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American Fidelity's automation strategy aspires to 'drop the drudgery'

Improving the customer experience should be the main focus of an organization's automation strategy, according to Shane Jason Mock, vice president of R&D at American Fidelity Assurance Company.

At the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Mock outlined how the health insurer's automation strategy centers on improving the employee and the customer experience. By using technologies like robotic process automation and machine learning, Mock and his team are eliminating some of the menial tasks for its employees. Their mantra is to "drop the drudgery."

Editor's note: The following was edited for clarity and brevity.

How important is operational efficiency to your company?

Shane Jason Mock: Our operational efficiencies -- our automation strategy -- all goes back to the customer. If we can help customers get their emails and questions answered faster, if we can really help them get their claims paid faster, that's the most important piece of this. If it doesn't go through that filter, then we just don't pursue it.

What role do you see AI having in making that experience better for the customer?

Mock: AI is one of those really cool technologies that allows you to know your customer better. As organizations grow, as companies grow, it's hard to know each and every customer. I heard someone talk about the 1950s storeowner: If you were in a small town, they knew you -- they knew your name, they knew what you were likely to buy, and they really wanted to help you with that process. AI strategies should go back [to that] and anticipate what's the customer going to need next, how can we support, how can we come in and really help. That's what's coming more and more in the future as AI expands.

What does the title VP of research and development mean? What sort of research and development happens at American Fidelity?

Mock: I've been in the R&D space for about three years, officially now for about two years. I was a traditional actuary, so I did a lot of pricing, which was fantastic and I really enjoyed that role. But seeing the way the world was emerging, on nights and weekends, I started picking up some data science components and some different pieces of the puzzle. It kind of just grew into a role that became full time. We started building a team around that. We've got some Ph.D.s on my team, we've got some actuaries on my team, we've got some RPA programmers on my team, and we've really assembled that team concept to do that.

In this leadership role, what kind of traits do you need to lead change and technology implementation within an organization?

Mock: I think the human side is even more important than the technology side. The technology is important, of course. But really, from the people side, just making sure that we're putting customers first and that we're putting our colleagues first. Some people are afraid when they hear the term automation, and a lot of times, they just don't know what that entails and there's just a fear of the unknown. So, going in and really meeting with colleagues, meeting with people within the company and helping explain, it's been really fun.

We've had some folks who were more fearful, and then, as the first automation projects came in, they realized, 'I don't have to work as much overtime. I don't have to do the menial tasks that I really didn't enjoy about my job.' There's a lot of real potential to make people's jobs better. We call that 'drop the drudgery.' That's our internal slogan at our company -- drop the drudgery -- and what can we do to help people improve their jobs and improve their lives. Some of those same people that were fearful are now -- even just yesterday, were sending new projects our way saying, 'Hey, can we think about automating this? Can we think about automating that?' As people understand the technology, there are just fantastic opportunities.

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