Evolving the Innovation Mission at Humana

By Scott Kirsner |  June 1, 2019

Roberto Roitz is a former leader of the discovery and open innovation team at Humana, the $57 billion health insurance and managed care provider based in Louisville, Kentucky. As of 2019, Roitz is now Director of Strategic Partnerships within a team called Digital Health & Analytics.

If I look at the five-year journey at Humana doing innovation, [one lesson is] around how do you create a common language around what innovation means for the company, and get buy-in from the operators as well. We learned to engage with the operators in what we call the “test and learn” journey…placing some bets on the things that we believe are going to be needed to be successful in the future. The language was around testing and learning, “let’s do this together,” and now it’s impressive to see how folks at all different levels of the organization are using the same language. 

We started with the principle of having a centralized entity that will drive innovation. The learning was that innovation happens everywhere. Innovation should be enabled across the company. A centralized function is not always the right answer…

Reorganizing and Adding Capabilities

The biggest learning has been about how you make innovation real. In the past, when we were running innovation as a centralized unit, we didn’t have all the capabilities [to build products there]. We didn’t have the digital experience center under our team. We didn’t have much access to data and analytics teams. Now, under our Digital Health & Analytics group, we have an opportunity to drive innovation faster, because all the assets in the same place. We’re making more of a data play as innovation evolves, becoming more of a tech company. [We’ve seen the need to] create a platform and iterate very fast.

My team is under Digital Health & Analytics. We are starting to build new capabilities around product development and new services — not benefits and plans. There’s a Vice President of Analytics and a Vice President of Platforms, who I report to. [The goal is to create] a platform that will support new products and services that we want to launch around things like remote [patient] monitoring and virtual care. 

We are building a sandbox [tech environment to] let entrepreneurs test [their products] against our data, using synthetic humana data, not real patient data, so that we can build new value props and solutions together. [We’re working to create] open APIs. 

Having the ability to build something tangible is important, whether it is a minimum viable product or an app. The business side can test with their own members or providers. [Our approach today is that there are] many things you can do when you have the data capability within the innovation function — plus having developers, designers, UX and UI people. You can build the MVPs that you can go and test.

‘Ideas are Cheap’

Healthcare is a complex business, and beyond ideation, Post-it’s, and design thinking, it’s evolving to a data capability to drive innovation faster.

Sometimes, we were too disconnected from trying to solve the real problems the businesses were going after. At the end, most of the innovation that is going to happen is going to be linked to a problem we’re trying to solve for.

Ideas are cheap. The front end of innovation is easy. The real challenge is on the back end — not just how do you execute, but how do you measure the impact of what you’re working on?