How Mapfre gets cloud to coexist with its tech model ambitions

With 90 years of history, Mapfre is one of the giants of the Spanish insurance sector. The multinational is present in around 40 countries, and closed its last financial year with more than €640 million in profit. And in charge of the group’s technological strategy and digitalization processes is global CIO Vanessa Escrivá. “The personalization of services and products is going to be fundamental in the insurance sector,” she says, an aspect she’s spearheading, along with a commitment to data and AI. Here, she speaks with Esther Macías on how it’ll all work.

Can you explain how your career at Mapfre has changed over the years?

I’ve been on the company’s management committee for 14 years and I’ve had roles in various departments. Knowing the company well and not starting from scratch also made it easier for me to know where I wanted to go with the team. In 2021, the company was defining its new strategic cycle, and as the business area was setting these new objectives, I did the same in the technology domain to accompany the business. We internally analyzed the improvements we had to provide and, together with the CIOs in all the countries where Mapfre operates, we defined a very solid strategy that aligns with the business objectives, and we’re implementing that now.  

And in what state is the execution of this strategic plan?

Lat year was about execution at the corporate level because there were many things we had to test before taking them to various countries. This year is when the plan begins to extend to these territories. This is a strategy of some complexity, based on three pillars: digitalization, insurance platform as a service, and data. 

The strategy seeks to help the company continue digitizing the business, not only the visible layer— the frontend user experience, for instance—but also the backend. Because if the front and the relationship with the customer are digitized but reengineering and process automation is not addressed behind the scenes, the experience isn’t as good as it should be. So the first pillar is to digitize end-to-end business processes. This digitalization initiative includes the technology itself—something we call ‘IT for IT’—because there are also IT processes we must improve to accelerate time to market, the quality of the projects we deliver, and incident management, for example.

The second pillar, the ‘as a service’ insurance platform, consists of creating such platforms for the countries where we operate to simplify the complexity we have. It must be taken into account that Mapfre has grown internationally through acquisitions and implementing the insurance core in each country where it began to operate and making it grow. This has allowed us to grow and integrate companies quickly, but it’s also caused us to have very different local realities, despite the same foundations. With the new strategy, instead of implementing corporate assets in countries so they’re managed locally, what we want, through the cloud model, is to develop an asset as a service that countries can use. At the moment, we’re testing the system in smaller countries, such as Panama or Uruguay, but we’ll gradually incorporate other larger ones to consolidate the strategy. This strategy of betting on an as-a-service insurance platform has an important background because there’s an operating model and a standard product design, although later there’ll be some customization depending on the country. 

The third pillar of our strategy is data. Over the years we’ve been working with business intelligence (BI) tools, and then incorporating other big data solutions outside of traditional BI, and, later, adopting advanced analytics. So in the data part, we’ve grown with technologies that weren’t convergent. What we seek is to have a clear data architecture with a single point of origin for the information and for it to be consumed by whomever applies BI, advanced analytics, and so on. For this, we’re also working on creating a platform in the cloud for each country, which puts order in the data architecture. This change in platform also entails a data governance model and operational changes. So to make these three pillars a reality, we have to promote enablers at the infrastructure level. In fact, we’re analyzing how we can make its capacities, costs, and operating model more flexible. In this sense, the cloud model has to help us undertake this transformation. We don’t have a strategy of going 100% to the cloud, but we use it as an enabler to execute our plan. We have to work on operating models, internal technology processes, and people as well. 

When you talk about having an insurance platform as a service, does this mean Mapfre’s insurance core will be in the cloud? 

In the long run, it will come. The idea is to add countries to the platform until we reach Spain, although certainly not at this time. Spain is the home country of the company with the longest history and with very particular platforms. 

Currently our insurance core is on premise and with three realities. There’s a set of countries with a common core, others with a market core that we acquired a couple of years ago, and then there’s Spain. In some countries we’ll go to the cloud, but in others, it’ll depend on many factors. In any case, the core will be the last thing we take to the cloud, as well as the data and integration part, and other satellite solutions.

What’s the reasoning behind that?

Cloud brings a different operating model both from a technical and cost point of view, and we believe we have to know it well. We want to experiment with elements that may have less risk than a core. At the moment, we haven’t seen cost savings in the projects we’re developing with the cloud. I believe it’s a model we must know and be in; we have to make cloud coexist with our current model and we’re working on it. What’s more, I have no doubt the entire data center operation will have to hybridize with the cloud model, but we have to go slowly.

With what human resources are you going to approach this new IT strategy?

We believe we can undertake the transformation with our internal team in general terms, but we need to retrain people and recruit new talent. In the corporate area in Spain, we’re talking about incorporating about 50 people. I believe in our internal talent, which is magnificent and has business knowledge that differentiates us from other companies.

How many professionals make up Mapfre’s IT area?

In IT around the world, we are 1,900 people, and in the corporate area about 400, although we also rely on many external suppliers. However, I think we need to balance the scales a little. We have suppliers and it’s very important to have powerful partners, but we have to bring back to the company certain profiles that we’ve outsourced in the past such as data architects, cloud experts, and others who guarantee generational change. We also need people who can help us automate processes and have knowledge of artificial intelligence. 

Where does Mapfre have its data centers and who manages them?

The three main ones are in Spain, Miami, and São Paulo. We have the operation outsourced both in Latin America, with Telefónica, and in Spain, with Kyndryl. 

What lessons can you highlight from your experience as the company’s global CIO?

We have changed some dynamics. Before, in the corporate area, we designed projects and solutions for the countries and then, when we arrived, we found a different reality. So now we do it the other way around. First we start the projects in each country and later we bring them to the corporate area. It’s a positive method because in this way, the countries become involved in the initiatives. In 2022, we developed platforms for end-to-end automation of the development life cycle, and tools for controlling cloud spend from FinOps, which allow us to go to the cloud with more confidence. We’re clear about the goals of the strategic plan. But the challenge is in its execution and in the cultural change that must be made in the IT workforce because many times we’ve become managers of technology providers and now we have to change our mentality and, in addition to managing our partners, carry out other types of more technical work we weren’t doing until now to have a more proactive role.

Where are you putting the focus of ICT investment?

Investment in technology this year is focused on providing economic resources to the major objectives and enablers of the overall strategic plan. A significant part will be allocated to solutions and developments that increase the digitalization and automation of the solutions we offer to businesses and internal technology processes. Furthermore, the development and deployment of the insurance platform as a service for local businesses is a commitment of the group. The data platform we’re developing for the application of traditional and advanced analytics to the company’s business processes also represents an investment, not only from the point of view of technological development, but also attracting talent.

Plus, we’re providing resources to the necessary levers to guarantee the success of these major objectives, such as investment in infrastructure, cloud, transformation of communications, and implementation of new, more agile, and efficient work models and methodologies. These investments also help contain the proportion of OpEx spending, in which we are in line with the market reference.

We spoke about the need to update the backend, but have you already completed modernizing the front?

The pillar of digitalization has been very focused on user experience and in this aspect we’ve improved substantially in recent years. Now, in all the markets where we operate, we’re not yet an omnichannel company, where the user experience is the same regardless of where they enter. It’s true we’re better off in some countries than others and we’re working to be an omnichannel company. We’re multichannel now, but not omnichannel. We’re also introducing new contact center technologies that will help in this regard. 

What are your thoughts on generative AI, and how is it something that can be utilized?

We have to have talent that understands how to incorporate AI into our processes. In fact, this year we’ve created an area specialized in automation with RPA and AI, and we’re even analyzing with Microsoft how we can take advantage of ChatGPT. It’s an area that’ll allow us to personalize the user experience, but we have to learn how it works to incorporate it into our processes to issue and grant benefits. That said, we shouldn’t automate for the sake of automation. You have to automate wisely and analyze what the benefit of doing so is, because sometimes processes are automated and no cost is released or significant improvements achieved. 

How do you see the future of the insurance sector?

The personalization of services and products is going to be essential. To achieve this, data and business use cases, automation, and transformation of traditional technology operating models are needed, so the barrier between development and infrastructure disappears and we embrace a more transversal model that makes the cycle more efficient and adapted to the business. In our case, cloud is going to help us change the IT operating model and transform the applications.

Business Operations, CIO, Cloud Management, Data Architecture, Database Design, Digital Transformation, Employee Experience, Insurance Industry, IT Leadership, IT Operations