Why COOs are the perfect pilots of digital transformation

There’s no better pioneer for innovation than the Chief Operations Officer

By Martin Stewart : 24th of August 2021

When it comes to spearheading your next phase of commercial growth, there’s no better pioneer for innovation than the Chief Operations Officer (COO).

As we lie on the cusp of a post-pandemic world, every company within the insurance industry finds itself in the precarious position of taking sides – transforming into a fully-fledged digital world to meet consumers’ expectations, or staying with the status quo.

The recent state of the world has fast-tracked this decision for many. A Deloitte survey found that 77% of CEOs reported that the pandemic had sped up their companies’ digital transformation plans, while another by Twilio found that COVID-19 had fast-tracked companies digital communications strategies by an average of six years.

Suffice to say, the pressure’s on to unlock more value via digital transformation, and COOs are best-positioned to capitalise on it.

What do COOs have to gain?

COOs not only have a thorough understanding of everyday operations, they also keep one eye on the future too, which is why they’re in a strong position to pilot digital change. Their ability to reimagine supply chains, overcome complexity and mitigate uncertainty gives them the power to overhaul workflow, efficiency, user experience and customer sentiment – all to the benefit of the entire company. See, not bad a credit to have to your name?

The fact is, up to 95% of companies are seeking new ways to retain customers in a post-pandemic world, nine in ten believe digital transformation is critical addressing business challenges like these. And in a landscape like this, there’s a lot to be gained by making the first move.

Full connectivity between business and digital goals

The digital transformation must deliver positive business outcomes, including revenue generation, cost mitigation and risk reduction. Therefore, when a COO drives digital change, the transformation will be in-line with these outcomes.

Reduced focus on unnecessary or overengineered technology

With a COO at the helm initiating digital change, the focus is steered away from overcooked tech that merely ‘signals’ evolution rather than achieves it, and is instead redirected into new and valuable developments that unearth tangible opportunities for optimising service and operations.

Reduced internal friction

When all parties are unified around the same objective – digital transformation – it reduces interdepartmental friction, such as between the IT department and c-suite. The COO has the critical role of getting all the divisions in the business united and focused on the end game.

Greater value-packed opportunities

By embracing emergent digital technologies, opportunities will be identified that won’t otherwise have been presented by existing legacy systems. COOs won’t get distracted by gimmicks or quick wins, but will instead meet real business needs that in turn trigger success, such as appropriate metric regimes, business outcomes, talent and mindset shifts, operating model changes, governance swings, and leadership refreshes.

The position of COO is a powerful one

Chief operating officers are in the formidable position of being able to initiate true internal change. As the key operational leader, they understand that transformation can’t be achieved by merely disseminating the right message to your employees and exemplifying the behaviour in leaders; it must instead be embedded in the day-to-day operations of the company.

Rather than simply sending out a memo, this change needs to be embedded in the fabric of daily operations – meetings, projects, management, rituals, decision making, metrics and reporting. It has to be a fully-integrated solution. And it’s a solution that the COO is in the position to most effectively deliver.

How to secure the right support

That being said, no solution can be effectively delivered without the support of the CEO. They are the voice of direction, and their c-suite is a critical source of backing when presenting a strong and united front in the argument for valuable digital change.

Essentially, you need to achieve a deep level of understanding across the board. This will involve investing substantial time in educating key figures on what in will involve, what it will achieve, and what their role will be.

You’ll know you have the right support when business leaders and the C-level executives are able to respond accurately to these key questions (and enact the answers):

1. What are we transforming into and why?

Their response should be straight-forward, succinct and simple.

2. What does this mean from the perspective of my function?

Their response should be easily understood, thereby creating buy-in with the full suite of operational staff who are the true enactors of change.

The first steps to piloting digital transformation

Step 1: Assess your outcomes and identify your goals

Before you even broach your options when it comes to insurtech partners, assess your current business outcomes and identify opportunities for improvement. Are their specific results you’d like to achieve? Pinpoint exactly what that success would look like and what metrics you would use to measure it.

Step 2: Now, begin your search for the right insurtech partner

Insurtechs, by design, operate quickly. They identify minor opportunities, experiment with solutions, break things, fail fast, circumnavigate laborious processes, disregard legacy mindsets, and ignore irrelevant regulatory burdens. There is therefore a specific approach you should take when contemplating their future role in your company so as to better anticipate the transformation process.

Insurtech should be looked at as:
  1. Teachers: they can show you how to scale what is scalable

  2. Partners: they are assets that create value and competitive advantage, you need to bring them into your team

  3. Accelerators: they can get to minimum viable outcomes before you in a host of micro-niches, paving the way for you to do this at scale with partnerships, acquisitions and mergers

Suffice to say, now is the time to make the move to a transformative future that brings more value to your operations, service delivery and customer experience. But it’s not a future that can be driven by just anyone. As head of operations, COOs have the power to unite internal departments, enact true digital change, and gain a lot in the process. From there, it’s just a matter of finding the right insurtech partner to support your business objectives.


Whether you’re looking for an innovative platform to support business growth, you’re over capacity and need to outsource a project, or you’re in a jam and need a rapid solution, Axe is ready to support you.