Speed is the new “killer app” for business and all Change Agents know it

by Angus Quinn

Change Agents understand that speed is a basic expectation of them in everything they do. They are tasked with jerking lethargic businesses out of their rut, coaxing them back into the competitive arena and equipping them with the tools to win.

Zurich Insurance’s CDO Steven Zuanella moves at breakneck speed compared with his industry at large.

Zuanella is remodelling entire business processes, looking for opportunities to introduce emerging technologies into the proposition and strengthening Zurich’s differentiation in the market.

Emerging technologies like wearables, to name but one, are already changing the insurance landscape. John Hancock, an American based life insurer, has released an Apple Watch app where customers can record their activities and earn up to a 15% discount on their annual premium. Such innovations will influence the shape of the market for decades to come.

It is up to CDOs like Zuanella to look beyond immediate wins and focus on helping organizations achieve their big, future goals. That means bringing disparate departments and teams together behind a single organisational vision and ensuring that digital permeates all areas.

Financial services is slower than most industries to adopt changes in approach. Despite superficial advances like banking apps, beneath the surface most providers still rely upon creeping legacy systems.

Organization leaders are looking to their Change Agents; their chief digital officers, their chief customer officers and their chief experience officers, to act as digital pioneers internally. These people drive their businesses forward and help shake them loose of the constraints imposed upon them by their legacy systems.

The right relationship with a CEO means CDO has an unlimited remit to pull businesses apart and remodel them in their vision for success, guided by the business’s governing values.

The constant theme through a Change Agent’s approach will be the speed at which they do it, sparking businesses out of their sleep and hurling them into a future of constant innovation.

Speed Merchant Steven Zuanella

For Steven Zuanella, Zurich Insurance’s CDO, the most pressing need is to do everything fast. Insurance as a sector has taken a glacial approach to innovation, with legacy systems largely ruling out the kind of customer-centric revolution that has enabled other industries to make progress.

In his approach, Zuanella isn’t bound by the same inertia. It took a “90-day plan” and a “90-day report” for him to wrap his head around “where Zurich were at digitally” and define the “components essential to digital transformation.”

The digital mission Zuanella is on is an urgent one. With modern technologies changing entire industries beyond recognition, he is looking to make Zurich’s operations, “fit for the digital age now.”

Fail fast methodology is key to any Change Agent’s approach. “We need to learn from their mistakes, and move on,” Zuanella says. That said he is keen to avoid everybody doing tactical things without remembering to look at the big picture. “There needs to be a co-ordinated vision.”

That co-ordinated vision requires a granular understanding of all the different parts of the business, the stakeholders involved and development of a roadmap for success. Balancing that development time with the priorities of digital transformation requires a huge amount of patience.

Zuanella illuminates: “I think one year is the right amount of time to understand a company before you begin radical change, set about by your pre-approved plan.”

During the development time, Change Agents will take time studying every part of the business, looking at how they’re set up to succeed – or not.

Then the Change Agent can take on “education” of personnel and focus on, “technology, culture change, leadership and communications.” That will mean “stepping on everybody's toes,” but a Change Agent’s profile is in part defined by their ability to win executive sponsorship and collaborate with the rest of the c-suite to ensure business-wide success.

Once you embark on the radical change, Zuanella believes it's an expectation for Change Agents to, “learn from their mistakes, and move on.”

The ability to “fail fast while learning on the job” is invaluable to achieve the kind of agile orientation CDO and other Change Agents need to create the transformations that will make their organisations into market leaders.

Success will be on the horizon when Change Agents have taken the siloed “innovation or digital department in a corner” away and diffused digital throughout an organisation to ensure “innovation is part of everyone’s jobs.”

That is a challenge that would prove insurmountable to any other member of the c-suite, but one that Change Agents are uniquely equipped to overcome.


This interview originally appeared in Hot Topics magazine.