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“My main concern is speed to market,” starts Fred Taven, Global Head of Innovation Lab, Sun Life Financial. “As I have seen many innovators lose hope. The antidote to losing hope is insisting on speed. Speed is how I can impact the culture.” This theme has served the organization well.

“When I started the innovation lab, we first built a team, and then learned how to adapt and be proactive. The question was how to accelerate innovation,” he says. “We needed a highly-structured process of innovation to succeed in a 150-year-old insurance company.”

Sun Life is one of the biggest financial institutions in the world, selling in more than 22 countries. There are 28,000 employees, which means, “I have to deal with a lot of business unit heads to get work done.”

“We go out to the business units, discern their needs, validate their needs, and work to provide solutions to them that are innovative,” adds Fred.

The company has a legacy of innovation, but “lost it along the way.” This loss inspires his commitment to produce innovations with great speed.

“To trigger innovation, we have to look outside of the company. Already there are cunning startups that have looked at each part of the supply chain of the insurance industry and disrupted them. The way they are changing the game is transformational. We, as an industry, can no longer ignore these active threats,” he says.

Fred joined an accelerator in Silicon Valley that acts as a filter for startups in the space. “They help identify possible right partners for us,” he says.

With continuous disruption in the industry, Sun Life needed Innovation Management. “One of the goals of the Lab was to give information to executives to decide where to invest in innovations,” he adds.

“What caught the attention of the company was when we shortened the timeline that the analytic department would take to deliver by 2/3s,” he says.

The Lab is made up of the Global Head, and a team of “hybrids” - people with domain expertise who can relate to data scientists. He looks to employ medical experts, risk experts, data miners, reinsurance experts, and claims experts within the lab; all of whom are backed by dedicated data scientists.

To meet the speed imperative, all the systems had to bypass the company’s IT department.

This model is driving change within the company, and is symbolic of at-large change within the once impenetrable category. Expect to see the world of insurance shift rapidly over the next decade. The companies that are prepared to face the challenge will be the leaders of the next phase.

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and strategy firm based in Memphis, TN, and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com

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