Dean Del Vecchio is the executive vice president, chief information officer and operations officer at Guardian Life, a roughly 160-year-old joint venture with annual revenues of about $ 10.5 billion. He leads a team of about 4,500 employees. He is a major driver of innovation throughout the company, but he and his team hoped to open up innovation to most colleagues rather than make them the competence of one team in Guardian Life. In fact, he even promoted a method of involving external partners and suppliers in the process.
Del Vecchia identified three categories of innovation:
- Major innovations
- Related innovations
- Transformational innovation
Major innovations involve finding a better, faster, or easier way to accomplish a company’s day-to-day tasks.
Related innovations require monitoring other companies, including innovative ideas implemented in other areas, and translating them back into Guardian Life. “If there’s anyone else doing something, it shouldn’t be in our industry, in our segment or in our market,” Del Vecchia said. “If someone is doing something interesting and wrong than we are today, let’s copy.”
Transformational innovations contribute to the development of really great and new ideas for the company. “This is a rethinking of the market segment, [for example]”Del Vecchio said. “It could be a complete rethinking of how we work. For example, we were quite innovative in the way we thought about working in the cloud. We have been working in the cloud since 2018. We closed our data center in 2018. We no longer have an operational data center. ”
To promote all three types of innovation, Del Vecchio has developed innovation challenges for the team. This involves asking a question in front of a team and using the wisdom of the crowd to work out creative answers to the question. “Our employees vote [the ideas]and here they make paired comparisons [them]”- said Del Vecchio. “Then the good ideas that come up, we do the Shark Tank experience. We have people put forward their idea, present it to a group of people, we vote and challenge [them with] questions. When an idea gets a thumbs up, we move it to a minimally viable product. ”
Recognizing that better ideas will emerge when the network is widely deployed, Del Vecchia acknowledged that he needs to develop more technical talent, which is especially difficult these days when the talent war is raging at a level never before. He introduced a program called Code for Good, which identifies employees in non-traditional technology roles and trains them to become developers. “This is a six-month training camp [including] programming and training, and then they go to the floor, ”he said. “We make sure that there is work for them and that they have the opportunity to participate in it.” He had several cohorts who passed this program, and the value gained from these new programmers was profound.
Del Vecchia builds on this success with the development of the Automation for Good program. It aims to engage employees working on difficult transactional processes, and engage them to help design automation replace some of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks. “Employees could add much more value and address much more complex issues if they had the time, but because they deal with all of these transactional things,” he noted. “Why not give them the opportunity to automate themselves and determine the tasks they would like not to perform in the first place, and then create for themselves a much more fulfilling job?”
There is a broader vision of this. Del Vecchio and his team are planning a path to the customer to understand where there are opportunities for digitization and where to introduce self-service opportunities. He and his team hope to automate to the point of facilitating proactive and predictable capabilities. “We do it, for example, as a digital agent,” Del Vecchia said. “We have established through AI and automation the capabilities of a digital agent so that you can communicate with a digital agent and obtain claim status or receive entitlement to benefits.”
Del Vecchio and his team also focused on every aspect of the relationship and the path, whether it is an initial part of the adaptation or a further part of their relationship with the company. “Can we help customers with decision-making tools to help them choose the right products?” He asked. “After all, if they’re on board and they need services, can we give them all those opportunities?” The main thing is to serve customers the way they want to be served. If they want to interact with the chatbot, they can do so through their mobile device. If they prefer the internet, they can do it. If they want a mobile app, Guardian Life provides that opportunity. “We’re not there yet, but that’s the way we look at it, and we look at it in all environments as well as in all segments of this life cycle,” Del Vecchio said. He and his team possess the processes and ideas to further innovate through Guardian Life on behalf of their clients.
Peter Hai is the president Metis strategy, a business and IT consulting company. He has written two best-selling books and a third, How to get to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates Technology a series of podcasts and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.