A Recap of ACN’s Coffee Talk with Anupam Gupta
| Connections Editor | Mar 29 2023
ACN’s Coffee Talk with Anupam Gupta, Chief Product officer of Applied, covered many hot topics and questions from the audience. Anupam gave insightful answers and advice on the new Product Advisory Council (PAC) process, reporting, AI, and more.
ACN: Please share a little bit about yourself, your background, and why you joined Applied.
AG: I've been at Applied about 7 months now. I was brand new at Applied Net. I don't come from the insurance world, so I’m also new to the insurance market. My background is in software and product management and that’s where I’ve worked for the last 25 years or so. I live in Seattle. I moved here when I started my career at Microsoft. When I came across Applied, I was really excited to meet the team. I really like the vision that Applied had to continue building on the solutions we provide. I also thought the problems that we are solving and the problems that need to be solved were very interesting.
ACN: We have a lot of young professionals listening today. What is one piece of advice for someone starting in their career?
AG: One thing I tell my kids is to embrace a growth mindset. The world around us is changing so fast. New technologies, new disciplines, the way you work – everything is blending together. You need to learn new skills. Every opportunity you have, whether it's on the job, in an experience outside of your job, or in a failure, think of that as an opportunity to learn and to continue improving.
ACN: To start things off, can you share some insight regarding the new and exciting PAC process?
AG: PAC is the Product Advisory Council. It's a very important aspect of how we are approaching product development overall. I’ll give you a little background on it. Most modern software companies approach their product planning on a quarterly basis and not an annual basis. This approach allows you to define what's important and attack that in a very focused manner, and deliver value fast.
That approach is new to Team Applied, but we've absolutely embraced it. We are in the second quarter of doing it now. The whole goal is to deliver value faster, and for you to hold us accountable to what we say we are going to do.
As a part of that quarterly planning process, we absolutely do not want to operate in a vacuum. So, establishing the right feedback loops from our customers and users is really important.
How do we get feedback? We establish core themes that we are working on based on what we've heard from the market as what's important. Examples of what we’ve heard are: improve the core AMS, Epic, or EZ Links.
Other ways we receive that feedback is through primary research, support, and through our back end process. During the back end process, we listen to the ideas that our team is thinking of and working on. We need your ideas that make it better. We want to get you connected directly to the product management teams to communicate your ideas and create a dialogue. Our commitment is that whatever ideas come in, we look at them.
Our answer to ideas is not always going to be a yes, but at least we close the feedback loop. Perhaps we will adopt those ideas later in the future. It’s all in the spirit of wanting to move fast to deliver value, and we need your feedback to do that.
ACN: One of the reasons this new approach was created was because customers wanted more accountability of value delivery. Can you share about the focus areas? Are you going to be aligning your resources towards these focus areas?
AG: 100 percent. We've got a product and engineering team of hundreds of people. If all of us start growing in the same direction, and we focus our resources on the most important things, then we make more progress.
Back in October and November, we talked to 100+ Agents. We asked them what their most important pain points were and what things they wished their AMS would do. There were very consistent themes that came out. A popular topic was the need to improve workflows. Another topic was about reporting. Reporting is still pretty antiquated. How do we make it more modern, more granular, more visual, so that you can get the answers you're looking for faster?
Other themes were Core AMS functionality, document management, communications management, and integrating with other partners to add value. We aligned those answers and themes into the focus areas. Additionally, we aligned our resources and opened up the feedback loops through the back end process to help us improve our work within those themes.
ACN: What is the process for submitting ideas that are not in one of the focus areas that you had mentioned? The predefined topics, I understand, allow focus, but on the other hand also feels a bit short-sighted. If there are suggestions or ideas that may have a larger impact on the user experience, will those no longer be entertained?
AG: Not at all. The reason to have those focus areas is so that we can deliver more value. The themes that we've developed, such as core innovation in the AMS, commercial lines, workflows, better reporting – those are already big themes in Applied.
We have a category for “Other” ideas. If you've got other ideas that don't fit one of these key themes, submit them in the “Other” category. For example, tell us that we should be thinking about better integration. Another example: CRM systems, which we did not take as a theme this year, but at the right time perhaps that grows to be a theme.
Also remember that there are many other feedback loops in addition to the PAC process. For example, when tickets go into support, we listen to that. We listen to the common issues that our customers are facing. You can also communicate with your reps. They are your day to day advocates.
So, please don't take this as a rigid framework. We want to listen to you.
ACN: Can you double click into the PAC process and timing? What's happening to the old PAC ideas that were submitted over the past few years?
AG: The old PAC ideas are not going away. We've pulled and categorized them. As we start working on different areas, we go back and cross reference them, and see if we can incorporate some of those ideas into what's already being built.
In terms of “How does the PAC process work?” Earlier I talked about the quarterly planning process. We are really trying to align the voice of the customer into that quarterly planning process. That means at the last month of a given quarter, we will open up the PAC. It will be open for a month and customers can give us their ideas. As those ideas come in, we are evaluating them. We are engaging with them. We take those ideas back into our quarterly planning process. Some of them get adopted. Some do not at that time. Not that they are bad ideas. It just may not be the correct time to adopt them.
After we get the feedback, we lock down a quarterly plan. We commit to what what's happening, and we'll share an external roadmap. We repeat this four times a year.
ACN: What has been the reception to the Data Lake? What changes will be integrated as more people use it this year?
AG: We are really excited about the Data Lake. It has a strong foundation and there are so many benefits that come out of it. We can think about it in two lenses. One is, you should be able to access your data in a more granular and easier way to power your in-house business intelligence, your tools, etc. Data Lake addresses that. I think there's more than 60 agencies who've been using the Data Lake over the last couple of months, and the feedback we are getting is very positive in terms of how easy it is, and how quickly you can get your own BI tools up and running.
The second lens around the Data Lake is that not all of you have access to your in-house developers and your business intelligence tools. You want a finished product. You want reporting in Epic to become much better. You want to get access to insights depending on who you are, and what your role might be in the Agency. Different teams need different answers, so you want the right reporting. So the Data Lake allows us to act on that, too.
At Applied Net, I think we're going to be able to talk a lot more about the new reporting that we are working on, which is going to be based on the Data Lake foundation, and will provide a much more modern and visual experience to our users in Epic.
ACN: Are there any plans to implement AI and ChatGPT tools into Applied products?
AG: Let's go back to the reporting. If we do our Data Lake investments, then we build a reporting layer. The next step is turning that reporting into actual insights and recommendations that allow you to deliver on your goals, whether it's a growth goal, or saving more customers, or cross-selling. In that scenario, AI has a huge role to play.
We’re taking this very systematically. We will solve reporting first, but then we absolutely are looking at AI technologies to make improvements. Stay tuned for more progress, but we will do that in a very systematic way to solve your problems.
ACN: Can you talk more on the progress that Applied has made on opening up the API’s to integrate with other types of ancillary solutions and systems?
AG: So why are API’s important? It allows systems to talk to each other and drive better integration between products. The fundamental notion of better integrations between different products is so that users can benefit from starting in the AMS, ending in the AMS and all the workflows and the different components that you need are happening seamlessly.
That's the goal, making integrations better. Therefore you need the underlying capabilities that allow you to make integrations better. We've made progress, but it's a journey. We've opened up a whole bunch of API’s and that had opened up a lot of new possibilities. For example, when we talk about commercial lines and enabling that round trip of insurance we've got Tarmika as a small commercial lines raider that we've just integrated into Epic. That happened much faster than any other previous integration, because the API has already existed.
That's an example of how the platform capability allows you to move faster on integration. So we're taking that same mindset to our products. Our products need to talk to each other better to act on those use cases. If we need more capabilities, we develop that.
So that's the first lens. The second lens is: not everything has to be developed by Applied. There are specific partner technologies that we want to integrate with and bring them into the experience because it adds value to you. An example of that is voice over IP. We've done that integration with multiple partners in our stack, and that was possible because of API’s.
So we made progress on the API’s and we continue to make more progress, driven by use cases where we can release value to you. And if there are any API gaps, we will address them.
ACN: Can you reinforce the top three areas of focus within the Applied product offering?
AG: The first one starts with improving the core AMS. Make sure the high value workflows are functioning properly. It saves you time. It adds productivity. We add new capabilities around the teams that we talked about earlier. But make sure that core AMS is integrated, complete and high performance for you.
Second is completing the digital round trip. Make sure you’re getting quotes in the right way, getting submissions done electronically, getting payments processed in a seamless way, connecting with carriers, getting higher panel sizes from the AMS, etc. Enable a better round trip to make your lives easier.
Third is all things data and reporting. You want to make decisions faster with data. It shouldn’t take you hours to run a particular report. We should be able to surface that to you, and if we do that well, then we move on to other things like presenting more recommendations and next best actions in the systematic way.
ACN: Can you re-summarize what those 2023 product themes are for Applied?
AG: There are five themes. The first two are all about improving the strength of our two core AMS solutions, Epic and EZ Links. The third one is improving the reporting capabilities. The fourth and the fifth are about the round trip of insurance in the areas of commercial lines and integrated payments. So those five are enabled by our platform capability so that we start providing a more end-to-end integrated user experience to you.
Note that these themes are not evergreen. We focus on these areas, and when we’ve delivered enough value, and when we think we've solved some of the core pain points, then we take on some other themes. That’s what the quarterly planning process also allows the flexibility to do.
Stay tuned for more details regarding the next ACN Coffee Talk.
Tags: Commentary , Coffee Talk