This series of blogs identifies what Accenture believes are five digital trends that will collectively drive change into the fabric of the insurance industry. Their common thread? They all have people at their heart. From now on, leading insurers won’t just use more technology. They’ll use technology to enable people (customers, employees and partners) to do more – better and faster.

Showcased in our Technology Vision for Insurance 2016, we have called the first of these trends ‘Intelligent Automation’. To capture advantage from the mass of information available from cars, commercial and industrial equipment, wearables and homes, insurers need new tools and processes. Powered by a combination of artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, insurers will move away from underwriting risks based on historical data, and paying out claims based on damage assessments. Instead, they’ll be ready to work with customers to reduce risks, prevent losses and optimise personal and business outcomes.

The upside is enormous. And the next generation of intelligent automation technologies and big data tools make this possible. Automation doesn’t simply mean transferring tasks from humans to machines. Rather, expect to see leading insurers use these digital solutions to maximise the strengths of their existing technologies and their workforces. Machines will do the heavy lifting and people will be freed up to concentrate on knowledge tasks and customer care.

35% of insurers report more than 15% in cost savings from automating systems and processes in the past 2 years; 82% of insurers agree AI-driven automation will be seamlessly embedded into every aspect of business over the next 5 yearsThis new dynamic will be pervasive. Eight-two percent of insurers, according to Accenture Research, agree AI-driven automation will be a core capability for them within five years. There are already some inspiring examples of this symbiosis between people and machines in action. Certain firms are using intelligent automation to power their shift to new platforms and ecosystem-based business models, as well as new personalised, real-time products and services.

One of Japan’s largest insurers, MS&AD Group, is deploying IBM’s Watson AI system to analyse tests and voice logs to assess customer claims automatically. Elsewhere, robotic process automation software like BluePrism and Automation Anywhere is being used to automate manual processes across multiple business systems. Xchanging, the UK-headquartered business process firm, has reported vast reductions in the time needed to for insurance processes after introducing BluePrism. And intelligent automation isn’t just transforming IT systems. It’s also being used to hugely accelerate claims and risks assessment. A number of US insurers, including State Farm and AIG, are getting ready to use drones to track damage following natural disasters like floods and tornados.

To maximise the benefits that it will deliver, AI should be viewed as a foundational layer of the IT architecture. Enabled by oceans of data, cheap storage solutions, scalable computing and advanced analytics, it can then allow machines – and people – to become more sophisticated and make better decisions.

Opportunities abound: from Google’s open-sourced image recognition software to IPSoft’s Amelia, an AI contact centre agent that can reply to emails, answer phone calls, hold conversations (in various languages) and learn from company manuals, the web and colleagues. Some insurers are now even exploring solutions that blend video analytics with deep learning and pattern recognition to, for example, assess vehicle damage following an accident and even adjudicate claims.

So how to get started? In the short term, understand how intelligent automation and artificial intelligence are currently being used in your business, identify other business use cases that are suitable candidates for automation, cultivate data talent and develop a strategy for prioritising new initiatives in this area – taking full account of the implications for your people (in terms of new skills, new training needs, and change management).

In my next blog, I’ll be taking a look at the second trend, ‘Liquid Workforce’. Like I said at the start, all five trends are connected. Automation creates new challenges for the workforce – but also enormous opportunities for people to do different things, in different ways.

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