Suncorp Group taps into artificial intelligence and data to manage insurance claims

A two-week long process now takes under 10 minutes.

Using data to build claims reports to measure the health of the business was previously a tedious two-step process for frontline staff of Suncorp Group's insurance business.

Speaking to ZDNet, Suncorp head of automation Tim Johnson explained how historically the process required staff to approach the business insights team to help produce the reports and find any anomalies. This process often took up to two weeks and limited their ability to react quickly to change.

"What we had was a very, very strong foundation and data lake for probably the last five years … its been really good. But we were still struggling to get ... sort of flexible analytics to the frontline where the decisions were made," he said.

"So that's where we sort of started to introduce and look for options for having more user-focused AI delivering analytics."

Johnson added the need to change was partially driven by the company's acknowledgement that there were gaps in the organisation's processes.

"As a financial services and insurer, we're very reliant on data … but we hadn't really got to a point where we were using AI and analytics on broad scale -- which I always say is ironic given the way the insurance is very heavily anchored in actuaries, which is a very specific form of data science -- so we hadn't done that very well," he said.

Suncorp Group addressed this inefficiency within its insurance business by integrating ThoughtSpot, a search and AI analytics platform, to help staff easily pull the data -- which is updated daily from claims, telephony, workflows, and policy management -- and create reports themselves.

"I've been looking for a long time for ways to get a rawer view of the business data to the right business users, and we'd always struggle regardless of tools," Johnson said.

"When we did a proof-of-concept with ThoughSpot, it became apparent pretty early this could deliver that rawer data and AI-backed insights."

Read more: AI and machine learning are making insurance more predictable (TechRepublic)

The average report now takes less than 10 minutes to build. Roughly 1,000 users across Suncorp's insurance business are accessing data on their own each month and conducting more than 50,000 searches.

Johnson touted using AI-backed analytics has removed any hesitation that frontline staff previously had when it came to building reports.

"Before, you'd have to think twice about going getting a report because you had to cycle through this process of having analysts build that report for you," he said.

Instead, frontline staff now have greater ownership in the decisions they make.

"What we have found generally is leaders and managers because they're closer to their data they have more understanding of it, which builds trust, which builds faith in the decisions they make in here, and that drives faster decision making," Johnson said.

"That's particularly important at times of strife when we're trying to service customer spikes with things like weather events or natural disasters. Being able to make those decisions faster is critical."

Johnson said he is confident that AI will be rolled out more broadly across the company to improve overall efficiency. These comments coincide with the announcement Suncorp Group made during its half year results in February.

At the time, the company said how it would use AI and data analytics to try to improve its "competitive advantage and drive improvement in the core business".

The group also recently announced it would be reshuffling its operating model so it could fast track its digital and data transformation.

As part of the changes, the group created a new function -- technology and transformation -- to be led by Suncorp's recently appointed CIO Adam Bennett, who joins the group from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Within this function, Bennett will be responsible for driving the group's technology infrastructure and delivery, digital platforms, data, automation agenda, and the group's overall digital-first approach.

The new structure will be effective from 20 July 2020. 

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