Shaping the Future of Insurance: Insights from Tia Cheang

Tia Cheang, Director of IT Data and Information Services at Gallagher, recently delivered an interview with Tech-Exec magazine drawing from her knowledge and experience in shaping the future of the insurance industry at one of the world’s largest insurance brokers. You can read the article here.

Tia is also one of DataIQ’s Most Influential People In Data for 2024 (congratulations, Tia!). We took the opportunity to ask Tia a few questions of our own, building on some of the themes from the Tech-Exec interview.

In the article with Tech-Exec, you touched on your background, your drive and ambition, and what led you to your current role at Gallagher. What are you most passionate about in this new role?

In 2023, I started working at Gallagher after having an extensive career in data in both public and private sectors. This job was a logical next step for me, as it resonates with my longstanding interest in utilising data in creative ways to bring about beneficial outcomes. I was eager to manage a comprehensive data transformation at Gallagher to prepare for the future, aligning with my interests and expertise.

I am responsible for leading our data strategy and developing a strong data culture. We wish to capitalise on data as a route to innovation and strategic decision-making. Our organisation is therefore creating an environment where data plays a crucial role in our business operations, to allow us to acquire new clients and accomplish significant results rapidly. The role offers an exciting opportunity to combine my skills and lead positive changes in our thinking towards data and its role in the future of insurance.

The transition to making data an integral part of business operations is often challenging. How have you found the experience? 

At Gallagher, our current data infrastructure faces the typical challenges that arise when a firm is expanding. Our data warehouses collect data from many sources, which mirrors the diverse aspects of our brokerage activities. These encompass internal systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM), brokerage systems, and other business applications. We handle multiple data types in our data estate, ranging from structured numerical data to unstructured text. The vast majority of our estate is currently hosted on-premise using Microsoft SQL Server technology, however, we also manage various other departmental data platforms such as QlikView. 

“…we want data capabilities that provide flexibility and agility, to enable us to quickly react to new market opportunities.”

A key challenge we face is quickly incorporating new data sources obtained through our mergers and acquisitions activity. These problems affect our data management efforts in terms of migration, seamless data integration, maintaining data quality, and providing data accessibility. 
To overcome this, we want data capabilities that provide flexibility and agility, to enable us to quickly react to new market opportunities. Consequently, we are implementing a worldwide data transformation to update our data technology, processes, and skills to provide support for this initiative. This transformation will move Gallagher data to the cloud, using Snowflake to leverage the scalability and elasticity of the platform for advanced analytics. Having this flexibility gives us a major advantage, offering computational resources where and when they are required.

How does this technology strategy align with your data strategy, and how do you plan to ensure data governance and compliance while implementing these solutions, especially in a highly-regulated industry like insurance?

Gallagher’s data strategy aims to position us as the leader in the insurance sector. By integrating our chosen solutions within the Snowflake platform, we strive to establish a higher standard in data-driven decision-making. 

This strategy involves incorporating data management tools such as Collibra, CluedIn, and Datactics into our re-platforming efforts, with a focus on ensuring the compatibility and interoperability of each component. We are aligning each tool’s capabilities with Snowflake’s powerful data lake functionality with the support of our consulting partners to ensure that our set of tools function seamlessly within Snowflake’s environment.

“…we are contemplating upcoming AI and automation regulations and considering how to futureproof our products and approaches…”

We are meticulously navigating the waters of data governance and compliance. We carefully plan each stage to ensure that all components of our data governance comply with the industry regulations and legislation of the specific region. For example, we are contemplating upcoming AI and automation regulations and considering how to futureproof our products and approaches to comply with them.

The success of our programme requires cooperation across our different global regions, stakeholders, and partners. We are rethinking our data governance using a bottom-up approach tailored to the specific features of our global insurance industry. We review our documentation and test the methods we use to ensure they comply with regulations and maintain proper checks and balances. We seek to understand the operational aspects of a process in real-world scenarios and evaluate its feasibility and scalability.

Could you expand on your choice of multiple solutions for data management technology? What made you go this route over a one-stop shop for all technologies?

We have selected “best of breed” solutions for data quality, data lineage, and Master Data Management (MDM), based on a requirement for specialised, high-performance tools. We concentrated on high-quality enterprise solutions for easy integration with our current technologies. Our main priorities were security, scalability, usability, and compatibility with our infrastructure. 

By adopting this approach, we achieve enhanced specialisation and capabilities in each area, providing high-level performance. This strategy offers the necessary flexibility within the organisation to establish a unified data management ecosystem. This aligns with our strategic objectives, ensuring that our data management capability is scaleable, secure, and adaptable.

Regarding the technologies we have selected, Collibra increases data transparency through efficient cataloguing and clear lineage; CluedIn ensures consistent and reliable data across systems; and Datactics is critical for maintaining high-quality data. 

“As we venture into advanced analytics, the importance of our data quality increases.”

In Datactics’ case, it provides data cleansing tools that ensure the reliability and accuracy of our data, underpinning effective decision-making and strategic planning. The benefits of this are immense, enhancing operating efficiency, reducing errors, and enabling well-informed decisions. As we venture into advanced analytics, the importance of our data quality increases. Therefore, Datactics was one of the first technologies we started using.

We anticipate gaining substantial competitive advantages from our strategic investment, such as improved decision-making capabilities, operational efficiency, and greater customer insights for personalisation. Our ability to swiftly adapt to market changes is also boosted. Gallagher’s adoption of automation and AI technologies will also strengthen our position, ensuring we remain at the forefront of technological progress.

On Master Data Management (MDM), you referred to the importance of having dedicated technology for this purpose. How do you see MDM making a difference at Gallagher, and what approach are you taking?

Gallagher is deploying Master Data Management to provide a single customer view. We expect substantial improvements in operational efficiency and customer service when it is completed. This will improve processing efficiency by removing duplicate data and offering more comprehensive, actionable customer insights. These improvements will benefit the insurance brokerage business and will enable improved data monetisation and stronger compliance, eventually enhancing client experience and increasing operational efficiency.

Implementing MDM at Gallagher is foundational to our ability to enable global analytics and automation. To facilitate it, we need to create a unified, accurate, and accessible data environment. We plan to integrate MDM seamlessly with our existing data systems, leveraging tools like CluedIn to manage reference data efficiently. This approach ensures that our MDM solution supports our broader data strategy, enhancing our overall data architecture.

“By including data quality activities in our approach, we anticipate significant benefits from the MDM initiative.”

Data quality is crucial in Gallagher’s journey to achieve this, particularly in establishing a unified consumer view via MDM. Accurate and consistent data is essential for consolidating several client data sources into a master profile; we see it as essential, as without good data quality the benefits of our transformation will be reduced. By including data quality activities in our approach, we anticipate significant benefits from the MDM initiative. We foresee a marked improvement in data accuracy and consistency throughout all business units. We want to empower users across the organisation to make more informed, data-driven decisions to facilitate growth. Furthermore, a single source of truth enables us to streamline our operations, leading to greater efficiencies by removing manual processes. Essentially, this strategic MDM implementation transforms data into a valuable asset that drives innovation and growth for Gallagher.

Looking to the future of insurance, what challenges do you foresee in technology, data and the insurance market?

Keeping up with the fast speed of technology changes can be challenging. We are conducting horizon scanning on new technologies to detect emerging trends. We wish to include new tools and processes that will complement and improve our current systems as they become ready.

“We prioritise the security of our data assets and our clients’ privacy because it is essential for our reputation and confidence in the market.”

Next is ensuring robust data security and compliance, particularly when considering legislation changes about AI and data protection. Our approach is to continuously strengthen our data policies as we grow and proactively manage our data. We prioritise the security of our data assets and our clients’ privacy because it is essential for our reputation and confidence in the market.

Finally, we work closely with our technology partners to leverage their expertise. This collaborative approach ensures that we take advantage of new technologies to their maximum capacity while preserving the integrity and effectiveness of our current systems. 

Are there any other technologies or methodologies you are considering for improving data management in the future beyond what you have mentioned?

Beyond the technologies and strategies already mentioned, at Gallagher, we plan to align our data management practices with the principles outlined in DAMA/DMBOK (Data Management Body of Knowledge). This framework will ensure that our data management capabilities are not just technologically advanced but also adhere to the best practices and standards in the industry.

In addition to this, we are always on the lookout for emerging technologies and methodologies that could further enhance our data management. Whether it’s advancements in AI, machine learning, or new data governance frameworks, we are committed to exploring and adopting methodologies that can add value to our data management practices.

For more from Tia, you can find her on LinkedIn.

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