Maren Kottler was a guest in our Innovation Rockstars Podcast and provided insights into her work around corporate foresight management at La Mobilière and outlines how trend monitoring in particular has developed in recent years.
Trend Monitoring in the Swiss Insurance Company La Mobilière
We all deal with the future on a daily basis. Be it either the question of what to eat for lunch or where to spend our next holiday. All the decisions we make now influence how our future is shaped. Maren Kottler from the Swiss insurance company La Mobilière, however, deals with the future professionally and very passionately.
I have no idea what tomorrow will look like but I am excited to find it out.
As Head of Innovation Management, she is responsible for foresight and trend monitoring at La Mobilière. Together with her team, she is doing everything possible to sound out what the day after tomorrow brings, in order to help shape a future in which La Mobilière endures over the long term. How this exactly works, she told us in a casual conversation with ITONICS CEO Mike Durst.
Innovation does not just happen in someone’s office and with the efforts of one individual. Successful innovation requires a team.
When taking a look behind the scenes, it becomes clear why La Mobilière has built up a completely independent ecosystem of 20 creative and innovative minds dealing exclusively with trend monitoring and foresight. At La Mobilière, innovation is pursued as a two-track model; on the one hand, there are activities that focus purely on the internal core business, i.e. further developments around the topic of insurance - the “mother ship”, so to speak. And then there are the "speedboats". These are small, agile teams that scan the entire environment for new, valid business models with the aim of always focusing on the right products and services in coordination with external developments. If implemented successfully, they are integrated into the overall organization. By using supporting tools such as Design Thinking in a methodical and structured way, employees are enabled to consciously look into the future and determine which trends and developments are coming up.
Trend Monitoring: a Constantly Evolving Process
The idea of incorporating innovation management as an integral part of the company was first conceived in 2011, based on a trend report to assess the opportunities and risks of current trends and market dynamics on a biennial basis. Parallel to this, key areas of innovation were defined in order to then actively begin environmental scanning in 2013 with regard to possible trend topics within these key areas of innovation. After initial excursions into more non-insurance-related topics such as the implementation of a learning platform on the topic of mobility, the establishment of a "Free Floating E-Bike Sharing System" in Zurich (now a spin-off) and various partnerships with startups, the focus of activities is now back to the core business.
According to Maren, the core topics in which they are active are very complex. One of the most important issues is the constantly changing customer needs. The customers now prefer to have everything available in no time. In the insurance industry this could mean for example, reporting a damage today and having the money in your bank account tomorrow. A key topic in this context is also the issue of data ethics; the world is not only developing faster, but is also becoming increasingly interconnected. Data, often highly sensitive, is stored everywhere; customers have developed a greater awareness of this and want to know what happens to their information. This transparency is crucial for customers. However, external factors, such as new technologies (Big Data, Blockchain, etc.), new players in the market or ecological developments are also key issues in identifying trends. Last but not least there is also the conscious look outside the box in search of suitable cooperation partners to join forces in order to offer customers a range of services beyond the ''normal standard''.
The world is changing faster and faster; we also notice this from our customers.
Until 2019, trend monitoring at La Mobilière was a rather lengthy and manual process: the Internet was the number one research source next to professional articles, journals and numerous other sources, as well as various partnerships with institutes as information sources. The whole research work became increasingly complex and took more and more time. A new approach was necessary. In the search for a long-term digital solution, the ITONICS Trend Radar was discovered.
Today, the platform displays almost 100 trends relevant to La Mobilière, selected from a scientific pool. Besides the visualization of mega- and macro-trends on the platform, there is also the possibility to observe signals (= small unpredictable events/disruptions on the market), to draw appropriate conclusions and also to display them on the radar. In addition, six criteria for trend classification have been defined in the past, which are regularly reviewed and evaluated within the team. These include, for example, the overall trend relevance, i.e. how important is a trend for the internal strategy, what influence does it have on the continued existence and success of the organization and where does it fit into the time horizon? Once all trends have been mapped on the radar and evaluated within the team, a further, holistic evaluation of the trends takes place both at management level and within an external group of experts in order to keep the evaluation objective and to integrate as many different perspectives as possible. The final result is an extract of 10-15 top trends that are examined in more detail in scenario workshops.
Outlining and Evaluating Scenarios & Deriving Strategic Actions
The aim of these workshops is to identify possible future scenarios that revolve around the top trends identified in advance in a group of 20-30 internal and external experts. The goal is not just to map 'the one' future, but to think in all directions and draw up a wide range of possible scenarios with corresponding effects. Let’s take the topic of climate change: What will the world look like in 2030? How and what will we do for a living? What role will business and politics play? These and other questions are then collected in the workshops and answered in as many different ways as possible. The objective is not only to present the most plausible and/or realistic scenarios possible, but also to sketch creative or even utopian futures and map them with the expected opportunities and risks.
Once a scenario has been defined, a corresponding mission statement is incorporated into the overall strategy of the organization. In agreement with the departments affected by the strategy, such as IT or portfolio management, it is now being examined whether the new strategy derived from scenario planning differs from the strategy currently applied. If so, decisions are made as to where action is required.
We want to shape the future instead of purely reacting to it. You can only do so if you know what is coming and have the right answers ready.
For such a case, the innovation team of La Mobilière has built up a whole network of partnerships and collaborations over the years to carry out larger and smaller projects. This allows testing trend-based hypotheses and finding answers in order to pass them on to the organization. In addition to the innovation activities of La Mobilière's own foresight team, this network includes projects with various partner organizations and associations whose joint activities are aimed at promoting Switzerland as a digital and innovative country. La Mobilière is furthermore actively involved in various Swiss accelerator programs and in academic networks. To also concentrate on activities outside Europe, La Mobilière also maintains partnerships abroad, for example in Silicon Valley.
Innovation Needs a Steering Engine
This whole approach has proven to be very successful in recent years. Looking at the closer competitive environment, it is clear that the market has changed. Those who are not prepared to innovate will sooner or later disappear. As a large, successful enterprise, it is very tempting to just lean back, concentrate on the running business and let things stay the same. However, what is a guarantee of success today may be obsolete tomorrow.
If you are not able to look ahead, you run the risk of becoming a thing of the past yourself the day after tomorrow.
Contrary to the common opinion that large and complex companies have difficulties being innovative, La Mobilière has proven the opposite. However, such a change also requires an important person in the right place pushing things forward. This was the case with the CEO of La Mobilière, who started to think outside the box and made a significant contribution to changing the strategic course of La Mobilière by introducing new approaches and methods. Thus paving the way for successful innovation for Maren and her team. "We live in the dreams of our ancestors and that's what makes it so exciting for me, because I know that everything we move and push forward today helps to shape the future for those who will come after us," Maren concludes.
We thank Maren for this insightful interview!
Maren Kottler began her professional career with a dual business administration degree at IBM Germany, which also served as a stepping stone for her to lead software and hardware project management team at IBM Switzerland. During an almost two-year career detour as a member of the management team of the Mobile Application Agency, she was responsible for project management and development until her path finally led her to the innovation management of La Mobilière in 2015. In her function as Head of Innovation Management, she is responsible for innovation and trend management and enables her employees to gauge the day after tomorrow using design thinking and other creative methods, connecting the future with the present.