March 25, 2008

As I've worked on an upcoming issue of Insurance & Technology, I've found myself in conversations with several insurance carrier sources based within their respective organizations' innovation areas, such as The Hartford's innovation lab director John Anthony and Humana's director of integrated consumer experience, Greg Matthews.In the case of The Hartford, I was able to visit the actual lab -- located on the carrier's Hartford, Conn. Campus -- and sit down with, among others, Anthony and P&C division CIO Gary Plotkin, who in his past role as CTO, teamed with Anthony to create the lab three years ago.

Innovation groups, to me, are almost as interesting from a cultural and organizational standpoint as they are from a, you know, innovative standpoint. As Plotkin told me recently, IT employees are traditionally engineers. "We tend to think about delivery dates and scope," he said. "Working in a lab environment requires more of a scientist-type model."

In other words, if IT professionals are working within an innovation group, they'd be well served to change the way they view success and failure.

Plotkin remembers when the lab just got off the ground. "Things would fail and we'd try to introspectively figure out why they failed. Well, the answer is [because] less than 20 percent in a standard lab actually succeeds," Plotkin explains. "We needed to change our paradigm, because it is a bit anomalous to the standard IT individual."

Of course, while the rest of an organization must adapt to the kind of expectations necessary to cultivate innovation, it's still important that such groups produce results. That's something that can be facilitated, Anthony says, by securing business sponsorship early in the idea process and by making sure that, in the end, projects have clearly defined business objectives.

"A technology innovation lab...is probably the closest within our industry that you'll get to research and development," Anthony told me. "So, there's an additional burden to make sure that the things we're working on are recognizable by our key stakeholders -- that there's a clear line of sight between what we're doing and how that aligns to the longer term strategies, typically, of the organization."Innovation groups, to me, are almost as interesting from a cultural and organizational standpoint as they are from a, you know, innovative standpoint.

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