Digital transformation is key to all businesses in realizing growth, superior competitive advantages, and reducing costs. For the credit insurance industry, it’s about managing risks, reducing claims, ensuring credit, and accelerating credit decision timelines.
Jörg Müller, CIO of Atradius, recently discussed his views on digital transformation in the credit insurance industry and what it means to be at the forefront of interacting with customers in a fully automated way with Julie Devoll of Harvard Business Review. Watch this interview to hear his thoughts on selective digitization, measuring digital transformation success, and nurturing employees’ digital skills.
Video Quick Take: Atradius’ Jörg Müller on Measuring Digital Transformation Success
Julie Devoll, HBR: Welcome to the HBR Quick Take. I’m Julie Devoll, Editor for Special Projects and Webinars at HBR. Today, we’re talking to Jörg Müller, CIO of Atradius. We’ll be talking about digital transformation in the credit insurance sector. Jörg, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jörg Müller, Atradius: Thank you for having me, Julie. I’m excited to talk with you today.
Julie Devoll, HBR: Let’s talk about Atradius. Jörg, what is your specialized insurance business about?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: Actually, we are a credit insurance company. So that means we specialize in trade credit insurance, surety, collection services, etc. So as a trade credit insurer, we cover businesses against the risk of nonpayment by their buyers for goods and services sold against credit terms. We hold a world market share of roughly 25% and as we speak right now, we insure worldwide trade in an amount of roughly $600 billion dollars.
Julie Devoll, HBR: Why is digital transformation such an important focal point in the credit insurance industry right now?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: Credit insurance is a product that enables credit. We manage the nonpayment risk of our customers, and we collect their outstandings on a worldwide basis. Digitization has been our focal point for years, as our customers, and trade in general, are digitally focused.
Atradius is at the forefront of the industry as we connect and interact with our customers in a fully automated way. Be it in their trade platforms or in their internal ERP systems.
Julie Devoll, HBR: What do you think is the biggest challenge for businesses right now in their digital transformation journey?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: In the end, business success will be measured by the business performance parameters that digital transformation enables— for example achieving more growth, achieving enterprise-wide competitive advantages, reducing costs, etc.. For us, it’s managing risks, reducing claims, or the best—all these parameters at the same time.
I observe that many enterprises have successfully developed and deployed, even sometimes scaled, digital initiatives and capabilities. But the challenges for real digital transformation go much deeper than that. Clarity on the continual development and execution of the digitalization strategy is key here. We need the whole business to understand and drive the change toward a digital future. For this to happen, a full, company-wide digital transformation program is paramount.
Often, technology is not the limiting factor— increasing the maturity of a company’s digital transformation and core capabilities is the important aspect. You need business architectures, business capability models, multidisciplinary teams, and the ways of working fully adapted and changed in support of this digital future.
Julie Devoll, HBR: So how has the Covid-19 pandemic and the transition to remote working impacted digital transformation in the credit insurance industry?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: In general, the credit insurance industry was very much impacted by Covid-19 because we enable global trade, which significantly declined due to the pandemic.
Remote working was not a real problem for us once we overcame the first two weeks of enabling our staff to work permanently from home. However, servicing our customers, managing the risks of their national and international trade parameters during the pandemic, and to always be close in collaboration with our customers, was one of the challenges that we needed to overcome and was the key to our success in managing through this difficult period.
Julie Devoll, HBR: As a global organization with over 3,500 employees around the world, how do you make sure that you’re striking the right balance between digital efficiency and hands-on experience?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: This is a key challenge for us. We must manage vast amounts of credit transactions every day and do so in a highly automated and secure way because our customers don’t have time to wait for full credit decisions. The high level of automated, straight-through processing of all our core services and processes, combined with our capabilities in managing vast amounts of data with our knowledge-based systems, is key for our customers. And we measure these services in very granular detail.
When we aim to automate end-to-end processes to the highest level, our core process throughputs, this is to focus the valuable time of our experts to service our customers, enable trade and manage risks.
Julie Devoll, HBR: You mentioned measuring. How do you think businesses should go about measuring their progress in their digital transformation?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: As I mentioned already in the beginning, the real digital transformation measures need to be about the business outcomes that are to be digitized. In a business like ours, that’s revenue growth, the management of risk, claims, customer service, and operations. Additionally, the transparency of the status of the digital initiatives and the outcomes are key.
So along with the enterprise-wide digital transformation journey, there are many tools out there that can help provide the transparency. Most important of those tools is the clarity of the business parameters to be achieved and the visibility of the execution status of the digital initiatives. This includes, dashboards that provide insights into backlogs, resource utilization, delivery statuses, and much more.
Julie Devoll, HBR: What are your thoughts on selective digitization to see quick outcomes?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: Learning from quick outcomes and experimenting is important. It’s part of the journey toward becoming a digital business. In my experience, and in our business, an early path for scaling and operationalization should be set once these experiments show potential so that there is a fit with the overall business transformation journey. For our company, we have decided to have a clear roadmap for the business transformation we are currently undertaking, and we put our focus and energy into this chosen path.
Julie Devoll, HBR: How can companies frame the internal conversation around how to nurture their employees’ digital skills?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: That’s an important question. I think the digital transformation success starts and ends with the employees and the digital skills you have. Continuous learning, especially in IT, but not only in IT, is now even more important than it has been in the past. New technologies and capabilities are made available at an ever-increasing pace.
The same can be said for the business community, to keep up with the pace of change, continuous learning is very important. At Atradius, we have already, for years, created forms, which we call the Digital Ambassador Forums, for technically minded staff from all over the world who have different forums to liaise, exchange, bring new ideas, and enable our corporate digital transformation, as well as locally to be the ambassadors in their own countries and units.
Julie Devoll, HBR: What about customers? What does this shift mean for them?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: I think every industry, every business is different. We are servicing the Fortune 500, and we do service small companies in regional areas and smaller industries. It depends on the maturity of our customer in their own digital journey, and we have to be able to service all of them, the highly automated through-putting of processes with our customers, as well as the ones that are not yet that mature.
In the end, the megatrends in terms of connectivity across the world are there. All our customers will be impacted by that. But we have to be able to service all customers, meaning the mature ones as well as the ones that are slightly lagging behind.
Julie Devoll, HBR: What advice do you have for CIOs and other IT leaders currently leading digital transformation initiatives within their organizations?
Jörg Müller, Atradius: That’s a great question. I would say, enjoy the ride, and trust in your people. It’s a great opportunity for CIOs around the world, and the digital leaders in general, to enable their organizations to thrive into a bright digital future. It is a great challenge, but also a superb opportunity. For everybody who enjoys digital outcomes, this is the moment to be in this kind of work.
Julie Devoll, HBR: Jörg, this has been a great discussion. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Jörg Müller, Atradius: Thanks for having me, and I wish you a great day.
To learn more about Atradius, visit atradius.com.
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