Big data is all the rage in business. In every market sector, from banking to travel and beyond, tracking and analysing customer behaviour and preferences has changed the face of modern business.

Companies are using the new analytical tools and data skills to deliver ever-more personalised products, services and pricing.

But for MS Amlin’s Chief Data Officer, Barry Panayi, the potential lies not necessarily in the size or range of the data, but in the ability of his team to help them get closer to customers and add value to the business.

The combination of the wide availability of data, massively increased capacity to store it and the skills to analyse it have changed the face of the relationships between customers and suppliers.  

In the insurance sector, on-board tracking devices to monitor a driver movements and style of driving to assess risk and modify premiums, have been around for a while now.

Some health insurers offer lower premiums to customers who use fitness tracking devices to monitor their lifestyles, encouraging them to stay healthy.

Other insurers are taking small pieces of information from a wide range of sources, including social media to identify patterns of behaviour and relationships to spot fraudulent claims.  

These are the eye-catching trends that are grabbing the headlines in the business media.   

Away from the headlines
Behind the scenes at MS Amlin, Chief Data Officer (CDO), Barry Panayi is quietly changing the way the company thinks about harnessing the millions of small pieces of information in ways his colleagues may not have thought of before.

Information is stored in many different places. In spreadsheets, emails, reports and documents. Finding links, identifying patterns and acquiring knowledge is at the core of what Barry and his team are trying to do.

“It’s about looking at data across the business and finding new ways to get insights,” says Barry.

It’s a relatively new concept in the insurance industry and much of Barry’s time has been spent explaining how his team can help. He’s bringing new ideas into an industry which has traditionally relied on human and personal skills to do business.

So how do you get your colleagues to think differently?

“You get traction by talking to lots of people. It’s talking, talking, talking, understanding the good work that’s being done, shining a light on it. Telling stories and being the data ‘people’s champion’,” says Barry.

 “As soon as we got a mission out there and started talking to people, the relationships became fantastic, and people get it.”

Seeing is believing
One of his most important weapons is data visualisation, taking information, finding patterns and illustrating it visually so connections and trends become more obvious. And it’s scored some notable successes at all levels of the business.

Recognised as one of the top 20 most influential data leaders in the UK Barry recently took part in a Webinar about the challenges of integrating data into the modern corporate structure.

He says that the role of the CDO is to take an enterprise view of data from analysing premiums and claims to working capital, customer relationship management and marketing. CDOs are data experts but not domain experts.

His team holds ‘open door’ surgeries, where anyone in the business can bring ideas and get help in bringing them to fruition.

He adds: “There has always been data in insurance. Lots of it. Now it’s just about how you piece information together to look at it in a different way.

“Actuaries, underwriters, these are the original data scientists. They’ve been around a long time, but actuaries are subject matter experts in their field and utilise data techniques to do their job. They are “double deep”.

“If you’re a company that sells something you’ve got a marketing department who must understand their audience. So depending on what kind of company you are, data ‘stuff’ exists and it might just be about widening the remit.

“I would hazard a guess that there are very good data people everywhere in an organisation they’re just not called data people.

“What have people been doing with data all this time then? They’ve been doing great stuff, CDO is a new role in an existing arena so the perception was that people were pretty confused.

“Once we got out there and started the conversation, things started to change.

It’s not magic
“There’s nothing magic about the office of CDO, it’s another function, and you can’t have everyone doing everything.

“In HR, someone might be in charge of remuneration and reward and another person in charge of setting policy. That’s because it’s different.

“And there are different roles in the CDO office. The mindset of ‘you have a couple of data people doesn’t wash any more. It’s not just a couple of people doing graphs.

“Let’s be clear here we’re not the magic circle.”

But in an ever-more competitive environment, using data to gain new insights and understanding about your customer is now an invaluable tool. Building on the close personal relationships developed over years of experience in the insurance and (Re)insurance markets, the data team is helping MS Amlin support a business that is in good shape to deliver a successful and sustainable future.