Ron Powell, independent analyst and industry expert for the BeyeNETWORK and executive producer of The World Transformed FastForward Series, interviews Andreas Kohlmaier, Head of Data Engineering at Munich Re. Andreas leads the team responsible for setting up a group-wide data platform and supports the transformation of Munich Re to a data-driven organization.
Andreas, can you provide our audience with a little background regarding Munich Re?
Andreas Kohlmaier: Munich Re is a group so we are not just about reinsurance. We also have some primary insurance entities in the group, but the main thing about reinsurance is that we’re taking care of the big and complex risks in the world. One of the things that we do as our core business is NatCats –natural catastrophes. It is about hurricanes and big events like the California wildfires, but it is also about complex things like satellite launches, for example, or big building projects. There are lots of complex things and lots of information to manage to get reinsurance right.
A lot of people in our audience are looking at implementing data lakes or are in the middle of big data lake initiatives. I know in February of 2017 Munich Re launched their own innovative platform as a cornerstone for analytics that involved a big data lake and a data catalog. Can you tell us what it was like before and now after the implementation?
Andreas Kohlmaier: Data has always been a core thing that our business users have worked with for more than one hundred years to really understand risk. It’s more or less that the tools and the rules of the game have changed over time. So if you think about the main change before and after the platform, it’s that people can now collaborate much more efficiently with each other across the different parts of the company across the globe. We find, for example, there were people doing analytics on live data and other people in the group doing analytics on weather data, and other people doing analytics on claims data. Sometimes they didn’t really know about each other. With this one platform, it is much more transparent what people are doing –which use cases are executed –and that actually opens the door to new, innovative
ideas because people start thinking about what would happen if I join that data source that I have with data that you have. Maybe some new insight comes out, and we can eventually take that and market it and put it in a new product along that insight. That was the main change –people are now working much more closely together, which is great.
Andreas, recently you spoke at FinData at Strata, which has a very high level financial audience, and you were highlighted as one of the thought leaders. You spoke on cataloging the data lake using Alation for distributed analytics innovation at Munich Re. What are some of the major insights you presented at the talk.
Andreas Kohlmaier: A data catalog is one of the key things you have to get right when implementing a data lake because data lakes can quickly become very big. You can easily ingest a couple of thousand data sources and tables into a data lake. The tough part then is finding the information and getting the information out again.
One of the key learnings that we had is that it is necessary to build a bird’s-eye perspective on top of the raw data, understand the context that the data comes from and identify the use cases that have been executed with the data. And, with those starting points, it is much easier for the audience to navigate the content of the data lake.
Can you give us some use cases as to how Munich Re is utilizing the data lake?
Andreas Kohlmaier: Altogether, we now have more than 2,000 people using the platform inside the company. Within all the different parts of the company, there have been more than 250 use cases executed in a self-service mode by business users on the platform. So it’s a little hard to pick a favorite one, but one of the things that happened recently is a use case about wind engines, actually about offering a cover for wind farms. This is a nice one because it really shows the collaboration between the different parts of the company. On one side, we have our asset management team that actually owns and runs wind farms. We also have a subsidiary in Hartford in the U.S. that specializes in IoT and in monitoring wind farms for other customers, and we have a weather team in Houston that is expert on wind and climate. Now those three groups came together and combined their knowledge about their experience in running wind farms, IoT, the sensor data and the weather. They combined it in a new service product, and we are just now launching to the market to really give a full-fledged end-to-end cover for anyone who plans to invest, run and build a wind farm.So this is really a 360 degree cover with all the risks that may come up when you plan to invest in a wind farm. This is actually a nice use case because through this platform the people found and connected to each other and then shared their knowledge and their data. This is a great example of how technology and this one global platform enabled innovation and led to new products.
That’s excellent. You have over 2,000 people utilizing the platform, what about data sources?
Andreas Kohlmaier: When it comes to data sources, our main internal systems are connected to the platform, feeding the data in on a daily basis. These are the main data warehouses and our operational systems. But we also have lots of external data sources like, for example, all the weather-related data sources that are typically openly available but need to be pre-processed to be easily consumed. One example is the NOAA data set published by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The data is freely available, and it is updated every 30 minutes. But it is a little hard to consume. So there is a platform that is up and running that fetches this data set every 30 minutes and puts it in the data lake where it is easily available for our analysts to query against.
You said the data catalog is the hub for how the 2,000 people access the data. Do they collaborate amongst themselves with the data as well?
Andreas Kohlmaier: They do actually. This is one the advantages of having one global platform where people can collaborate and share their ideas on the data.It also makes it readily apparent that different people in different parts of the company sometimes share the same questions, and now they use the same data to get answers. Also, with the catalog in place, it is possible not just to find the data, but also to find the queries and the insights that other users have found. This is a great way of sharing knowledge across a big organization.
How do you actively address the economic, political and cyber risks for your clients?
Andreas Kohlmaier: So one way risks are happening at the moment is cyber and the question of how to cover yourself as an individual and also your business against the threats and risks that can happen in a cyber attack. We offer a rather complete set of products across our different entities that you can either get as an individual and that’s coverage against identity theft, for example. Or if you are a big industrial player, you can insure yourself against the risks that might happen when, for example, you get hacked and your connected factory doesn’t work anymore. This is really where we are also open for collaboration with our customers and players in the industry to get the kind of cover in cyberspace that is just right for them.
You mentioned the wind farm coverage as a new solution. You talk about new ideas that are being created by these 2,000 people within your organization from the data lake. Do you attribute that to the ability to access the data?
Andreas Kohlmaier: That is actually one of the things that is driving it. It’s also about a cultural change, really motivating people to be creative and innovative, and also giving them the freedom to try out new ideas. Then in the end, it is, of course, about the ability to try out and quickly test those new ideas. This is, again, where the data platform comes into play because if you have an idea now and the data is readily available for you to consume, it is so much easier to try out the idea and eventually be successful with it.
In summary, this enterprise-wide, innovative data lakes platform for analytics has really opened up the entire Munich Re organization to everyone.
Andreas Kohlmaier: It’s really one of the driving factors. It’s certainly not the only one, but it’s a nice catalyst because now everyone is participating in this one platform, and there is lots of
energy going on.
Fantastic. Andreas, it has been a pleasure talking with you.