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Appnovation and Agile in Asia: Why the Hong Kong Insurance Market Matters

By aleung
Jun. 28, 2017

It's been 2 years since we set up Appnovation's APAC office in Hong Kong. One of our fastest growing business areas in Hong Kong is within the insurance sector, helping various companies with their agile, dev. ops. and Atlassian transformations and integrations.

In recent years, insurance companies have faced increased competition from local, as well as global players. During this period Asia, a continent facing significant population, as well as economic growth, has attracted the attention of many major insurance players. With an increased focus on this market, it follows that insurance companies have needed to fight harder to win business from consumers, as well as from rival companies.

With the emergence of more sophisticated financial digital technologies, consumers now have the ability to draw from a much deeper well of information, in terms of both insurance products, as well as other fiscally related issues. With such a vast number of options, consumers are equipped to learn more on a daily basis, making the competition unrelenting. In order to maximize product differentiation, insurance companies are realizing that they must innovate, and move their digital operations quickly, or risk being left in the wake of others.

Such innovation, of course, is fluid, varied, and comes in a multitude of different forms. While many such innovations focus on improving the overall customer experience, they sometimes fail to appreciate the incipient elements that underpin their entire operation. For example, historically, the genesis of the customer experience for insurance companies was (and in some cases, still is) only concerned with the initial signup process, quickly tailed by the all-important claims management process.

Now, however, with so many other opportunities for insurance companies to engage with customers, all elements of customer service must be considered, none of which are truly autonomous. With this greater imperative to innovate, and the almost lightning pace at which organizations often launch new products, insurance companies are becoming acutely aware of the importance of being agile. The concept of agile emerged from the specter of software development. However, in helping various organizations adopt agile, we now consider and appreciate that agile is not purely a software development concept.

Rather, the fundamental ideas behind agile have much greater, more far-reaching potential outside of IT or software development.

To summarize, here are the main value points of Agile:

1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

When you analyze these values, it is noticeable that these concepts actually apply to strategic management far beyond the realms of software development.

The first value, for example, around individuals and interactions, is highly applicable to general business management. We’ve all heard the notion that “people are more important than tools and processes” but, in practice, this actually relates specifically to accountability and ownership. Proper ownership and accountability, over goals, works much better than cross checks, verifications tools, and processes.

The second value of agile is about minimizing time spent writing about what to do, and focusing on what is minimally required which, ultimately, augments our ability to execute tasks and projects. Thirdly, but no less importantly, agile values continuous collaboration with stakeholders. Put simply, stakeholders are important, and it is entirely unacceptable to keep them out of the loop until the product is done. Such is their importance, they should be informed throughout, as communication is key. Finally, agile focuses on our ability to respond swiftly to any and all changes.

Agile provides a framework around this general direction, but the focus is on being able to respond to changes in a pragmatic, effective and timely manner. For Appnovation’s insurance customers, agile is seen as a way to increase the pace of their own innovation. While agile does start with IT, a lot of our customers see the need to adopt it across multiple departments. In our experience, agile adoption is not a ‘top down’ process. Rather than providing this kind of training to teams, we find that it is much more effective to take a ‘from the ground up’ approach.

We believe that by integrating team members into the wider corporate team, they can learn new concepts more easily, adopt, and ultimately embrace a new way of thinking more effectively. This is why, on many occasions, our agile adoption program starts with us implanting developers and QA personnel into various teams.

In short, we believe, and our experience informs us, that agile change by viral influence has a much greater impact than the alternative methodologies.