companies have had far greater success with smaller, process improvement projects than they have with moonshot ideas, he said.
Reskilling for the future
As AI and other technologies offer possibilities for transforming organizations and improving business models, skillsets for teams are likely to evolve. Davenport was struck by how many CIOs said they could no longer tell the difference between colleagues with tech or business backgrounds while in Agile meetings.
“The IT people are becoming more business-oriented, businesspeople are becoming more tech- oriented, and they can collaborate much more effectively,” he said. “We've been wrestling with this gap, for as long as I’ve been in this field and I do think there's a lot of hope for closing it now.”
Lefebvre added that having “T” shaped knowledge, or depth of expertise in one area and some knowledge in adjacent areas, may be critical for employees in the future.
Mojgan Lefebvre, Executive Vice President & Chief Technology & Operations Officer, Travelers
Dr. Tom Davenport, President’s Distinguished Professor, Information Technology and Management, Babson College; Co-Founder, International Institute for Analytics; Fellow, MIT Initiative for the Digital Economy; Senior Advisor, Deloitte Analytics
Joan Woodward, President, Travelers Institute; Executive Vice President, Public Policy, Travelers