Global insurer Ageas centralises BI to boost knowledge sharing

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez September 21, 2014
Summary:
Head of BI at Ageas explains how the company has implemented a SAS grid solution that allows it to scale up its analytical capabilities, as well as encourage collaboration between business units.

[sws_grey_box box_size="690"]SUMMARY - Ageas has upgraded its SAS solution so that it provides a centralised capability to the entire business, where it hopes that this will also help cut out future incidents of fraud [/sws_grey_box]

Insurance provider Ageas has implemented a SAS grid solution that will allow all units across the business to better share knowledge on how they gain

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analytical insights.

The core of any insurance company's business model relies on collecting and analysing vast quantities of data to better understand risk, in order to offer customers a reasonable premium based on their circumstances. Ageas is no different and it is hoping that it can use SAS to not only improve efficiency within the company, but also boost its revenues.

I spoke to Angela Hails, head of business intelligence at Ageas, who explained to me that the company has been using SAS for about ten years – but had previously been using a very basic solution that sat on people's desktops, and as a result didn't have the power to handle huge amounts of data.

Hails explained that Ageas needed to upgrade so that the BI team could offer a centralised capability and implement a better governance framework across the business. She said:

So we started exploring how we could implement a more scalable solution, which would give us a bit more flexibility and allow people to collaborate a bit more on their analytics work, whilst enabling us to put a better audit framework around what we are doing internally.

We had a desktop based analytics solution, and what that meant was that when we had bigger datasets to work with, or more complex work, you couldn't access the power of the server to process it. Also it was quite difficult for people to share work with each other and collaborate on it.

So the solution we have bought with SAS is a grid solution that allowed us to deploy our code on a node architecture, giving us more power in terms of getting quick answers to business questions, whilst centralising all of our data processing. We now have central visibility and we can manage it more effectively.

The solution is built on non-proprietary hardware and Hails' team (which is almost 30-strong) is now analysing data from across the whole company – everything from underwriting data for pricing, to actuarial data for risk management, to sales data from across all distribution channels, to productivity data from Ageas' operational areas.

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The SAS solutions deployed by Ageas include:
  • SAS Office Analytics – a tool that aims to guide users with built-in tasks and visual process flows, allowing 'novices' to undertake sophisticated analytics, schedule projects, share results and embed outputs (according to SAS).
  • SAS Grid Manager – which manages compute demand by creating a shared, managed environment with workload balancing and parallel processing.
  • SAS Visual Analytics – an in-memory solution that allows users to map out and understand 'analytic insights' and share those with employees and customers across an organisation.

Hails said that the company is beginning to use the SAS tools to tap into new revenue streams, but at present the implementation is largely associated with cutting out costs and streamlining processes across Ageas.

For now it's more about streamlining things for us, but we are starting to use it to identify new trends. For example, we want to explore where we might be able to prevent more fraud. But the primary goal of this is streamlining our reporting so that we are not producing lots of reports that might be slightly similar and have a single set of key performance indicators for the business.

This is all about being scalable for the future.

There are two main benefits that Hails and her team are seeing since rolling out the SAS software. Firstly, the usability of the analytics tools, where users are no longer having to carry out repetitive and laborious tasks. Secondly, the BI team is becoming a knowledge centre for the business to tap into. Hails said:

As part of this project we are rolling out Enterprise Guide, which is something that we haven't used before. And the idea behind that is to give our users even more flexibility and the ability to store procedures and reuse and share code across the team. It's part of the SAS Office Analytics package, which is like a GUI interface and allows my team to not programme in base SAS code all of the time, but visualise the code and the process that they are building.

Also, if you roll back the clock a few years, I guess we didn't have the centralised structure so you could have something in one part of the business that people in another part of the business wouldn't be aware of. But now that everyone is using the centralised function, we are able to make sure that if underwriting are doing some analysis on one aspect of fraud, and claims are doing some on another, we can bridge the gap between the two and share best practice.

One of the main challenges that I often see with BI is getting the business to buy in to the idea, where execs often struggle to see the worthiness of an investment – given that often with analytics, you don't know what you are looking for until you find it.

However, Hails assures me that the BI function within Ageas is seen as a key driver in any business project and her team gets involved in any change or

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business initiative that takes place. She said:

I think that the company places significance on ensuring we have the right data and that it is accurate in order to make the right decisions and deliver the best customer service we can. If anything, they compete for the resource – they all want a piece of BI. It's certainly recognised as adding value and it's a core part of how we do things.

But that doesn't mean that it hasn't come without its challenges. And what has been the main challenge for Hail? Everyone's old-school favourite tool when it comes to 'analytics' – Excel. Hail said:

Everybody wants to use Excel and nobody wants to part with it. It's a comfort thing and I think it's human nature to stick with what you know. I think when we rolled out some of our initial analytics capabilities a few years ago, we found that we were using powerful tools like SAS, but people were just extracting it all and putting it in Excel because they were more comfortable with that. There has been some hand holding to overcome this.

Excel is good for finessing when you present things at the end, but it's not designed to process huge volumes of data.

There's been a huge amount of training, so a big part of the way we have implemented everything is going out to other parts of the business that need any kind of data and basically training them how to use the BI tooling and then providing them with as much support as we can to self serve so they fully understand how to get the best out of the tools we have got.