5 Lessons Learned From the MetLife Wall

If you frequent these pages, you've probably seen significant coverage on the topic of innovation. While it may be one of the most buzzed-about topics of the moment, innovation also is of serious importance to insurers. To wit, just a few weeks ago, Celent named MetLife its Model Insurer of the Year for its MetLife Wall tool, which the analyst firm hails as "a cornerstone for future innovation efforts". Modeled after Facebook and created in just three-months using MongoDB technology, the MetLife Wall enables the insurer to see a complete view of its customers’ and employees’ interaction and activity for work in its call center and in research and development by bringing together data from more than 70 legacy systems in near real time. There are many factors that contributed to the success of the MetLife Wall. The following slides detail how the Wall aligns with best practices in insurance innovation as identified in Celent's research, and offers lessons that others can use when implementing their own innovation efforts.

Lesson 1: Link to business strategy

Lesson 1: Link to business strategy: Making a meaningful connection between business strategy and an innovative initiative generates enthusiasm and helps overcome objections to change, Celent says. This connection is a consistent characteristic of successful innovations. MetLife’s CEO, Steven A. Kandarian, identifies customer centricity as one of the core strategies of the company. The MetLife Wall directly supports this goal, as it enables the insurer's service representatives to better serve customers through an enhanced understanding of the policyholder/prospect/agent.

Lesson 2: Partnership

Lesson 2: Partnership: Celent finds that insurers that succeed with innovation efforts frequently partner with outside firms. These unions bring new technology, skills and solutions to innovation projects. These external partnerships, however, must be balanced against creating sufficient internal ownership. With its Wall, MetLife engaged external, specialized technical resources at the beginning of the project but reduced the percentage of external resources as the project progressed. This approach both increased buy-in for the project and transferred new skills. At its peak, the MetLife Wall was staffed with 90 internal full-time workers and five contractors.

Lesson 3: Prototyping

Lesson 3: Prototyping: A heavy reliance on prototyping and other processes that involve iterative development also is a common characteristic of successful insurance innovations, Celent says. “How quickly can we get a working prototype to look like Facebook?” was one of the first questions posed to the MetLife project team. The first prototype, with 2 million simulated customers and a timeline display, was created in less than two weeks. Additionally, the early version of the technology effectively demonstrated the potential business value of the project, generating excitement and business buy-in.

Lesson 4: Funding

Lesson 4: Funding: Celent regularly interviews leaders of insurance innovation initiatives as part of its ongoing research. In both successful and unsuccessful efforts, these discussions reveal that the manner in which innovation projects are funded often determines success or failure. If innovation has to compete for funding with run-the-business type projects, those projects often lose at the outset and are never pursued. And, once started, if there is a shared source of funding, innovation is often the first to be eliminated or scaled back. In this instance, MetLife had set a goal to save $1 billion in expenses by 2016. To help reach this, MetLife decided to reinvest up to $300 million of the savings in technology. It was this pool of money that served as the funding source for the MetLife Wall.

Lesson 5: Stakeholder involvement

Lesson 5: Stakeholder involvement: Celent believes that the most common objections to insurance innovation often center on regulatory and technical barriers. Comments such as “Our lawyers will never let us do that,” and “Our systems can’t handle the new technology needed,” are cited as reasons that innovations cannot succeed. The MetLife Wall addressed both of these issues through early involvement from representatives of both the legal and IT areas. Compliance specialists were on the project team from its beginning to address specific issues, such as HIPPA privacy requirements and the visibility of critical information such as Social Security numbers. The leader of the enterprise infrastructure and architecture area pushed his team to remain solution-focused, and to find a way through recurring challenges instead of simply adhering to typical processes. For example, instead of waiting until coding was complete, a test environment was created in parallel with development. Also, because the database used by the application is optimized for small implementations of local storage, the team had to establish the new server environment using a new, unfamiliar configuration.

Many factors contributed to the success of the MetLife Wall, which enables the insurer to see a complete view of customer interactions and activities. This ability helps call center agents work with customers more effectively and also benefits research and development.