In June I spoke with Manulife’s Sushmita Munshi to film our first “Evolving Ecosystems” podcast. Munshi heads ManulifeMOVE, a behaviour-linked programme that integrates activity-tracking and insurance solutions to motivate healthy habits. The first blog looked at the importance of data, while the second examined how to develop ecosystem partnershipsIn our final blog, we assess the technical aspects of innovating and developing solutions for such ecosystems. 

Setting up an offering like ManulifeMOVE is a complex technical undertaking that marks out the insurer as a pioneer in this space. Among the challenges: it had to deal with ambiguity, it needed to pivot technology stacks, and it had to engage with customers much more frequently than before, often daily.

“They’re multiple pivots and, to be honest, there’s never a playbook to doing this,” says Munshi. “It wasn’t a single road to success – it was continuous change. In the early years, we had different technology stacks to support different propositions in each of our markets, and then we realised that it actually was not feasible to run.”

At that point, the insurer moved away from multiple versions of the app that emanated from country-level decision making, to a more mature technology model. This centred around a single app for customers in the region, configurable by country and feature; a single set of microservices to drive high daily customer volume; and one cloud for hosting, accelerating development and scale benefits.

In an important way, Munshi says, that evaluation process hasn’t stopped: Manulife continuously looks at how its ecosystem is working and where it can be improved.

This agile approach has underpinned ManulifeMOVE since its inception, with the development team running in two-week sprints with a new release every eight weeks. What’s key, says Munshi, are a mentality of continuous development, maximum transparency across core and wider teams, and retaining the mindset of “launch small, launch quickly, learn and iterate”.

For ManulifeMOVE’s developers and support teams, the agile approach has proven extremely valuable. A mindset change that stems from the top of the team ensures everyone involved understands the destination, what offerings must launch fast to generate the right value, and how to make the next evolution even better.

Technological challenges

Operating in markets as varied as Mainland China, Cambodia and Singapore also brings its own challenges. Although each market is unique, says Munshi, it was vital to identify which aspects were universal and which had to be configured for local conditions.

“That was critical because if you’ve not drawn that line, you can go one way or the other,” she says. “You can be too prescriptive or you allow so much customisation that actually you’re not really running a single proposition – and you run into all kinds of trouble.”

Drawing that line allowed Manulife to build out a single technology stack, leveraging its engine to API-driven technology, which created a solution that is flexible and scalable. Today, local markets can load products and services on their own, launch them fast, measure the reaction, and then refine them.

Partnering with firms that have expertise in related fields was also important, says Munshi, who cites Apple and Google for helping to ensure an integrated end-to-end customer experience for users of their devices. Accenture, too, was pivotal – largely for its role in helping to develop the appropriate operating model, but also as an organisation familiar with Manulife yet one step removed. It could therefore bring perspective to problems, as well as bring specific skills to help with the continuous iterations of Manulife’s solution.

A healthier, bespoke future

Summing up the impact of ManulifeMOVE, Munshi explains that success is measured in three categories: how many customers the app is reaching; whether the relationship is financially viable for Manulife; and whether those customers are getting healthier.

“We have about a million customers on the program today – which is a big win for us – and a majority of them engage with us regularly,” she says. “For an insurer, that’s a huge win which leads to a significant financial benefit for us and health benefit for our customers.”

Looking ahead, Munshi expects more people will take advantage of the fact that they can measure a range of health indicators on a daily basis where previously they would have had to visit a doctor.

“People are able to measure how well they’re sleeping, how much they’re walking, what their blood pressure is – pretty much by the minute,” she says.

The consequence of a more-aware population is that the nature of diagnoses will change – evolving to examining data over a longer period rather than basing it off a moment in time.

“Customers are likely to want products that are more tailor-made,” she says. “Instead of having very broad products, with assumptions of a very wide cohort, people will expect products that are more focused on their needs or for people like them, which means we will see more specialised types of products.” That, too, will bring technical challenges that will require the kind of agile, iterative approach that developing ManulifeMOVE has helped the company hone.

Indeed, for any company looking to develop an ecosystem, the lessons Manulife has learned are instructive. As we’ve seen through this series, these include the prudent and careful use of data and taking a fluid approach to partnerships, as well as ensuring agility and transparency in technical development. By taking a similar approach, firms in any sector can capitalise on the emergent opportunities presented by evolving ecosystems.

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