Amy Keelty

Information Strategy and Governance Director, American Family Insurance

Supernova Award Category: 

Future of Work - Employee Experience

The Organization: 

American Family Insurance is a private mutual company that sells American Family-brand products, including auto, homeowners, life, business and farm/ranch insurance.  Based in Madison, Wisconsin, AmFam comprises several subsidiaries, which constitute the nation's 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group. AmFam ranks No. 311 on the Fortune 500 with revenues for its group of companies exceeding $10.3 billion in 2018.

The Problem: 

AmFam has a long history protecting customers. After over 90 years, AmFam is adept at capturing valuable data. However, to mine the richness of its data, AmFam needed to transform from being data rich to being data-driven. A guiding principle for this transformation is CTO Peter Settel’s rallying cry "no legacy systems; no legacy mindset." To that end, AmFam has focused on people transformation efforts and creating a data culture—an environment where business experts are able to access the data they need and make informed data-driven decisions.

Initially, AmFam adopted a technical metadata repository that captured data models and data lineage information. However, business users weren’t leveraging it. The ratio of technical users to business users was 3:1. Data teams delivered metadata to the repository, but business users had no way to engage with the information they found. The business fell back on established habits of tribal knowledge. Information about data was stored in hundreds of SharePoint sites, shared drives, and websites. To create a data culture, legacy methods had to change, and AmFam needed to support those changes.

The Solution: 

AmFam met with users & identified use cases for a digital repository that would meet their needs. Users wanted more than basic metadata – they wanted a workspace for sharing best practices & queries, researching data, asking questions, and sharing knowledge. For the growing number of data scientists at AmFam, finding cross-area knowledge was critical. AmFam adopted the Alation data catalog, focusing on governance & curation of metadata in a centralized, collaborative repository.

Three areas provided teams for early adoption of the catalog, who worked with the governance office, to develop standardized templates & field values for consistency within the repository. They then used specific business use cases to add catalog information. These examples of content were used in the wider roll-out plan, with the early users providing some of the training and demonstrations. Users leading the discussions about the catalog drove interest within their areas.

The Results: 

AmFam has moved from the siloed, tribal knowledge of the past to a centralized, governed, and curated data catalog. Currently AmFam has multiple data sources from both on premise and cloud environments connected to the Alation Data Catalog, including BI servers, File Storage Services, and relational databases. Teams across the company are leveraging Alation as part of their standard work to share information and catalog queries.

The data catalog is critical to data literacy efforts, making it easy for users to find data asset information, connect with data subject matter experts, and see how the data has been queried, joined, and filtered. The data literacy program has started with a few hundred employees with the goal to ultimately encompass all 12,000 employees of the American Family enterprise. The catalog will play a central role in promoting data awareness, democratizing data access, and onboarding new data users.

The data catalog has helped in the effort to eliminate legacy data platforms as users are able to understand how to use new data services more quickly, lowering the cost of making mistakes and helping the organization work more iteratively. The reduction in redundant, legacy sources has streamlined data discovery and promoted a culture of data driven self service.

  • Initially 40% of resources used by business users were static documents on a website or in a shared drive or document library with little or no descriptive information
  • Now more than 70 data sources are connected and easily accessible to business users through the Alation Data Catalog
  • Data literacy program with hundreds of employees with goal to reach 12,000
  • The metadata repository averaged 20 business users a month. The catalog is now at over a 120 business users a month with a steadily increasing trendline.
  • Total user counts are over 500 since early 2019
  • Content migrated to the catalog is enabling the retirement of numerous shared drives and SharePoint sites.
  • Data scientists and data analysts have regained 5-20% of their time because they no longer need to answer as many emails or attend as many meetings to answer data questions
  • Estimated productivity increases and time savings of analysts and data scientists range from $400,00 to $1,500,000 a year depending on rates of adoption
The Technology: 

AmFam adopted the Alation Data Catalog after extensive user empathy sessions, and a complete A3 analysis. The catalog was implemented with the data scientists and data analysts as the primary end users. This was a different approach form the legacy metadata repository that was selected for the business. The emphasis that Alation placed on supporting all the needs of the business user was apparent when our testing team evaluated tools against the identified business use cases.

Disruptive Factor: 

AmFam is committed to helping everybody—from adjusters to underwriters to agents—to do a better job by being data-driven. To make that happen, AmFam has to ensure that relevant data is available to everybody, For example,  the 3,200 claims’ employees and adjusters that AmFam employs today. For a company that processes over one million insurance claims each year, streamlining and simplification of basic operational reporting makes a meaningful difference.

Understanding that moving to the cloud alone won’t move the company from being data rich to data-driven, the Alation Data Catalog is helping to connect business users with data and the context to understand it, and helping to raise the level of data literacy across the organization.

Selecting a data catalog tool that was designed with the business data user needs in mind has allowed the AmFam governance program to move away from the top-down governance progam of the past. Now, business users are empowered to govern their own assets, share their knowledge, and find the data they.

Shining Moment: 

Getting a new platform up and running is only the first steps to long term adoption and organizational change. Business users at AmFam have struggled for years to find a way to share their knowledge and experience. The excitement the data catalog generates among its core group of users can’t be understated. In reality those users are evangelists now for data management, knowledge management, and collaboration. Alation has been the catalyst to help them find their voices.

About Your Organization

American Family Insurance group is the nation's 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group and ranks No. 306 on the Fortune 500 list. The company sells American Family-brand products, including auto, homeowners, life, business and farm/ranch insurance, primarily through its exclusive agents in 19 states.