May 3, 2022
Cigna's Big Bets for Digital Transformation: Consumer-Centricity and a Test-and-Learn Culture

Digital transformation has been a topic of conversation for businesses big and small for more than a decade, led primarily by companies in the technology, retail, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) spaces.

Health care has been slower to respond to the digital disruption happening around us, says Katya Andresen, chief digital and analytics officer at Cigna, who was focused on digital transformation at Capital One before joining Cigna in late 2021.

She recently sat down with Peter High, the host of the Technovation podcast and a columnist for Forbes, where she discussed her career, as well as topics like telehealth, using data to guide business strategy and more. Tune into their full discussion below.

In a recent interview with Cigna's Newsroom editorial staff, Andresen shared her insights on some of the barriers for digital transformation in health care, why the time is ripe for opportunities, and how Cigna is betting on a test-and-learn, consumer-centric culture to accelerate innovation. Read on for her insights below.

What have been some of the barriers for digital transformation in health care?

There have been barriers, which is a shame because there's so much that's possible. But I think digital has been more of a reflection of where we've been vs. where we're going. The digital health care experience reflects the larger challenges of the health care experience. It’s a fragmented, complex system that has traditionally focused on the sick more than wellness. It’s a system where there are a lot of problematic incentives, and it’s a system that's not interoperable. I think what has happened is a lot of digital enhancement in the health care space has been about taking the analog status quo and making it digital. That’s not consumer-centric – it’s solution based. That is the real barrier to digital transformation because true transformation is not about the solution. It's understanding people's problems and figuring out how to rearrange the system to solve those problems.

Where exactly is Cigna on its transformation journey?

We've been at it for a while, and we've made things infinitely better for servicing. We’ve applied digital to start to improve health outcomes and lower costs, but I think we're just at the beginning of all that is possible.

We are on the cusp of a true innovative leap forward, as we bring together our data, move from reactive to proactive and predictive, and fully unleash our potential to address whole person health.

Would you say that COVID accelerated the need for digital transformation in health care?

Absolutely. A McKinsey analysis confirms that consumers are more willing to engage via digital platforms such as telemedicine today than they were before the pandemic. And there’s been a complete acceleration of the curve of adoption. I'm particularly excited about the opportunities for digital and behavioral health. Our own Cigna data proves this. Sixty percent of behavioral health patients were still using virtual care even after COVID lockdowns were lifted. Prior to the pandemic, 97% of these people had never had a virtual consultation. I believe that behavioral health coupled with digital is going to be a big opportunity with particularly high levels of engagement.

You’ve spoken about digital transformation in the context of three buckets: People, process, and technology. What do organizations need to do differently when it comes to their people and digital transformation?

I’m going to take a step back and define digital transformation, which for us at Cigna is about unleashing the power of digital to advance all aspects of our strategy and the customer experience we deliver. That requires a lot of different skill sets. It requires talent and technology architecture, data engineering, advanced analytics, and customer experience know-how. Those are all areas we will continue to invest in over the coming years.

Those are some of the hard skills. But I think equally as important, and often overlooked, are some of the softer skills. For example, delivering great digital experiences requires empathy. Another related area is emotional intelligence, which is important in influencing people around you and gives people the ability to lead organizational change, because we are asking people to collaborate and work in completely new ways. We are asking teams that are interdisciplinary to come together and engage in a collaborative way with an enterprise mindset. Those are significant shifts for us. And so I think that's another place where we need to invest.

What do we mean when we say that processes need to change as part of the digital transformation journey?

It means rethinking your organization’s operational model in the digital age. In my experience, if you don't have a digital transformation that devotes equal attention to the innovation you're creating and innovation in the ways people work, operate, and organize for those outcomes, it doesn't work. You can’t just do things the way you always have.

Changing habits and changing mindsets is probably the most difficult—would you agree?

The first step is defining the why, and communicating it to people. It helps people to understand the purpose behind the change at a profound level. They need to understand how these planned changes will better equip us to make a difference for people. It’s on leadership to become the change agents and to be transparent and aligned on the changes needed to move forward.

The second thing that's important for change management is to acknowledge people's feelings about it. It’s a tricky line to walk, but it's a necessary line for leaders that are navigating change. You have to acknowledge that it's hard for your people. You have to thread that needle between compassion for people, helping them navigate these change curves, but also helping them feel inspired and optimistic about what will be next.

The third point – and probably one of the most important – is upskilling your people and offering them an opportunity to invest in their own development. Having a learning culture that encourages testing, learning, failing, and learning from that failure is something that we are prioritizing going forward. That top-down, prescriptive approach on what we are going to do and how we are going to do it isn’t going to work anymore. We need to become more data-driven, flexible, and experimental.

Technology is also a big piece of digital transformation. Is it all about re-platforming?

We need to have technology that allows us to see horizontally. We need data about people to be more accessible and actionable, so we can test and learn our way into better outcomes. Technology is going to be key in our ability to provide people with experiences that are more precise and personalized. That doesn’t mean changing everything all at once. It’s about looking at what we have and understanding where we are lacking. For Cigna, it is going to require us to do work on the data front. It requires us to do work on the platform front. And any changes that we make must be in service to the consumer.

Talk to me about emerging technologies that are going to help us improve that customer experience.

Wearables are going to be an area of experimentation for us. Technology that allows us to sense people’s mood or stress levels are also an area we are looking at today.

Beyond these more emerging technologies, I believe that artificial intelligence and big data combined with the computing power of the cloud gives us a great opportunity to get smarter about what people need. So, we are looking into technologies that allow us to collect more information so that we can optimize what we do based on that data that we have. Simply put, this is just an incredible moment for health care and for what digital can accomplish for our industry.

What role will AI automation play in digital transformation?

Automation is all about freeing people from mundane tasks to focus on inherently human work – work that machines just can’t do. At the company right now, when someone calls customer service, we record the calls, and we have the ability to generate transcripts of those calls using AI. But then we can also apply models to that and begin to query the call data to search for patterns or understand the pulse of what people are concerned about and the quality of our service. That's incredibly powerful. We can then use those insights to help our agents who are having conversations with human beings to be focused on empathy, complexity, and what that person on the line needs. Our principal for automation is about separating what a human should be focused on vs. what should be accomplished by machines and being thoughtful about freeing up the human capital to do what is uniquely addressable by human beings.

What other best practices can you share with leaders around digital transformation?

What I've learned over and over again is that it is easy to forget that digital transformation doesn’t start with technology or data. You need to start with solving real people's problems in a radically different and better way, and identify what needs to happen for that to be possible. What capabilities are needed? What kind of technical expertise do you need? What technology and operations do you need? That gets to the heart of the point I was making earlier about being problem-focused rather than solution-driven. And I think people who fall in love with this notion of digital transformation or digital as a separate thing lose the thread of the “so what” of digital transformation, where you don't get the return on the investment and you don't make a big difference in people's lives. That sounds like common sense. But it's very easy to forget. And you see a lot of companies that do forget that.

My second learning or piece of advice is that you need to think beyond digital as a way to automate or move out of analog. That's not going to be a differentiator. Instead, you need to think about digital as an enabler of a business strategy, and that business strategy needs to focus on solving real people's problems.

Finally, the beauty of digital is that you can do a lot of quick testing, fail fast, learn from it, and optimize on the fly. It’s OK to try a lot of things, especially when you're in uncharted territory. It’s incredibly important. Don’t assume you have all the answers. Test and learn.

Related Content: The Future of Health Care is Digital-First

Check out this article that features Cigna chief digital and analytics officer Katya Andersen speaking to the role that digital plays in reimagining the customer experience.

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