Wardour Street in Central London’s SoHo district has long been known for film and TV productions, but it’s now home to hi-tech enterprises as well. Jaydeep (Jay) Korde, client principal at ThoughtWorks, one of the most innovative creators of what the English call “bespoke”, i.e. tailor-made, software, took time to explain how the company works, and how it has approached some new clients from the insurance industry.
While the overused term “finding solutions” would certainly seem to apply to what Jaydeep and his team does, a more incisive description is at the top of the firm’s web page: “Ambitious missions need disruptive thinking.” This sums up the philosophy quite well.
It also describes a rather recent realization from both the re/insurance industry and the software providers that the interface between what the industry needs and what the tech companies can provide is crucial in creating software that not only works, but actually does provide those long sought solutions. People talking to people, learning what they need and telling them how to use it is a breakthrough in applying technology to real problems.
“We sell our people who make the products,” Korde said. ThoughtWorks now has 30 offices in thirteen countries and employs around 3000 people. He explained that past efforts to produce useful software applications for the re/insurance industry frequently failed to do so, as they simply didn’t work, and/or the complexity of the industry was too overwhelming to be served by a “one-size-fits-all” basis.
He described previous attempts to use technology as essentially a “waterfall approach.” The client needs technology, and signs up with a supplier to provide it. After a great deal of time consuming work the client is presented with a suite of tools, which either don’t work very well, or are already out of date.
ThoughtWorks approach is different. “We can solve complicated problems quickly, Korde said; “using clever people, combined with our ‘Agile’ development process that helps our clients to continuously improve and delivers the appropriate quality software.” This enables the people working on any given product or project to include what the client is doing – the changes they will certainly require, the additional steps they may want included and any changes in the business along the way.
It’s a step by step approach. “You do what you have to do to get to the next phase,” Korde said. This approach resembles the “critical path” method followed by most businesses in solving problems.
How does a tech company do that? Not, as one would suppose, by piling everything into computers. A trip around ThoughtWorks offices is almost a step back in time, as each project the London office is working on is detailed on…Post-it notes, attached to billboards that occupy a good deal of space in a rather large office.
The Post-it notes summarize a requirement and the stage each project is at and what is currently being worked on and where it needs to go next, as well as the people who are working on it. Korde described making software as a “business art,” which, while it requires extensive use of technology, is much more about “understanding and executing” what the clients need. “Software is about humans, not computers,” he stressed.
In order to apply that method ThoughtWorks breaks down the big complicated problems into their component parts to “get the right thing out.” This allows clients to “see the value” in the software that’s being created. Most importantly it also gives them access, via the Post-it notes, to a deconstructed, and hence more easily understandable, picture of what’s happening with their project in real time. “We show a complete break-out, “Korde said.
The goal is to help businesses meet the challenges they face, whether it’s a new mobile app, or a way to grow premiums. “The goal is to have technology and business working together, Korde explained. In meeting those challenges he’s discovered something about the re/insurance industry. He said the “relationship between a broker and an insurer or reinsurer has enormous value, especially the wholesale brokers.”
Korde envisions software that will not only attract new customers, but will also “empower the insurers’ relationship with the brokers” by establishing an “eco-system whereby the brokers are able to give the right kind of service” – an “empowerment with tools.” When perfected it would provide the ability to know exactly what’s covered and to accurately correlate that with the premium, providing transparency on both sides of the equation.
For the re/insurance industry that day cannot come too soon. It would open up new possibilities by providing models that are fit for purpose, and would reduce barriers to entry, which will ultimately facilitate the expansion of the currently shrinking re/insurance industry. “Disruptive thinking,” indeed, but the type of thinking the industry has long needed, but has been overly reticent in accepting.
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