BIG logo & door side shot
Photo from Progressive

The idea of capturing information about driving behavior on a mobile app is just one of 27 potential innovations that IT “mechanics” have worked on inside Progressive’s Business Innovation Garage, a unit officially opened this year, company representatives report.

Dave Pratt, general manager for Usage-Based Insurance of Progressive, was among 16 property/casualty insurance executives who responded to emailed inquiries from Carrier Management about how their companies encourage innovation. Pratt offered the recently opened garage as an example of one of the programs developed to help foster innovation among employees throughout the company.

Known as BIG to Progressive employees, Pratt described the separate business unit as “a secure think-tank for innovating products and services.” Erin Baginski, a Progressive IT director who oversees BIG, provided more details—recounting how BIG came to exist, as well as the success of experiments like the mobile app prototype

She noted that while the BIG garage door officially opened this year, allowing all of Progressive’s 26,000 employees engage with “mechanics” from IT department, the garage had been running in pilot mode—and generating ideas—before that. “As of April 2015, the Business Innovation Garage is now a permanent, fully-supported environment for Progressive employees to use for innovation and to collaborate with IT to find business solutions,” she reported, responding to questions about BIG via email.

The idea for BIG itself, she said, came from an employee. In a meeting back in 2009, the employee submitted a question to Progressive’s CEO Glenn Renwick, asking about the possibility of having a separate business unit to test-drive potential innovations. “After researching and presenting options to our business leaders including Chief Information Officer Ray Voelker, the idea was turned into a reality,” she said.

Erin Baginski, Progressive
Erin Baginski, Progressive

“BIG’s creation has allowed us to innovate faster, and get best-in-class products to market more efficiently.”
“BIG is staffed by a garage manager and ‘mechanic’ positions comprised of IT analysts on 18-month rotations, working with partners across the business to collect and cultivate new business solutions.” The end goal is to be able to explore and test ideas before the company actually invests significant time, dollars and resources, she said. “It’s a bit of an internal incubator.”

Pratt gave a similar description. “BIG provides Progressive with an internal ‘lab’ to test and learn in such a highly-regulated environment like the insurance industry,” he said.

“BIG isn’t involved in compliance,” however, Baginski noted, reiterating its distinction as internal laboratory. The “separate, dedicated virtual environment…allow[s] for collaborative opportunities with IT and other business areas within Progressive, while reserving our internal enterprise systems needed for day-to-day functionality and run-the-business requirements.”

“BIG’s creation has allowed us to innovate faster, and get best-in-class products to market more efficiently,” she said.

The interior of Progressive's Business Innovation Garage
The interior of Progressive’s Innovation Garage

With the garage manager prioritizing the work and overseeing the innovation process, “people across the company can submit ideas through email or by stopping by BIG’s physical location at our company headquarters,” she said.

What has happened in the garage so far?

Baginski said the pilot phase was extremely successful, achieving 100 percent positive feedback from those who used the garage and completing 27 experiments in nine months. During the pilot phase, the garage manager and mechanics began collaborating with employees across Progressive, including those in marketing, product development and engineering.

Among the pilot experiments was one focused on Progressive’s usage-based insurance offering, Snapshot, she said.

“Snapshot was the first-ever marketed UBI program that allowed customers to earn personalized rates based on their safe driving habits. The goal of this particular experiment was to test whether a mobile application could potentially replace the need to plug our Snapshot device into participants’ cars via their OBD-II port,” Baginski reported, referring to an onboard diagnostic systems port. “The mechanics worked side-by-side with people on our UBI team and a prototype mobile application was developed on an accelerated timeline and requiring fewer people.”

Man wearing virtual reality headset Games Week 2013 in Milan
Man wearing virtual reality headset Games Week 2013 in Milan

Baginski also confirmed a report in Crain’s Business revealing a BIG project to scan damaged cars with virtual reality headsets and turn them into 3D images. “That is something we’re exploring but it’s in the very early stages,” she said.

According to Baginski, both the Garage and Progressive’s Edison program are part of IT’s Innovation Services. “Edison is a program within Progressive that encourages employees to submit ideas to solve business problems and delight customers, and tries to answer the question ‘what could we do?’ BIG is where experimentation and prototyping happen,” she explained.

Topics InsurTech