Dan Bodnar is Chief Information and Technology Officer at Skyward Specialty, which was recognized in June 2023 with a Datos Insights Insurance Technology Impact Award in the Core category for its SkyVUE system. Dan sat down with Harry Huberty, Research Director, to discuss insurer CIO challenges, AI opportunities, and technology in insurance. The interview below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What are your top IT priorities for the next six to 12 months?
The short answer is, we’re always focused on opportunities to bring value. Along the lines of Datos Insights’ “Three Levers of Value,” we look for ways to lower costs, improve risk management, and expand our sales and distribution channels.
We’ve finished rollout of our SkyVUE underwriting platform for most of our property/casualty lines and will be targeting surety and stop-loss next. The platform has brought great results, and we want to continue to leverage it.
Next, we’re going to take our first foray into agency portals, starting small with an administrative portal. From there, we plan to build it out and eventually expose parts of the underwriting workbench so we can delegate authority for transactions like endorsements.
Of course, there’s also generative AI. For us, we’re approaching it as both a bottom-up and a top-down initiative. The first step is just socializing it, giving education and training, upskilling staff, building an internal community with some guardrails. From that bottom-up perspective, we want users to discover the best ways to use it in their own processes.
All of those elements add up to a systematic rollout so we can continue to leverage GenAI as we go. I think GenAI is going to be the way we do business. There’s going to be a lot of incremental and tactical innovations. I want to support both those and traditional major, disruptive changes from IT.
How are you engaging or planning to engage with generative AI? How do you think insurers more generally might use and benefit from these tools?
AI is good at some things but not suited for other things. Anything that requires transparency, anything that has to be auditable, like rating or decision-making—you can’t leave it to AI.
Summarization and identifying patterns to make unstructured data accessible and usable—I think those are the easiest use cases. Things like submissions, account and policy level information, FNOL, and claims information. On the legal side, contracts and language around claims that went to litigation. And on the compliance side, filings and wordings on exclusions and endorsements.
Part of why I want to democratize Skyward’s use of GenAI is because I think some of the best ideas will come from the people who actually use it on their desktops. Our org is good at reacting to where the business sees value. We want to spark interest and then support them moving forward. We want to up our “AI IQ” as a company.
It has to be a safe sandbox. IT will define tool choices. That will cut through some of the uncertainty and fear so that ideas can percolate. It’s similar to our work on SkyVUE: we released an MVP and then asked underwriters what features they wanted. We’re leaving 20% to 40% productivity improvement on the table if we don’t embrace GenAI.
Tell us a bit more about that underwriting project. Skyward was recently recognized with a Datos Insights Insurance Technology Impact Award for your SkyVUE platform. What aspects of your business and/or your IT team made building your own underwriting workbench the right approach?
To have sustainable differentiation from our competitors, we needed to focus outside of core. The underwriting platform was a natural choice. We felt vended solutions often fell short and wanted to be in control of our destiny and of our presentation layer. We wanted to have as much influence as possible on the underwriters’ daily tasks to give them the tools they needed.
I’m very intrigued by headless systems. These platforms square away the functionality so you can make an interface and workflow that are intuitive. You don’t have to build the process around the underlying technology. It also helps stave off technical debt. When you need to swap out the policy admin system, controlling the presentation layer means the interface might not change much, which makes the transition easier.
Our pace and speed requirements were probably more than what a vendor could handle. With everyone adopting APIs and microservices, I could plug in bits and pieces to solve specific problems. It was all about agility and time to value. We had underwriters saying, “This is the quickest I’ve had a response from IT in my 30 years of underwriting.” And these guys come from major companies, ones with effective IT environments.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges ahead when you think about the role of technology and some of your opportunities to use technology to improve the business?
Getting generative AI right is a big challenge, and I think you see what we’re doing to get it right and what we’re working with.
I am really excited by what’s happening on the ingestion automation side. There are some products where there’s been tremendous improvement over the last year. Training times are down, pricing is coming down. Intake ingestion may become commoditized, in fact.
I’m excited about workflow since it now feels like workflow is becoming truly end to end. Every time we automate functions, initially, those automation elements can stand on their own—things like formatting, auto/property schedule intakes, automating policy information. With the end-to-end capabilities, I now have a framework that I can hang stand-alone things on. Leveraging that is a key priority for those day-to-day desktop innovations that keep things moving forward.
How is your company and your team handling return-to-office? Has the transition to remote work affected the way business and IT teams collaborate?
We’re true hybrid now. Face-to-face interactions get more challenging, like onboarding, mentoring, and training. It’s solvable, but it’s something you need to plan for. It has helped with access to talent. People want to work and have flexibility; hybrid allows us to offer that.
The ways in which work is prioritized in a hybrid environment are also interesting. When you’re on-site, you can get pulled to what’s right next to you. I find that now that I’m not sitting right next to accounting, HR, and legal, I focus more on the business.
I did a study when I first got here five years ago and found that 30% of IT’s time was being spent on drive-by requests from people who just dropped by. In a physical office, the people who sit near you drop by more often, and your work gets pulled in those directions.
How have you and your team leveraged your Datos Insights relationship?
I use them for level setting, understanding how the industry is approaching technology and where they’re placing their bets. It helps establish credibility when I speak to the board to be able to back up my ideas with professional research.
I annually bring in Datos—Martin Higgins and Deb Zawisza this year—to facilitate a meeting with executive business leaders about opportunities. Martin had some really good resources to help us understand where the opportunities were, what AI was and wasn’t good for.
I’ve known Datos Insights’ experts for a long time. With the longer-term relationship, the advice gets better. They understand our company deeply, and they’ve worked in insurance companies themselves, which provides very helpful background knowledge. It’s a deep and useful relationship.
For more information about the Core category of our Insurance Technology Impact Awards, read our report, Insurance Technology Impact Awards Case Study Compendium 2023: Core Initiatives.
Dan Bodnar has served as Skyward Specialty’s Chief Information and Technology Officer since August 2017. Since March 2021, Mr. Bodnar has also served as Director of subsidiaries Houston Specialty Insurance Company, Imperium Insurance Company, Great Midwest Insurance Company, and Oklahoma Specialty Insurance Company. Since August 2021, he has served as Director of the subsidiary Skyward Service Company. Prior to joining Skyward Specialty, Mr. Bodnar was a Property and Casualty IT Consultant at insureCIO, an information technology services company servicing the property and casualty insurance industry, from March 2015 to August 2017. Before that, Mr. Bodnar was at Argo Insurance Group and HCC Insurance Holdings, two specialty insurance companies, successfully building specialty insurance technology teams and platforms.
Mr. Bodnar holds a Bachelor of Computer Science from Trinity University (San Antonio). In addition, Mr. Bodnar has more than 20 years of experience working in the insurance technology industry.