Be innovative about innovation: an open-ecosystem based approach

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Opening the gates of innovation

In our ever-changing world, traditional boundaries are torn down by macro forces such as technology, legislation, and society. Information and customers have never flown so freely and rapidly. Connections across product lines, companies, and industries are stronger than ever. 

This has caused a paradigm shift – companies are no longer operating in their own defined industry, or a closed system. Instead, they have moved consciously or unconsciously to a larger, more complex, open, and interconnected system – an ecosystem. For example, Amazon, which is best known for retail, is launching its healthcare service in the summer of 20211. Meanwhile, Loblaw Companies Limited, the largest Canadian food retailer, offers a no-fee banking account combined with loyalty programs.2

The economic impact of such a paradigm shift is enormous. McKinsey research has suggested that over $60 trillion in total revenue by 2025 would be at stake to be redistributed across sectoral borders in the traditional sense.3

So, how can incumbents thrive in this new open ecosystem? We believe that constant innovation is the only way to maintain long-term success facing a dynamic external environment, whether it is for a company or an individual. Many business leaders believe the same and invest tremendously in innovation. 

What companies often overlook, however, is that the approach to innovation is also subject to disruption.

“In other words, we also need to be innovative about how we innovate.”

Illustration of a man standing in the middle of a large maze
The never-ending maze of innovation pathways

Historically, companies have kept innovation and R&D in-house as their secret weapons. In recent years, innovations are happening more openly. Companies increasingly collaborate with external parties to unlock creativity through various vehicles such as in-house incubators and corporate venture capital (CVC). The value of CVC-backed deals more than doubled to $74.2b in 2020 from 2016, according to CB Insights.4 Yesterday’s challengers have become today’s partners. We are seeing a shift from a closed system to an open one where collaboration and fresh perspectives are welcomed. And this shift is happening on the ground where companies operate, shaping how they innovate, and their innovative behaviours, in turn, continue to reinforce and accelerate growth.

Open-ecosystem based innovations

An evolving landscape calls for an open-ecosystem based approach to innovation. As an innovation partner for companies from Fortune 100 to tech unicorns for over a decade, we’ve learned how to help companies adapt to this new approach quickly and painlessly. We have distilled our learning and observations into three key elements of an open ecosystem:

  1. a power engine fueled by venture-corporate and cross-industry partnerships
  2. a portfolio mindset to develop and manage innovative initiatives (build, invest, buy, partner)
  3. a flexible infrastructure to enable rapid testing and integration of emerging technology while protecting legacy systems.  

While the open-ecosystem based innovation approach has been a hyper-growth engine for digital-native organizations, incumbents from traditional industries are also adopting this approach. The financial service and insurance sectors are two pioneers. Recently Bank of Montreal (BMO), along with selected U.S. banks, is working with Google to introduce mobile-first bank accounts that are managed through Google Pay.5 This partnership allows BMO to draw on Google’s platform and a net new customer base. In the insurance space, some companies have leveraged partnerships to expand into emerging tech, such as wearables and IoTs. Liberty Mutual has partnered with Google’s Nest to implement connected smoke alarms in customers’ homes, reducing the risk of a fire, and in turn reducing their insurance premiums.

Illustration of a man in a maze through which a giant eraser is clearing a path
Removing barriers and charting a clear path

To gain an edge, incumbents are looking to expand and accelerate partnerships with emerging tech. According to PWC survey 2017, 82% of financial incumbents expect to increase FinTech partnerships in the next three to five years.7 Similarly, The World InsurTech Report 2019 states 70% of insurers are interested in collaboration with other InsurTechs and insurance firms.8

Innovation remains challenging

Despite this momentum, innovation is much harder than it sounds. One of the main challenges is that innovation requires the rare capability to combine various perspectives, given the unforeseeable breadth and depth involved. While an organization can acquire certain skillsets or perspectives from individuals, how the organization positions and enables these individuals remains a determinant factor.   

As an example from our own experiences, CoreLogic-Intersect is privileged to be trusted by many of the world’s largest companies with their future, given our unique capabilities of bringing together the best of two worlds – corporates and ventures. Post-acquisition by CoreLogic, we gained access to CoreLogic’s deep industry expertise and networks, while remaining independent and retaining our entrepreneurial DNA from our founding days as a small Toronto mobile development shop. Many of our alumni are now leading rapidly-growing tech startups like Drop and BookJane, keeping ourselves at the frontlines across industries. This “Intersection” cannot be achieved without organizational factors such as structure and culture.

Another main challenge to innovation we have seen is the lack of properly sequenced steps. Clients often ask us: should I build, invest, buy, or partner? Who should I partner with that best fits both in terms of business objectives and tech reality? How can I synchronize the numerous partnerships and internal initiatives happening simultaneously? 

What they face behind these questions are overwhelming options yet limited resources, competing yet interdependent goals, and disconnect between business and technology divisions.

A company reinvigorating itself is like a newborn. A toddler cannot run before walking properly. Learning how to walk and run at the same time is frustrating – so much that she might decide to go back to crawling. Sequence matters. When a company steps towards innovation in a good sequence, it gains momentum. 

Intersect’s approach to innovation

As a result, we’ve begun to synthesize the sequenced steps for innovation, a natural pattern we have observed and integrated into our process – what we called the ecosystem roadmap. We started using this roadmap last year to help insurers fast-track their innovation goals and make tangible progress. Leveraging the roadmap and the process behind it, insurance carriers can understand their position in the industry, evaluate potential InsurTech partners, identify critical paths, get ready for integration, and where feasible, aim for a new product launch.

Flowchart snapshot of roadmap phases

To support the rising trend toward incumbent and InsurTech partnerships, we are also working closely with the CoreLogic Digital Hub Alliance to provide a plug-and-play platform for sourcing the right InsurTechs and simplifying integrations.

Some industry thought leaders have named ecosystems “the theme of 2021”.9 We believe 2021 is just the beginning, and look forward to more innovations taking place at intersections across company sectors, sizes, cultures, and stages of growth. The good news is, everyone is standing at the same starting point and has the potential to lead this new race. 

If you want to learn more about our approach to the InsurTech Ecosystem and our Roadmap engagement, get in touch!

The authors would like to thank Danielle Smith, Kevin Manning, Rosanna Hancock, and Saaqshi Sharma for their contributions to this article.


  1. “Amazon Care to launch across U.S. this summer, offering millions of individuals and families immediate access to high-quality medical care and advice—24 hours a day, 365 days a year”, Amazon 
  2. “PC Financial combines no fees and PC Optimum in new banking solution, PC Money™ Account”, News Wire 
  3. Tanguy Catlin, “Ecosystems and platforms: How insurers can turn vision into reality”, McKinsey & Company 
  4. CB Insights Data Chart 
  5. Sarah Perez, “Google signs up six more partners for its digital banking platform coming to Google Pay”, Tech Crunch 
  6. “How Major Insurers Are Teaming Up With Internet Of Things Companies In One Infographic”, CB Insights 
  7. “Global FinTech Report 2017”, PWC 
  9. Paul Carroll, “The Word of the Year Is…’Ecosystems’”, Insurance Thought Leadership