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Deb Smallwood, SMA
Deb Smallwood, SMA

Setting the Stage for Innovation, Part 2: Create a Collaborative Working Environment

In part 2 of a series on encouraging innovation in the insurance business, SMA's Deb Smallwood explores the challenges of bringing great ideas to the fore.

In the never-ending quest to keep the business up to date and in step with customer and partner demands and expectations, the need for innovative thinking, active imagination, and fresh approaches are challenging insurers now more than ever. Insurers not only face a higher bar for customer satisfaction, they see a whole new way of doing business emerging. To identify how innovation is paving the way for success, SMA has conducted extensive research into what is stimulating innovation in the insurance industry. More than a third of the insurers participating in a recent SMA survey indicate they have transformational game-changing objectives in mind, and are planning investments in major operational improvements.

Innovation in Insurance

Insurance may have a reputation for being a laggard industry, slow to change, but according to a recent SMA research study, Innovation and Next Generation Technologies, insurers are in the process of seeking new and innovative ways to differentiate, transform, and compete. The findings show that insurance innovation is gaining a firm foothold – innovation cultures are being cultivated; collaborative environments are being established. And next generation technologies play an important role in the whole process.

There are three fundamentals that insurers must embrace to create and foster a climate for innovation within their organizations. Last time, we discussed incenting an innovation culture. This blog addresses tcreating a collaborative working environment.

Create a Collaborative Working Environment

The easy part of change is to come up with new ideas; the hard part is to step beyond or even turn away from what has worked so well for so long. As employees have become more and more specialized, knowledge tends to get trapped in pockets throughout the organization. Resources are specialized and focused for efficiency. Rarely do employees have or take time to share what they are learning with others in the same or related jobs, much less with those who work in different business areas. It's hardly a situation that is conducive to collaboration.

But insurers are finding ways to foster collaboration. Today, using tools and technologies that facilitate collaboration, insurers are able to work around and through the traditional organizational boundaries to tap into individual and collective knowledge. According to SMA's research, about a third of insurers are driving innovation with formal, full-time teams that encourage collaborative efforts and shared information. A quarter have part-time or virtual teams. Although 37% of insurers have no formal teams in place yet, there is movement forward. Advanced technologies are making it possible to work collaboratively from shared knowledge and information, and 14% say they are using specific tools or processes to support these efforts.

Insurance companies should be creating an environment for collaboration, capitalizing on fluid and open boundaries, seeking ideas from the whole of the organization, and then even outside the traditional boundaries of the company. It starts with being open to new idea generation and then creating an environment where the power and energy of small as well as large groups can be used to harness and harvest the best of the ideas – the ones that will return the greatest value to the company.

About the Author: Deb Smallwood, the Founder of SMA, is recognized for her expertise in investing in technology to influence competitive advantage in the insurance industry. She offers a fresh perspective on how business capabilities can be enabled to meet strategic goals. Exclusively serving the insurance industry, Strategy Meets Action blends unbiased research findings with expertise and experience to deliver business and technology insights, research, and advice to insurers and IT solution providers. Deb can be reached at

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