Enterprising Developments

Using Big Data Analytics as a 'Competitive Hammer'

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 5, 2013

Barry Ralston, AVP for data management at Infinity Insurance Companies, is a big believer in the power of big data to help gain an edge in the marketplace. Recently, Ralston sat down with Dana Gardner, principle analyst at Interarbor Solutions, to detail his approach to making big data a competitive tool within the insurance sector.

Infinity, a billion-dollar property/casualty company headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., has taken a leadership role in terms of data analytics, Ralston explains. The company fully grasps how and why data is a strategic weapon.

The latest development in this strategy is deploying a column-store database environment, which provides the company more flexibility and more expansiveness in analyzing its data, Ralston explains. Column-store databases, part of a new breed of data environments arising to meet the challenges of managing big and unstructured data, break down records into columns, thus spanning field categories as opposed to traditional relational databases, which store data as rows. This drastically speeds up data compression and sorting.

The ability to process and analyze data at a faster rate than previously possible in its traditional data warehouse environment gives Infinity a leg up in the marketplace, Ralston explains. “Insurance is an interesting business in that, as my product and pricing people look for the next great indicator of risk, we essentially get to ride a wave of that competitive advantage for as long a period of time as it takes us to report that new rate to a state,” he says.

As a result, the insurer's column-store data environment — in this case HP's Vertica — along with Hadoop serves “as a competitive hammer,” Ralston says. The company can “do things that competitors aren’t able to do.”

The key is to develop an architecture that is able to move data quickly to wherever and by whomever needs it. “The great question is what ends up being the business value,” he says. Business analysts, he continues, “don’t necessarily have to be data scientists” to benefit from this type of architecture.

Most existing data environments and data warehouses were not designed or built to cost-effectively or smoothly handle large quantities of both structured and unstructured data. Insurers need to explore and experiment with new types of architectural approaches to the challenge — this includes column-store databases, as well as other types of NoSQL, NewSQL databases.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at maitlto:joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

Add Your Comments...

Already Registered?

If you have already registered to Insurance Networking News, please use the form below to login. When completed you will immeditely be directed to post a comment.

Forgot your password?

Not Registered?

You must be registered to post a comment. Click here to register.

Blog Archive

Boosting Performance with Integrated Underwriting Tools

A unified, comprehensive platform can help underwriters perform their jobs more efficiently — and profitably.

Opinion: Halbig Decision Creates New Level of Uncertainty for Obamacare

Time will tell if the Halbig decision remains viable. But in the meantime, a new level of uncertainty has been injected into the process.

CIOs: "We Don't Have Enough People to Run Our Mainframes"

Insurers will be competing with other industries for both legacy and “new IT" talent.

4 Ways to Keep Insurance Data Quality Healthy

Continually building trust and credibility in the data is the key to a successful data warehouse.

Customer Experience Trend Watch

Three recent HR moves demonstrate that large life insurers recognize customer experience as a strategic differentiator.

Insurers Have a Lot of Data, But Too Many Silos

Insurers actually have more data analytics resources than other industries.